Prime Minister Narendra Modi combined poetry, humour and rhetoric to outline his vision for India’s partnership with the U.S in the 21st century, addressing a joint session of the U.S. Congress. This was Mr. Modi’s first address and he became the fifth Indian Prime Minister to address a joint session of the Congress.
Mr Modi called for deepening U.S.- India security cooperation to tackle global terrorism, based on a policy that “delinks religion from terrorism.” Effusive in his enthusiasm for India’s partnership with the U.S “in every sector of India’s forward march, I see the U.S as an indispensable partner”, Mr. Modi, however, diplomatically and emphatically drove home the message that New Delhi could have its own priorities and convictions. “As we deepen our partnership, there would be times when we would have differing perspectives. But since our interests and concerns converge, the autonomy in decision-making and diversity in our perspectives can only add value to our partnership,” Mr. Modi said even as a section in the U.S. capital, has recently expressed doubts on the endurance of the partnership.
Recalling former prime minister A.B. Vajapyee’s address to the Congress, where he had spoken about overcoming the “hesitations of history,” Mr. Modi said: “Our relationship has overcome the hesitations of history,” and “comfort, candour and convergence define our conversations.”
Poetry and humour too
As the “Prime Minister of the Republic Of India” was ushered into the chamber at 11.14 a.m., there was standing applause from the members of U.S. Congress and Indian Americans in the visitors’ gallery. Mr. Modi, in a white kurta and a charcoal jacket, waved to the gallery, prompting loud cheers.
Mr. Modi deployed humour — uncharacteristic of his personality — to underscore the lingering tensions between India and the U.S. on intellectual property rights and push his soft diplomacy agenda.
Stating that 30 million Americans are estimated to practise yoga, the Prime Minister said: “It is estimated that more Americans bend for yoga than to throw a curve ball...And, no, Mr Speaker, we have not yet claimed intellectual property rights on yoga,” prompting laughter and applause. Senators Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio seemed to have a hearty laugh on the issue.
“The constraints of the past are behind us and foundations of the future are firmly in place, the Prime Minister said and quoted Walt Whitman, 19th century American poet to conclude the speech: “The Orchestra has sufficiently tuned their instruments, the baton has given the signal.”
“And to that, if I might add, there is a new symphony in play.” Mr. Modi recalled Norman Borlaug — who designed India’s Green Revolution — and the cooperation that the fledgling IITs had then got from U.S. universities.