PM Modi, Kamala Harris hold their first in person dialogue; discuss bilateral ties, Indo-Pacific

Kamala Harris points that India and U.S. working together on climate change could have a “profound” impact as well as the importance of relationship in the Indo-Pacific

September 24, 2021 03:57 am | Updated 12:10 pm IST - Washington DC

Vice President Kamala Harris, right, walks with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi during their meeting on September 23, 2021, in Harris' ceremonial office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington.

Vice President Kamala Harris, right, walks with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi during their meeting on September 23, 2021, in Harris' ceremonial office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington.

Prime Minister Narendra Mod and Vice President Kamala Harris had bilateral talks on September 23, 2021. Mr. Modi was received at the 150-year-old Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which houses the Vice President’s ceremonial office. 

The meeting started with comments at the top, with the press in the room. Ms. Harris spoke first, and Mr.  Modi next, with interpreters translating between English and Hindi .

Mr. Modi spoke about the warmth of Ms. Harris’s message in a phone earlier this year when India was facing its second pandemic wave.

Watch | Residents of Thulasendrapuram celebrate Kamala Harris's victory

“Excellency, some months ago, we had an opportunity to talk to each other on the phone.  We had a detailed discussion at that time.  And the way you spoke to me so warmly and so naturally, I will always remember that.  Thank you so much,” Mr Modi said, calling Ms Harris a “true friend” and acknowledging the help of the U.S. government, its private sector and the Indian diaspora.

India and the U.S. , being the largest and oldest democracies respectively, were “natural allies,” and  they  shared similar values and geopolitical interests,  Mr Modi said.

Strengthening supply chains, technology and space were important areas for both countries and where cooperation was important, he said.

Mr Modi called Ms. Harris’s election an “important and historic event” and a source of inspiration for many, globally. Ms Harris is the first female Vice President of the U.S., and is of African American and Indian descent. Her mother, Shyamala Gopalan was originally from Madras (now, Chennai). Mr Modi appeared to refer to this India connection and I invited Ms. Harris to visit . India.

“Excellency, continuing on your — this journey of victory, Indians also would want you to continue that in India and, therefore, they're waiting to welcome you.  And therefore, I extend to you specially an invitation to visit India,” Mr Modi said.

Kamala's Chennai connection

A source said  that in the closed door portion of the meeting, Ms. Harris reminisced about the time she’d spent with her grandfather in Chennai (she has spoken before of taking long walks with him on Elliot’s Beach in Chennai).  Ms. Harris said she is looking forward to going “back”  to India at some point, the source said.

Ms. Harris said India was a “very important” partner to the U.S. and the two countries had worked tougher to make the world safer and stronger.

She said that India was a source of vaccines for other countries early in the pandemic and that  the U.S. was “proud” to support India’s vaccination efforts.

“The United States is very proud to support  India  and its need and responsibility to vaccinate its people, and I welcome India's announcement that we should be able to resume vaccine exports,” she said, commending the daily rate of vaccination in India.

India and the U.S. working together on climate change – a cause supported by the governments of both countries –  could have a “profound” impact, Ms. Harris said.  She also made a reference to the fragilities and the importance of the relationships in the Indo Pacific.

“And as it relates to the end of Pacific, the United States, like India, feels very strongly about the pride of being a member of the Indo-Pacific , but also the fragilities and the importance and strength as well of those relationships including maintaining a free and open Indo Pacific,” she said.

In their closed door delegation meetings, Ms Harris and Mr Modi discussed collaboration in space, information technology, emerging and critical technologies and the healthcare sector, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said at a briefing on Thursday evening.

He also said there was a discussion on COVID-19 and  a ‘free and open Indo Pacific’- a concept, whose promotion a senior  U.S. officials had , earlier this week, described as “an overarching commitment at the core of the Quad.” Education in the IT and biotech spaces was also discussed.

When they discussed terrorism, Ms. Harris, took suo moto cognizance of Pakistan’s role in terror and the need to “rein in and monitor” Pakistan’s support for terror groups, Mr Shringla said.

During her opening remarks, Ms. Harris said it was “imperative” for India and the U.S. to strengthen democracy within their respective countries, defend democratic principles and institutions.

“Finally, as democracies around the world are under threat, it is imperative that we defend democratic principles and institutions within our respective countries and around the world and that we maintain what we must do to strengthen democracies at home,” Ms. Harris said.

“ And it is incumbent on our nations to, of course, protect democracies in the best interest of the people of our countries,” she said making a reference to her own family’s experience .

“I know from personal experience and from my family of the commitment of the Indian people to democracy and to freedom and to the work that may be done and can be done to imagine and then actually achieve our vision for democratic principles and institutions,” Ms Harris said.

After their meeting, Mr Modi and Ms Harris could be seen talking briefly on the balcony, while the delegates waited inside.

The Prime Minister’s delegation included External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla and India’s U.S. Ambassador Taranjit Singh Sandhu.

The Vice President’s delegation was comprised of (as per her office) : Nancy McEldowney, Assistant to the President and National Security Advisor to the Vice President, Tina Flournoy, Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to the Vice President, Philip Gordon, Special Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor to the Vice President, Kurt Campbell, Deputy Assistant to the President and Coordinator for the Indo-Pacific, National Security Council, Donald Lu, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, Department of State and David Richelsoph, Special Advisor to the Vice President for South Asia.

A small group of protestors had gathered earlier in front of the White House on Lafayette Square. Some of the protestors, part of a  group called ‘Coalition to Stop Genocide in India’,  waived the Indian flag and carried banners with #HumansAgainstHindutva written on it.

At the Willard hotel, where Mr. Modi was staying, another handful of people – this time supporters – could be seen in the public areas , some of them in formal wear, asking how they could catch a glimpse of the Prime Minister.

Media access to the Prime Minister has been a challenge. While The Hindu managed to access the remarks at the start of the Modi-Harris bilateral, it was told it did not have a place and only state run media (and at least  one specific private media agency) were given spots from the Indian side.

Top News Today

Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.