Washington: Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered a speech at the US Congress on Wednesday that stood out as uncommon sense in a world that has largely wallowed in giving Pakistan a free pass when it comes to harbouring a rogue’s gallery of terrorists.
Modi’s command performance in the United States shows he doesn’t know the meaning of ‘jet lag’ . By the time he touches down in New Delhi on Thursday — packing a full working day in Mexico — Modi would have covered 33,000 kilometres, held over 45 meetings across five countries, and spent over 44 hours on Air India One.
There was no sign of jet lag, as an animated Modi, the fifth Indian prime minister to address the US Congress, received a series of standing ovations and thunderous applause from lawmakers who increasingly see in India a democratic counterweight to China’s rise. It appears Modi has taken note.
“India is already assuming her responsibilities in securing the Indian Ocean region,” said Modi. “A strong India-US partnership can anchor peace, prosperity and stability from Asia to Africa and the Indian Ocean to the Pacific.”
In an indirect reference to China, he also touted India’s “respect for global commons and for international rules and norms.”
Modi addressed US concerns on contentious issues like intellectual property rights with gentle humour.
“Siri tells us that India’s ancient heritage of yoga has over 30 million practitioners in the US. It is estimated that more Americans bend for yoga than to throw a curve ball,” Modi said before landing his punchline.
“And, no Mr Speaker (Paul Ryan), we have not yet claimed intellectual property rights on yoga,” Modi said drawing laughter.
In fact, Modi’s substantive address had the right blend of humour, generous praise for the US and gravitas. At any rate, the US lawmakers appeared receptive to his message.
In a not-so-veiled reference to Pakistan, Modi said that terrorism was “incubated in India’s neighborhood.”
“Not just in Afghanistan, but elsewhere in South Asia, and globally, terrorism remains the biggest threat,” said Modi. “In the territory stretching from west of India’s border to Africa, it may go by different names, from Lashkar-e-Taiba, to Taliban to IS.”
“But its philosophy is common: of hate, murder and violence. Although its shadow is spreading across the world, it is incubated in India’s neighbourhood.”
Modi urged the US Congress to send a clear message to those who “preach and practice” terrorism for political gains.
“Refusing to reward them is the first step towards holding them accountable for their actions,” said Modi taking aim at generous US non-military aid to Pakistan.
Members of the US House of Representatives recently threatened to block $450 million in aid to Islamabad unless it does more to fight the Haqqani network, which lawmakers see as a major threat to US forces in Afghanistan.
Modi said that the need of the hour was to isolate those who sponsor terrorists and not distinguish between “good” and “bad” terrorists as terrorism was not just a threat in Afghanistan, but elsewhere in South Asia too.
Some US lawmakers tend to subscribe to Pakistan’s policy of “bad terrorists” (from its Afghan front, who mostly attack Pakistan and American soldiers) versus “good terrorists” (from West Punjab, who mostly attack India).
Modi closed his remarks with an optimistic view of ties between India and the US, which he called an “indispensable partner.”
He connected with his audience by reminiscing about his early travels to America where he was struck by the country’s creativity and “animal spirits.”
“Long before assuming office, I travelled coast to coast, covering 29 States of America.I realized then that the real strength of the US was in the dreams of its people and the boldness of their ambitions,” reflected Modi.
“Today, Mr Speaker, a similar spirit animates India. Our 800 million youth, especially, are particularly impatient. My dream is to economically empower them through many social and economic transformations.”
“Today, our relationship has overcome the hesitations of history. Comfort, candour and convergence define our conversation through the cycle of elections and transitions of administrations the intensity of our engagement has only grown. And, in this exciting journey, the US Congress has acted as its compass,” acknowledged Modi.
The prime minister said the two countries’ relationship is “primed for a momentous future. The complaints of the past are behind us, and the foundations of the future are firmly in place.”
Modi drew on American writer Walt Whitman’s line; “The Orchestra have sufficiently tuned their instruments, the baton has given the signal.”
“And to that, if I might add, there is a new symphony in play.”