WASHINGTON: The leaders of the US Congress said on Friday they had invited Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to address a joint meeting of the House of Representatives and Senate on June 22, one of the highest honours Washington affords to foreign dignitaries.

“During your address, you will have the opportunity to share your vision for India’s future and speak to the global challenges our countries both face,” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, and House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries said in a letter to Modi.

The speech would be Modi’s second to a joint meeting of the US legislature.

The White House announced last month that President Joe Biden had invited Modi for an official state visit this month.

Biden is eager to deepen ties with the world’s largest democracy as part of his bid to win what he has framed as a contest between free and autocratic societies, especially China.

Addresses to joint meetings of Congress, are generally reserved for the closest US allies or major world figures. The last was by South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol in April, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy addressed the House and Senate in December.

Several Indian leaders have made such addresses. Modi last did so in 2016. The first was Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1949.

Modi’s relationship with Washington has evolved since 2005, when the administration of then-President George W. Bush denied him a visa under a US law barring entry to foreigners who have committed “particularly severe violations of religious freedom”.

That stemmed from the killing of more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, in sectarian riots in the Indian state of Gujarat shortly after Modi became its chief minister. Modi denied wrongdoing.

In their letter, McCarthy, Sch­umer, McConnell and Jeffries said

the address would cele­brate the enduring friendship between the United States and India.

Published in Dawn, June 3rd, 2023

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