Washington, June 21 :
Long denied a US visa, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi may well get the rare honour of addressing a joint session of US Congress when he visits US in September.
A suggestion to invite Modi to address a joint session of the House and Senate during his trip has gone to House Speaker John Boehner from Ed Royce, Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.
“As you know, India is a critical partner of the United States. In every aspect – whether it be in political, economic or security relations – the United States has no more important partner in South Asia,” said the letter.
“It is not an overstatement to say that the US-India relationship will be one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century,” added the letter, which was also signed by North Carolina Republican Representative George Holding.
“With more than 500 million people voting in the recent Indian election, it was both the world’s largest democratic event and an historic moment for India,” they wrote
“The US must now work closely with Prime Minister Modi to strengthen the important relationship between the two countries.”
The Speaker’s office has not yet announced a response to the letter, but it’s considered highly likely that Modi may be invited to address a joint session given how US leaders from President Barack Obama down have reached out to the Indian leader since his resounding victory.
The previous Bush administration had revoked Modi’s tourist/business visa in 2005 for his alleged inaction during the 2002 Gujarat riots under a 1998 US law barring entry to foreigners who have committed “particularly severe violations of religious freedom”.
Though late in reaching out to Modi in the run up to the elections, the US quickly made amends with Obama congratulating him on his victory and inviting him to visit Washington. Modi has accepted the invitation, though no dates have been announced.
Modi’s predecessor Manmohan Singh was the last Indian Prime Minister to address a joint session of the US Congress when he visited Washington in 2005.
The two lawmakers said they were optimistic that the mandate given to “Modi will help India thrive economically” as “Under Mr. Modi’s leadership, the state of Gujarat has flourished.”
“Home to a mere five percent of the country’s population, Gujarat now accounts for nearly 25 percent of all Indian exports. Poverty rates have fallen dramatically, and infrastructure has grown impressively,” they noted.
Taking note of Modi’s business friendly image, the lawmakers said: “Importantly, Modi has promised to focus on private enterprise, reduce bureaucracy, and strengthen trade ties with major partners.”
“Since 2001, US-India trade has experienced impressive growth, but our commercial relationship remains far below the scale of our markets,” they said
But “Modi’s commitment to cut the red tape that has long plagued our trade relationship gives reason for hope that our economic partnership will flourish.”
Saying Modi’s upcoming visit would “undoubtedly be a seminal event for the nation’s vibrant Indian American community,” Royce and Holding vowed to work with the speaker to “ensure that this trip is a success.”