Washington (CNN)Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered an ode to U.S.-India relations to a joint session of Congress Wednesday, capping something of a phoenix-like rise for both the man and his country’s relations with the U.S.
In an extended speech celebrating the two countries’ relationship, he noted that their close ties reflect deeply shared values.
“The traits of freedom and liberty form a strong bond between our two democracies,” said Modi, who was greeted by almost three minutes of applause on entering the House chamber. “Our nations may have been shaped by diverse histories, cultures and faiths, yet our belief in democracy for our nations and liberty for our countrymen is common.”
“As a representative of the world’s largest democracy, it is indeed a privilege to speak to the leaders of its oldest,” Modi said.
It would have been hard to imagine three years ago, when U.S.-India relations were in tatters over the arrest and strip search of an Indian diplomat in New York for visa fraud and underpaying her housekeeper. Modi wasn’t even permitted to enter the U.S. then, censured for failing to stop the 2002 mass killings of Muslims in the Hindu-majority state he led at the time.
With the Indian leader’s election in 2014, the tide has definitively turned — thanks to determined effort, a growing strategic alignment and the striking odd-couple chemistry between the barrel-chested, bear-hugging Modi and his cool, often restrained American counterpart, President Barack Obama.
Modi, the fifth Indian prime minister to address a joint session of Congress, was interrupted throughout by applause from lawmakers who increasingly see in India a democratic counterweight to China in the Asia Pacific. Modi’s repeated references to India’s commitment to freedom and democracy served as a reminder that his country offers the U.S. a like-minded partner in an increasingly unsettled region. And that it provides Asia with a model for development and progress more compatible with U.S. values.
“No wonder that the shared ideals and common philosophy of freedom shape the bedrock of our ties. No wonder that President Obama called our ties the defining partnership of the 21st century,” Modi said.
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Secretary of State John Kerry has said that the U.S. may now do more with India on a government-to-government basis than virtually any other nation. Modi’s visit is meant to celebrate that achievement and cement it as this U.S. administration prepares to give way to a new one in 2017.
“This trip is both a love fest and a sales pitch,” said Michael Kugelman, a senior associate for South Asia at the Wilson Center.
Modi’s goal — and Obama’s — will be “to highlight the rapid progress made in U.S.-India relations in recent years and to underscore the importance of maintaining the current momentum in relations against a backdrop of changing U.S. leadership,” Kugelman said