PM’s Address to US Congress: Take a Bow Mr Modi, You Deserve It

Challenge for Modi govt would be to build a rapport with the new administration in Washington, writes Harsh V Pant.

5 min read

Modi’s leadership  has managed to salvage Indo-US ties from the morass they had sunk into during the last few years of the UPA-II. (Photo: IANS/ Altered by <b>The Quint</b>)

It was Narendra Modi at his best. Once again, the Indian Prime Minister proved why he remains India’s best ambassador. Modi’s address to the joint session of the US Congress on 8 June was a great mixture of wit, exuberance and vision. He saluted the forces that bind India and the US together even as he charted out a new vision of the future. And he could rightly proclaim that finally Indo-US ties have “overcome the hesitations of history.” It is his leadership which has managed to salvage Indo-US ties from the morass they had sunk into during the last few years of the UPA-II. In just two years, Modi has galvanised an ossified Indian bureaucracy and given a new sense of purpose to India’s engagement with the US.

Modi’s vision is not restricted to South Asia but is global in line with this thinking about making India a leading global power. He underscored this when he suggested to the US Congress that, “A strong India-US partnership can anchor peace, prosperity and stability from Asia to Africa and from Indian Ocean to the Pacific. It can also help ensure security of the sea lanes of commerce and freedom of navigation on seas.”

Without naming Pakistan, he commended the US Congress “for sending a clear message to those who preach and practise terrorism for political gains. Refusing to reward them is the first step towards holding them accountable for their actions.” Modi wants New Delhi and Washington to work together to isolate “those who harbour, support and sponsor terrorists, that does not distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ terrorists, and that delinks religion from terrorism”.


Strategic Convergence between India and US

Modi was aware of the criticism that his government has been facing in some quarters of the US polity for its handling of religious minorities, which was underlined in the US Commission for International Religious Freedom’s annual report that claimed, religious freedom in India was on a “negative trajectory” in 2015. Addressing his critics, Modi made it clear that for his government “the Constitution is its real holy book. And, in that holy book, freedom of faith, speech and franchise, and equality of all citizens, regardless of background, are enshrined as fundamental rights.” This was vintage Modi – not defensive but dealing with critics on his own terms.

He shared his “long and ambitious” to-do list with his American interlocutors to give them a sense of an increasingly ambitious, aspirational and impatient India even as he made it clear that “these are not just aspirations. They are goals to be reached in a finite time-frame. And to be achieved with a light carbon foot print, with greater emphasis on renewables.”

The warmth with which Modi’s address was received by members of the US Congress is a tribute to the Modi government’s deft handling of the US, and the underlying strategic convergence between the world’s two major democracies.

The joint statement issued by Modi and Barack Obama also captured the strategic sweep of the Indo-US relationship. It included making India a “major defence partner” of the US in technology transfer and a “priority partner” in the Asia-Pacific, asking other countries to support India’s bid for admission to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), and treating the Pathankot terror attack with the same level of seriousness as the Mumbai 26/11 terror attacks.


Deliverables from the Meet

A separate joint document focusing on cyber security was issued and a funding initiative towards climate change was announced. There has also been some concrete movement on the civil nuclear cooperation with the decision by Westinghouse to set up six nuclear reactors in India. Against the backdrop of China’s refusal to support India’s entry into the NSG, the US has called on all NSG countries to support India’s application at the plenary meeting on June 24 even as India’s imminent entry into the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) has been confirmed.

LEMOA or Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement which allows each military to avail logistics support facilities of the other while on joint training, Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR), and port calls, is on its way towards finalisation.


Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets the Congressional Leadership at Capitol Hill, in Washington DC, USA on June 8, 2016. (Photo: IANS/PIB)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets the Congressional Leadership at Capitol Hill, in Washington DC, USA on June 8, 2016. (Photo: IANS/PIB)

Gains from Modi’s US Visit

  • Without naming Pakistan, PM Modi called for deeper India-US security cooperation so as to isolate those who support terrorism.
  • Modi tried to win over critics who question the state of minorities by saying that the Constitution of India ensures freedom and equality of all citizens.
  • Deliverables from the meet, from inclusion in MTCR to support for NSG indicate that India’s foreign policy with respect to US is on right track.
  • Challenge for the Modi-led government would be to build a similar equation as the US will elect a new President.

New Symphony

There is clearly much more that the two sides need to work on, especially on India’s integration into various multilateral economic groupings. And the challenge will be to keep the momentum going even after the change of administration in Washington.

But it is also interesting to see how Modi’s critics are now latching on to an apology of an argument that Modi is ready to make America’s camp-follower and how this will annoy the Chinese. A self-confident civilisational power like India cannot become a camp follower of another state.

India is destined to march to the tune of its own drummer and this is unlikely to change. Indian strategists should have greater confidence in India’s ability to shape global outcomes. They betray an amazing diffidence when they assume that strategic convergence with the US makes India, America’s junior partner. The China criticism hardly holds any water as China’s designs vis-à-vis India have been quite clear for some time now. Years of appeasing China has hardly paid India any dividends.

A strong partnership with the US serves India well and getting America right should be one of Indian foreign policy priorities. As Modi surmised at the end of his address to the US Congress, the “constraints of the past are behind us” and “there is a new symphony in play.” This new symphony would not have been possible without a master conductor. Modi deserves all the credit for this remarkable transformation in Indo-US ties.

(The writer is professor of international relations at King’s College London)

Also read:
Ex-PM Aide: Manmohan and Modi Foreign Policies Have Been Seamless
Will the US Keep China at Bay to Push for India’s NSG Membership?
Sense of Urgency Over South China Sea Explains PM Modi’s US Visit

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