Prime Minister Narendra Modi may be invited to address a joint session of US Congress during his visit scheduled for end of September, an honor not extended to every visiting dignitary.
US House of Representative’s foreign affairs committee chairman Ed Royce set the ball rolling on Friday requesting Speaker John Boehner to invite Modi to address lawmakers.
“With more than 500 million people voting in the recent Indian election, it was both the world’s largest democratic event and a historic moment for India,” Royce wrote in a letter to Boehner, signed jointly with Congressman George Holding.
“The US must now work closely with Prime Minister Modi to strengthen the important relationship between the two countries.”
Royce also pointed to recent frustration in the US over trade relations with India. “Prime Minister 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,” he said.
The signatories are both Republican, as is Speaker Boehner. And a group of lawmakers from their party had called on him in Gujarat in early 2013, long before the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) named him its prime-ministerial candidate.
If he does get an invitation, as is expected, and accepts, Modi will be the sixth Indian Prime Minister to address the US Congress —Jawaharlal Nehru in 1949, followed by Rajiv Gandhi in 1985, PV Narasimha Rao in 1994, Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2000 and Manmohan Singh in 2005.
A glaring exception was Indira Gandhi, India’s longest-serving PM on whose watch relations with the United States were possibly the worst ever, before or since.
Most visiting US presidents have also been accorded the honor of addressing a joint sitting of Parliament — starting with Dwight D Eisenhower in 1959.
Modi’s address to a joint session of US Congress, however, will come as a fitting finale to his pricey relations with the body, which has condemned him in the past over the Gujarat riots in 2002.
It was under a little-known law passed by the Congress that Modi became the only foreign leader ever denied a visa to visit the United States for violation of religious freedom.
It’s also just possible that at the time of his address, a proposed House resolution may still be around, though without any hope of ever passing in view of Modi’s new stature.
Modi is scheduled to visit the US around September 30 for a meeting with President Barack Obama, on his invitation, before proceeding to New York for the UN General Assembly meetings.