Washington, DC: April 28, 2016: Narendra Modi has achieved yet another milestone during his tenure as the Prime Minister of India. Modi has been invited to address a joint meeting of the US Congress on June 8 during his visit here, Speaker of the US House of Representative Paul Ryan said on Thursday, April 28, 2016.
“The friendship between the United States and India is a pillar of stability in an important region of the world,” Ryan told reporters during his weekly press conference. “This address presents a special opportunity to hear from the elected leader of the world’s most populous democracy on how our two nations can work together to promote our shared values and to increase prosperity. We look forward to welcoming Prime Minister Modi to the US Capitol on June 8,” he said. Modi was invited by President Barack Obama for a bilateral visit when he was in Washington, DC for the nuclear summit.
India has not announced the PM’s visit yet, but Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar is in Washington to finalize the agenda of the visit that is reportedly at the behest of U.S. President Barack Obama. If Modi accepts the invitation and addresses the Congress, he will be the fifth leader of India to have the honor to address the joint session of the US Congress. Earlier, Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh (July 19, 2005), Atal Bihari Vajpayee (September 14, 2000), P V Narasimha Rao (May 18, 1994) and Rajiv Gandhi (July 13, 1985) addressed the joint meeting of the US Congress.
The tradition of foreign leaders and dignitaries addressing Congress began with the Marquis de Lafayette of France, who spoke in the House chamber on December 10, 1824. Ronak D Desai, a Fellow at New America and an Affiliate at the Belfer Center’s India and South Asia Program at Harvard University, has been quoted to have said, “an invitation to Prime Minister Modi to address a Joint Meeting of Congress is significant, given past US policy towards Modi during his time as Chief Minister of Gujarat.”
In a bipartisan initiative, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, the Ranking Democratic member Eliot Engel and Representatives George Holding, and Dr. Amerish ‘Ami’ Bera had written to the speaker on April 20, requesting him to invite Modi to address Congress.
Top U.S. House of Representatives from the Foreign Affairs Committee had called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to address a joint meeting of Congress during a visit to Washington in June this year. Invitations to address the Senate and House are considered a great honor. There have been only two in the past year: Pope Francis, on September 24, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, on April 29, 2015.
The invitation would be a sharp turnaround for a leader who was once barred from the United States over massacres of Muslims. In 2002, when Modi had just become Gujarat’s chief minister, more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in sectarian riots in the state. The administration of President George W. Bush denied Modi a visa in 2005 under a 1998 U.S. law barring entry to foreigners who have committed “particularly severe violations of religious freedom.”
“Given the depth of our relationship with India across a range of areas – defence, humanitarian and disaster relief, space cooperation, conservation and innovation – we believe this is an ideal opportunity for the Congress to hear directly from the prime minister,” Representatives Ed Royce, the Republican committee chairman, and Eliot Engel, the panel’s ranking Democrat, wrote to House Speaker Paul Ryan. The letter to Ryan was also signed by Republican Representative George Holding and Democrat Ami Bera, the co-chairmen of the Congress Caucus on India and Indian Americans. A spokeswoman for Ryan said she had no announcement at this time about whether Ryan would extend the invitation.
Modi’s visit is likely to be the last official meeting between the two leaders during President Obama’s final year in office.