`Hesitations of history’ left behind, PM guides India deeper into US embrace

Tells US Congress, `Terror Incubated In India’s Vicinity’

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday eased India towards an informal alliance with the US, saying the relationship has ”overcome the hesitations of history” and everything is pointing to Washington and New Delhi becoming ideal partners even through occasional differences.

In a 45-minute address to the joint session of the US Congress, Modi invoked for mer Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s expression of ”natural allies” to indicate In dia was well and truly aligned with the US now.

He cited a range of com mon objectives and collaborations ­ from securing peace in the Indian Ocean to sci ence and technology cooperation -to emphasise that New Delhi was ready to fulfill President Obama’s vision of India and the US forming the defining partnership of the 21st century .

New Delhi has shrunk back from the use of the word ‘ally’ to describe the increasingly close partnership from the time Vajpayee first threw it out, but Modi had no hesitation in embracing it before a rapturous Congress, whose laws once barred him from visiting the US.

Quoting from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass ­ ”The orchestra have sufficiently tuned their instruments, the baton has given the signal” ­ Modi added his own note to it: ”There is a new symphony in play .” PM Modi hit all the right buttons in an address punctuated with several rounds of applause from lawmakers, including a few standing ovations.

In an oblique defense -and dismissal -of the charges against him that resulted in revocation of a US visa, Modi reminded lawmakers that the Indian Constitution is the only holy book for his government, and the people of India enjoyed freedom and equality regardless of their religion and faith.

Just the day before his address, a few lawmakers held a censorious Congressional hearing on religious and human rights issues in India that was clearly timed for his arrival, but Indian officials had almost contemptuously dismissed the concerns, asking activists to look at the overwhelmingly positive sentiment of the Congress. That became apparent as soon as Modi walked into the chamber to an ovation that lasted nearly five minutes.

Clearly aware of the fluidi ty of the political situation in the US that could result in changes in the executive and legislature in November, Modi sought to cement ties into the future as he spoke of the “’comfort, candour and convergence that define our conversation“ … “through the cycle of elections and the transition of administrations“. He thanked the Congress for “acting as a compass“ and, with a touch of irony , complimented lawmakers -some of whom have reservations about him and others who hero-worship him -for “turning barriers into bridges of partnership“.

Indeed, there was quite a bit of joshing as Modi ribbed lawmakers on their “bipartisanship“ in a reference to the raucous nature of democracy in both countries. He also needled some of the more protectionist sentiments in the Congress by joking that more Americans (30 million) now bat for yoga than throw a curve ball, but India has still not claimed intellectual property rights on its ancient science.

On a more serious note, he asserted India’s claim for a seat at the high table. To paraphrase his view: global institutions created in the 20th century should reflect the realities of the 21st century . The PM also implicitly criticised US’ past Pakistan policies, reminding them (without naming Pakistan) that terror was incubated in India’s neighbourhood, and refusing to reward those who sponsor terror is the first step in holding them accountable.

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