Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Writing the fifth chapter of India story

Pankaj Sharma
2 May 2016

Four Indian prime ministers have addressed the joint meeting of the US Congress in the past. How will Narendra Modi fare on June 8, 2016?

When Narendra Modi addresses the joint session of the US Congress on June 8, he will join the august league of four other Indian prime ministers. Rajiv Gandhi was the first prime minister who shared his dream of an India for the twenty-first century with the US Congress on June 13, 1985 when Ronald Reagan was US President.

“Freedom for India meant the ending of colonial subjugation and working for equality among all nations,” Rajiv Gandhi told the Senate and the House of Representatives. “Much of what we have done we have done ourselves. Ninety percent of the investment of our economy is financed from our own resources.” He also stressed on the ties that bound the two nations together. “The peoples of India and America are not allies in security strategies, but they are friends in larger human causes - freedom, justice and peace,” he said. Rajiv recalled how the American Revolution asserted the rights of man. He quoted Rabindranath Tagore to define nationalism and human brotherhood.

Rajiv received a thumping applause when he told the 99th US Congress: “I have been elected prime minister of India at a time when our nation stands poised for a new surge of growth. Our leaders in the past 30 years have established firm foundations on which we have now to build. India is an old country, but a young nation; and like the young everywhere, we are impatient. I am young and I too have a dream. I dream of an India—strong, self-reliant, and in the front rank of the nations of the world in the service of mankind. I am committed to realizing that dream through dedication, hard work, and the collective determination of our people.”

P.V. Narasimha Rao was the second Indian head of state to address the joint session of the US Congress on May 18, 1994. Bill Clinton was US President at that time. Rao presented a detailed blueprint of the reforms India had undergone in the few years preceding his address. “The histories of our two nations have been intertwined by the words and deeds of great men and women. Christopher Columbus set off to discover a new route to India, only to discover a new world. Out of that unintended discovery was born a great nation. Undaunted by, rather big difference, he discovered in his destination, Columbus remarked, this time with perfect accuracy, that the more you go East, the more you are assured to come upon the West. Thus, America has a special place in the Indian thinking, as a continent found further east of the known East. This direction is significant in its own way,” he said.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the third Indian prime minister, who addressed the US Congress on September 14, 2000. At that time, Bill Clinton was in his final term as President of the United States. Vajpayee began his speech with thanking the US “for the near-unique approach that you have adopted towards my country” and expressed hope for “deeper engagement with the USA”. He also reminded Americans that to more than a million and a half from India, America is now home and in turn, their industry, enterprise, and skills are contributing to the advancement of American society. “I see in the outstanding success of the Indian community in America, a metaphor of the vast potential that exists in Indo-US relations, and what we can achieve together,” Vajpayee said.

Rajiv Gandhi’s efforts to make Panchayati Raj a success story also found mention in Vajpayee’s speech. “For me, the most gratifying of the many achievements of Indian democracy has been the change it has brought to the lives of the weak and the vulnerable,” he said. “To give just one figure, in recent years, it has enabled more than a million women in small towns and distant villages to enter local elected councils and to decide on issues that touch upon their lives.”

Vajpayee also underlined the inbuilt strength of Indian economy and took a strong stand against terrorism. “There are forces outside our country that believe that they can use terror to unravel the territorial integrity of India. They wish to show that a multi-religious society cannot exist. No country has faced as ferocious an attack of terrorist violence as India has over the past two decades,” he said.

Dr. Manmohan Singh was next to address the joint session of the US Congress on July 19, 2005. Washington had a new president in George W. Bush. In his speech, Dr. Singh presented in detail the increasing interdependence in the era of globalization, the need to strengthen democracies across the world and to fight terrorism in unison. He also spoke at length about energy security, second green revolution and on issues of global governance.

“As democracies, we must work together to create the world in which democracies can flourish. This is particularly important because we are today faced with new threats such as terrorism, to which democracies are particularly vulnerable. Indian democracy has been fashioned around India’s civilizational ethos which celebrates diversity. Our society today is the culmination of centuries of assimilation of diverse peoples and ethnic groups. All the major religions of the world are represented in India. The real test of a democracy is not in what is said in the Constitution, but in how it functions on the ground. Democracy can only thrive in open and free societies. But open societies like ours are today threatened more than ever before by the rise of terrorism. The United States and India must work together in all possible forums to counter all forms of terrorism. We cannot be selective in this area. We must fight terrorism wherever it exists because terrorism anywhere threatens democracy everywhere,” he said.

Dr. Singh also firmly raised the demand for restructuring the United Nations Security Council. He told the US Congress: “Globalisation has woven a web of inter-connections across the world. This makes it all the more necessary that we evolve a system of global governance that carries credibility and commands legitimacy. The UN Security Council must be restructured as part of the reform process. The voice of the world’s largest democracy surely cannot be left unheard on the Security Council when the United Nations is being restructured.”

Let’s see how strongly Narendra Modi advocates India’s case before ‘his friend Barack’ on the second Wednesday of June 2016.

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