Here’s why Democrats and Republicans welcome a visit from right-wing Indian PM Narendra Modi

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden and congressional leaders will roll out the red carpet for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday, as the right-wing Hindu nationalist leader arrives for an official state visit to the United States.

Modi will address a joint session of Congress and will be feted at a White House state dinner — a diplomatic honor usually reserved for close allies. On Sunday, many Indian Americans took to the streets in major cities across the country for an “India Unity Day” march to welcome Modi to the U.S.

The marches, organized by the American overseas arm of Modi’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, were a show of support for the controversial Indian leader who has faced criticism for presiding over human rights violations, an erosion of the country’s democracy, and a crackdown in Indian-controlled Kashmir.

That Democrats and Republicans alike are honoring Modi this week demonstrates the White House and Congress are willing to overlook his right-wing populist agenda in the pursuit of a strategically important relationship that will allow the U.S. to counter China’s influence.

Why the U.S. relationship with India is ‘strategically important

Meanwhile, Modi’s political allies in Washington stepped up their lobbying efforts with members of Congress and the Biden administration ahead of his official state visit this week.

Sanjay Puri, the chairman and founder of the bipartisan U.S.-India Political Action Committee (USINPAC), said that in their lobbying efforts, the group has sought to underscore that India is “the only democracy in that region” and emphasize that the rise of China resulted in the U.S.-India partnership becoming a “strategically important relationship.”

“That’s been our push,” Puri said of the group’s discussions with lawmakers ahead of Modi’s visit. “It has resulted in, obviously, the [congressional] leadership asking him to come in and speak and also President Biden inviting him for a state dinner as well as several other activities around that.”

In addition to combatting American criticism of the Indian government’s human rights record, the welcome marches likely also sought to enhance Modi’s political image at home ahead of a general election next year, according to Gautam Nair, a professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.

“This visit actually should buttress his domestic political standing,” Nair, who was born and raised in India, said. “And these rallies sort of suggest, or help foster an image, that he is an international leader of stature as well.”

Mukesh Aghi, president of the U.S.-India Strategic Partnership Forum, said “the Indian diaspora is quite excited about what Modi is doing, excited about the direction of the country, and feel proud of their heritage.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi today led the Yoga Day event at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, USA

Countering China

Modi’s visit also comes just days after Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with senior Chinese officials in Beijing over the weekend, a bid to improve relations between the two superpowers after months of heightened tensions. Washington has increasingly looked to forge closer ties with New Delhi to counter China’s rising political and economic influence.

Nair said he believes the rationale for giving Modi the star treatment during his visit to the United States is “quite clear.”

“This extra effort is because traditionally India has been wary of forging formal alliances with great powers,” Nair said. “This is reflected in the fact that on the one hand, defense ties, diplomatic ties, economic ties are deepening with the United States, and at the same time China is a huge trading partner for India.”

Aghi said he expects Modi’s visit to yield a deal that will allow General Electric to manufacture jet engines in India for the country’s military aircraft, in addition to fostering discussions on healthcare and artificial intelligence between the two countries.

“I think what we’re seeing is a much deeper collaboration on technology, investments, and defense,” Aghi said.

How this U.S.-India partnership could be one of the most significant in a century

Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., who serves as a co-chair of the U.S.-India congressional caucus, told USA TODAY he believes the “U.S.-India partnership will be one of the most significant of this century.”

“We will be working to strengthen the technology and defense relationship and to promote scientific research and cooperation on climate change initiatives,” Khanna said.

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, a 2024 Republican presidential candidate and the daughter of Indian immigrants, said she also welcomed the decision to invite Modi for an official state visit.

“India is a critically important country in the Indo-Pacific region and a natural ally of America with so many shared values and interests,” Haley told USA TODAY. “It is entirely appropriate that Prime Minister Modi should address Congress and be celebrated at the White House.”

Biden and American political leaders, however, have faced criticism for giving Modi the official state visit treatment without putting a stronger focus on the rollback of press freedoms in India and his government’s treatment of minority Muslims and Christians.

“The relationship must be grounded on a respect for pluralism, an open internet, human rights a,nd liberal democracy,” Khanna said.

Why it matters: Secretary Blinken visits Beijing as tensions grow between U.S. and China

Blinken is the highest-level American official to visit China since President Joe Biden took office and his two-day trip comes after his initial plans to travel to China were postponed in February after the shootdown of a Chinese surveillance balloon over the U.S. Despite Blinken’s presence in China, he and other U.S. officials had played down the prospects for any significant breakthroughs on the most vexing issues facing the planet’s two largest economies.

Still, his talks could pave the way for a meeting in the coming months between Biden and Xi. Biden said Saturday that he hoped to be able to meet with Xi in the coming months to take up the plethora of differences that divide them. That long list includes disagreements ranging from trade to Taiwan, human rights conditions in China and Hong Kong to Chinese military assertiveness in the South China Sea, and Russia’s war in Ukraine.


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