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'The only two countries that could have given birth to Hollywood and Bollywood'

By Aziiz Haniffa/
Last updated on: October 01, 2014 09:21 IST
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'We are two countries that, as Swami Vivekananda said in Chicago more than a century ago, have sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations on Earth.'

'People are watching to wait and see if this Modi moment is going to be the moment when the world's oldest democracy and the world's largest democracy finally capitalise on the full, inherent potential of this relationship.'

Aziz Haniffa/ reports from the State Department's lunch for Prime Minister Modi.

After Narendra Modi's rock star performance at the Madison Square Garden on Sunday, US Secretary of State John F Kerry joked, singer Billy Joel had called him hoping that the Indian leader had not replaced his regular gig there. Joel, a New York landmark, performs every month or so at the Garden.

The lunch Vice President Joe Biden and Kerry hosted for the Indian prime minister at the Benjamin Franklin Room at the State Department featured the likes of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, 91.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed a massive gathering at the Madison Square Garden in New York during his visit to the United States. Photographs: Lucas Jackson/Reuters

At the outset, Kerry thanked "our chef Vikram Sunderam, who is responsible for this wonderful meal we're going to have here today," and added, "We are happy to acknowledge his tremendous success at Rasika, which is one of our terrific restaurants here in Washington -- one example of how Indian Americans are not just living the American dream, but they are redefining it on a daily basis."

And then he set the tone by turning to Modi and saying to laughter that "Mr Prime Minister, I'm forced to admit that no matter how warm our welcome here today, we're never going to be able to top your rock star reception at Madison Square Garden."

"Billy Joel called me this morning to make sure you hadn't taken his regular gig there. None of us have been able to turn on a television or pick up a newspaper without seeing the celebrity coverage that the prime minister has received. And with it, for all of us, there's a sense of shared excitement and a sense of shared possibility."

"I've been Secretary of State now going on two years, and I was on the Foreign Relations Committee for nearly 30 years, so I've seen, as the Vice President has -- we've both sort of lived through the ups and downs of this relationship."

And, he noted to even more laughter, "People talk about the United States and India perhaps the way that a matchmaker talks about two friends that they want to get together. And you sort of have that, 'Oh, you have so much in common. If only you'd spend more time together'."

Then referring to what could very well become a cliche as the Modi Moment, Kerry said, "What's very clear about this visit at this moment is that people are watching to wait and see if this Modi moment is going to be the moment when the world's oldest democracy and the world's largest democracy finally capitalise on the full, inherent potential of this relationship."

"And it does, in fact, seem so natural. The United States and India are two countries defined by the belief that all things are possible."

Kerry spoke of how "President Obama often says that, for him, only in America would his journey be possible. And Prime Minister Modi's journey from a young man who sold tea by the railroad in Gujarat to the prime minister's residence on Race Course Road seems no less improbable."

"This belief in opportunity, even against long odds, is really unique to our two countries. We are two countries who begin our founding documents with the same words, the same three words: 'We the people.' We're two countries where entrepreneurship, creativity, and innovation is in both of our DNA. The only two countries that could have given birth to Hollywood and Bollywood -- the only two countries where high-tech hubs like Bangalore and Silicon Valley could blossom and be connected, even as they are independent in their creativity."

Our new partnership is rooted in both shared values and shared interests, said US Secretary of State John F Kerry, who, along with Vice President Joe Biden, hosted a lunch for Prime Minister Modi at the Benjamin Franklin Room, at the State Department . Photographs: MEA/Flickr

"We are two countries that, as Swami Vivekananda said in Chicago more than a century ago, have sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations on Earth," Kerry added.

"I have been pleased and privileged to see our relationship come a long way. It has been a long journey from the mistrust and misperception of the Cold War period and even the post-Cold War period and President Clinton's efforts to forge a new relationship. And those efforts have continued under administrations Democratic and Republican, alike."

Thus, he said, "The question today is whether we are going to at last take this partnership to the new heights that we can both envision. And we're already working together in a crucial number of efforts. Already today our two navies are safeguarding vital trade routes off the Horn of Africa. Today, our engineers are retrofitting telecom networks to run on solar power together. Our scientists are developing new drugs to treat malaria. Our businesses are trading more together -- a five-fold increase since the year 2000."

"But the question is what this relationship looks like tomorrow," he said, and observed, "The promise of Prime Minister Modi's visit is really quite simple. This is one of those hinge points in history. Perhaps for the first time the United States and India don't just share the same founding ideals, but we share the same economic and political imperatives."

