A future of limitless cooperation is here: Modi to US lawmakers

PM Modi delivering speech to Joint Session of Congress June 22, 2023, gestures at VP Kamala Harris during a quip about Indian Americans. PHOTO: videograb from C-span.org

Prime Minister Modi received a standing ovation upon his arrival on Capitol Hill for the June 22, 2023, joint session of Congress, and many rounds of applause as he delivered his hour-long speech, educating lawmakers about India’s achievements and the potential for limitless cooperation between the two democracies.

In an address peppered with snippets of humor, Modi emphasized that the “hesitations of history” had passed and a new calling for the 21st Century lay before the two countries. Through all the changes that have happened, the commitment of the two countries to strengthen their friendship had remained strong.

There have been many advances in AI, but an even more momentous development had been in another AI — America and India, he quipped to general laughter and applaus.

He spoke at length about “democracy” and how it requires patience and persuasion, and of the battle between ideas and ideology. He praised US for embracing people from all over the world.

Standing applause for Prime Minister Modi, including from some Indian American lawmakers, in the Joint Session of Congress June 22, 2023, one of many such. PHOTO videograb from C-SPAN.org

“There are millions here who are from India. Some of them sit proudly in this chamber,” Modi said, “and there is one behind me who has made history,” he noted to much laughter and applause turning to gesture at Vice President Kamala Harris.

“I am told that the ‘Samosa Caucus’ is now the flavor of the House,” he quipped, about the five Indian-American elected representatives. “I hope it grows and brings the full diversity of Indian cuisine.”

He noted how the two countries pay tribute to Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, but also gave a nod to the late civil rights leader and Congressman John Lewis.

He dwelt on democracy as a shared and sacred value which supports equality and dignity, and welcomes debate and discourse. As such, he contended, “India is the mother of democracy” and that millenia ago, the oldest scriptures spoke about its basic concept.

“Our partnership augurs well for the future of democracy. Together, we will give a better future to the world and a better world to the future,” he said.

For many lawmakers in the chamber, Modi’s speech for a lesson on India’s democracy. He noted how India achieved freedom after 1,000 years of foreign rule; that it had 2,500 political parties; that 20 states in the country were run by different parties; that there were 22 different languages and thousands of dialects – “Yet we speak in one voice.”

In an attempt to deflect criticism lodged by some activists as well as some lawmakers about human rights in India, Modi noted, “In India, diversity is a way of life,” and that curiosity about India’s diversity was rising, including among Americans as some 100 US legislators had made their way to India over the last year.

“Everyone wants to know what India is doing right and how,” he said.

He spoke at length about India’s economy and the speed of growth; focus on infrastructure, its digitization, healthcare delivery including 2.2 billion Covid vaccinations, an ID for a billion people, banking for the common citizen, the 850 million smartphones in the hands of everyone including the street vendor.

He also spoke of India’s women as the leaders of development, and the nearly 1.5 million elected women at various levels of government. India has the highest percentage of women pilots; and they led the Mars Mission. He noted the youthful demographic of India embracing technology.

Modi also highlighted India’s role in climate change, an eye-opener for many Americans unaware of its advances in solar energy, as well as its philosophy of protecting the planet. “We share our modest resources with those who need them the most,” he added.

He pointed to the symbiotic relationship between India and US – how job growth in US was tied to India’s investments in this country and vice versa. “We were strangers in defense cooperation at the turn of the century. Now US has become our most important defense partner,” he said.

Today the two countries were working together in every field ranging from space to the seas, telecommunications to semiconductors, sustainability, farmers and agriculture, startups, energy, education, humanitarian assistance, “The scope of our cooperation is endless… the chemistry in our relationship is effortless,” he said.

“In all this, Indian Americans have played a big role. They are brilliant in every field, not just in Spelling Bee,” he joked. “With their hearts and minds, talents, skills, and love for America and India, they have brought us closer,” the Prime Minister said.

He repeated the much-used phrase about the US-India relationship being the ‘defining partnership’ of this century; and how the two countries would improve the challenges of supply chains, and have made ‘critical emerging technologies’ top of their agenda.

While speaking of the Ukraine conflict, he said, it had brought great hardship to the South. He repeated his much publicized words to President Vladimir Putin, “This is not an era of war,” – and added, that it was an era of dialogue and diplomacy, and that everyone must act to end the bloodshed and human suffering.

In the end he touched on terrorism as ‘an enemy of humanity’ and that there could be on ‘ifs and buts in dealing with it.”

He called again for the African Union to be given membership in the G20, as another way to give a voice to the South.

Modi noted that in 2016, he had said that the two countries are primed for a momentous future.

“That future is here today,” Modi said.



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