While the highlight of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US in June will be his meeting with President Barack Obama, equally significant will be an “unprecedented” engagement with American lawmakers.
Modi will not only address a joint meeting of Congress, as announced before, but also stay back to meet leaders of the two parties and, in a first for an Indian leader, attend a formal lunch hosted for him by House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan.
He meets Obama on June 7, the first day of his two-day visit, according to simultaneous announcements on Friday by the external affairs ministry in New Delhi and the White House in Washington.
The external affairs ministry said the main purpose of the visit will be to “consolidate the progress made in diverse areas such as economy, energy, environment, defence and security, and to intensify cooperation for the future”.
The White House said Modi’s visit “will highlight the deepening of the US-India relationship in key areas since the President’s visit to New Delhi in January 2015”.
Obama and Modi have met several times since, most famously at the signing of the historic climate change accord in Paris last year and at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington in March-April.
The two leaders expect to pick up from their last conversations, according to the White House statement, which said Obama “looks forward to discussing progress made on our climate change and clean energy partnership, security and defence cooperation, and economic growth priorities”.
Modi goes to Capitol Hill on June 8 for the engagement with lawmakers that has been described as both “unprecedented” and “about time” by sources.
India enjoys unparalleled bipartisan support in Congress — the India Caucus, which is co-chaired Republicans and Democrats, is the largest country-specific grouping on the Hill.
It was time to recognise that support and reciprocate.
“The US Congress has been a source of strength for the India-US strategic partnership and the India Congressional Caucus is the largest such group in the US Congress,” the external affairs ministry said.
The last Indian prime minister to address Congress was Manmohan Singh in 2005 — those before were Rajiv Gandhi (1985), PV Narasimha Rao (1994) and Atal Bihari Vajpayee (2000).
But none of them got a formal lunch at the Capitol Hill, said a congressional source. Ryan is hosting one for the Prime Minister shortly after the joint meeting.
Ryan is also hosting a meeting of leaders from both parties from the Senate and the House of Representatives with Modi.
Modi’s day on the Hill wraps up with a “large” public reception hosted for him jointly by the foreign affairs committees of the Senate and the House.
“Congress is rolling out the red carpet for the prime minister,” said a source. “But he is reciprocating with noticeably equal enthusiasm by agreeing to these engagements.”