Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi won resounding applause during an address Thursday to a joint session of Congress where he sold his nation as the preferred partner for the U.S. in a global competition against China.
Modi, who also gave a speech to a joint session of Congress in 2016, entered the chamber to rousing applause and chants of his name from visitors of the gallery.
“When I was here in 2016 I said that our relationship was primed for a momentous future. That future is today,” Modi said.
“Now, the U.S. is the oldest, and India the largest democracy. Our partnership augurs well for the future of democracy,” he added.
The Biden administration has put out the red carpet for Modi despite differences on a number of issues and India’s neutrality in the Russia-Ukraine War. Human rights issues for India’s Muslim minority led a handful of Democratic lawmakers to boycott his address. Modi beyond the speech to a joint session will be feted at a state dinner on Thursday night.
The U.S. sees India as a key partner in diversifying supply chains away from China for essential materials like semiconductors and critical minerals.
Modi spoke of making these supply chains “more diverse, resilient and reliable” in his address to Congress, in order to “diversify, decentralize and democratize supply chains.”
The largest round of applause came when the prime minister labeled the U.S. its “most important defense partner,” and received a standing ovation.
“When I speak about India’s approach to the world, the United States occupies a special place. I know our relations are of great importance to all of you. Every member of this Congress has a deep interest in it,” Modi said.
A group of bipartisan House and Senate lawmakers on Thursday introduced legislation to fast-track weapons sales to India, streamlining and accelerating the review and sales process for Foreign Military Sales.
Modi and Biden earlier announced that India would buy armed-drones from the U.S. and that American and Indian companies would jointly produce fighter-jet engines, part of more than a dozen agreements the two sides worked to produce throughout the visit.
“The dark clouds of coercion and confrontation are casting their shadow in the Indo Pacific,” Modi said. “The stability of the region has become one of the central concerns of our partnership. We share a vision of a free, open and inclusive Indo Pacific.”
Some Democrats in Congress have joined human rights groups in arguing that Modi has failed to address concerns over rising Hindu nationalism, anti-Muslim violence and overseeing a roll back in civil liberties and suppression of press freedoms.
In a joint press conference with Biden earlier on Thursday, Modi pushed back on a question from the Wall Street Journal on what steps he would take to improve the rights of Muslims and other minorities and uphold free speech.
“In India’s democratic values, there’s absolutely no discrimination, neither on basis of caste, creed, or age or any kind of geographic location.”
While more than 70 lawmakers wrote a letter to Biden urging him to raise concerns about human rights and press freedoms with Biden, at least three House lawmakers boycotted the prime minister’s speech to Congress.
They included Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), the only two Muslim women lawmakers, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-N.Y.).
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