Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech to the U.S. Congress on Thursday has drawn mixed reactions from some local lawmakers and advocates.
Modi’s address: Modi accepted the invitation to speak on Capitol Hill just days after bipartisan leaders in both the House and the Senate signed and sent the invitation to him earlier this month.
In addition to the address, the Indian leader will also join President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden for a state dinner on the same day, a gesture reserved for U.S. allies.
Welcoming Modi: Leaders from both major political parties recognize India as a vital ally and strategic partner on defense, climate change initiatives, technology and foreign policy.
Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia welcomed Modi’s visit, emphasizing the potential to strengthen the bonds between the countries.
“In the face of rising global authoritarianism, it is more important than ever for our countries — as the world’s two largest democracies — to respect and reaffirm the shared values that are the foundation of both of our countries, and to bolster democracy, universal human rights, tolerance and pluralism, and equal opportunity for all citizens,” Warner said in a statement.
On Wednesday, Sen. Warner and Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas introduced legislation to include India in the list of favored nations for U.S. arms sales to foster closer U.S.-India ties and reduce India’s reliance on Russian military equipment.
“We need to continue to encourage India to align itself with the democracies in the world and not the autocracies,” Cornyn was quoted saying. “And obviously, history is a big influence here, because since — what, 1947? — the United States has been more aligned with Pakistan, and India was then forced into the arms of Russia. And obviously, they’re very dependent, still, on Russian weapons.”
Boycotting the address: Expressing concerns over human rights issues and India’s reluctance to sever ties with Russia, some lawmakers have announced their intention to boycott Modi’s speech.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D, NY-14) wrote in a tweet that she is boycotting the speech in support of “pluralism, tolerance, and freedom of the press.”
“A joint address is among the most prestigious invitations and honors the United States Congress can extend,” Ocasio-Cortez added. “We should not do so for individuals with deeply troubling human rights records – particularly for individuals whom our own State Department has concluded are engaged in systematic human rights abuses of religious minorities and caste-oppressed communities.”
The first two Muslim women elected to Congress mentioned the human rights abuses of religious minorities in India in their statements announcing their boycott of the address.
“It’s shameful that Modi has been given a platform at our nation’s capital—his long history of human rights abuses, anti-democratic actions, targeting Muslims & religious minorities, and censoring journalists is unacceptable,” Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D, MI-12) wrote in her tweet. “I will be boycotting Modi’s joint address to Congress.”
In a statement, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D, MN-5) said, “Prime Minister Modi’s government has repressed religious minorities, emboldened violent Hindu nationalist groups, and targeted journalists/human rights advocates with impunity.”
Confronting Modi’s issues: Meanwhile, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D, WA-7) told Time that she will attend the speech as she considers it a “really important and nuanced discussion.”
“India is a critical partner of the United States as a country regardless of who the prime minister is,” Jayapal was quoted saying.
Jayapal co-authored a letter signed by over 70 lawmakers calling on Biden to bring up Modi’s alleged rights issues pertaining to religious intolerance, press freedom, internet access and the targeting of civil society groups during their scheduled meet.
As longtime supporters of a strong U.S.-India relationship, we also believe that friends can and should discuss their differences in an honest and forthright way. That is why we respectfully request that — in addition to the many areas of shared interests between India and the U.S. — you also raise directly with Prime Minister Modi areas of concern.