"We both need and want clean air. And we both need good jobs. We both need to trade in new markets. We both need more investment. We both need higher education systems that work for the next generation. And we both need to keep our people safe from the scourge of violent extremism."

"Our new partnership," Kerry said, "is rooted in both shared values and shared interests. And to me, those are the sum of the same values and interests that you, Mr Prime Minister, have put at the centre of your agenda with the words,'Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas,' participation of all, development for all.'

It was both in India and America's interest that Modi succeeds, Kerry said, and declared, "We want history to remember that what you did for India's development is the same memory people have of the history of Mahatma Gandhi and what he did for India's independence."

"If we make the right choices, if we harness the capacity of our two nations, if we seize the opportunities," Kerry said, "this can be the moment to transform our strategic relationship into an historic partnership, a partnership that honours our place as great powers and great democracies."

Biden, recalling the dinner the previous night hosted by President Obama for Modi at the White House -- after typically first committing a mistake and calling Obama Senator and then correcting himself and calling him President -- spoke of the "remarkable way" the President and the prime minister had connected, "each discussing what each of our countries faced and what needed to be done. It was really quite remarkable."

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with President Obama in the Oval Office at the white House. Photographs: Paresh Gandhi/

"I've been to many of these dinners, but I can't think of any one that went as well," Bioden said, adding. "And Happy Navratri, Mr Prime Minister. It's good of you to honour us and visit us during this holy week."

And then not to be outdone in terms of levity, said, "The prime minister is fasting and we keep taking him to dinners and lunches. And as we Catholics would say, that's an occasion for sin, but we appreciate the fact he has spent so much time with us."

Then getting serious, Biden said, "It's good to have a chance to come together to celebrate the relationship that has grown enormously over the past two decades. There was no reason why the oldest and the largest democracy should not be working together, but it's been a promise and it has always just been out of reach. But I think one of the reasons why it's come into reach -- it is not just because of the prime minister, but because of the ways in which the different ethnicities, faces, faiths, tongues of both our proud nations have come together."

"The way, as John said, the way entrepreneurship seems to be hard-wired into both cultures, where Indian Americans whose talents have shaped the fabric of this country and our schools, our hospitals and our courtrooms and our government and our arts, entertainment, Main Street to Silicon Valley, and the way it is reflected in our nation's military uniforms and those who wear them."

Most of all, Biden added, "Mr Prime Minister, we admire your democracy and the message it sends to people around the world -- No nation, no nation, has to choose between development and freedom. We can and must secure both. They go hand-in-hand. I saw these virtues first hand in a number of visits I have made to India over the years."

The vice president then went on to say how during his most recent visit to India, he had discovered that he had relatives in India.

"Mr Prime Minister, I brought my wife Jill and my daughter and my son-in-law to India with me less than a year ago, and I learned something. When I was in Mumbai, I found out that what I had heard for so many years was true, that I actually had relatives in Mumbai -- for real, A press person after the second press conference I had presented me with a portrait -- a copy of a portrait of my great-great-great grandfather who -- the Irish part of me is hard to admit -- but was an English sea captain who settled and lived in India."

"And there are three Biden families in Mumbai," the vice president added, and then the audience cracked up when he said, "So I'm going home with you, Prime Minister."

"My wife and my daughter got to see what I've had the ability to see in the past -- the incredible dynamism and diversity that reinforced in all of us the remarkable fact of where we find ourselves."

Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrives at the White House in Washington DC for a meeting with US President Barack Obama. Photographs: Vijay Verma/PTI Photo

Thus, he argued, "The question is no longer is whether it is in the interest of the United States and India to build a strong relationship, as President Obama says, into the defining partnership of the century ahead, the question is, How ambitious and how rapidly are we prepared to build that partnership? And I believe, as the President does, we should be bold."

"I am often known for quoting Irish poets by my colleagues," Biden said, "but one of my favorite Irish poets is William Butler Yeats, and he thought a great deal of the great Indian poet Tagore who was, he thought, among the very best. And he was India's first Nobel Prize winner, the only person to ever have two of his compositions chosen as the national anthem of two different countries -- India and Bangladesh."

"I'll summarize what Yeats wrote about Tagore in the book that won Tagore the Nobel Prize that came to him over 100 years ago. He said, 'His lyrics are full of subtle rhythm, of untranslatable delicacies, of invention -- the work of a supreme culture."

"The same can be said of India today -- a diverse community humming with dynamism and energy, a great and ancient society reinventing itself to be able to thrive in the 21st century."

Invoking Tagore again, Biden said, "'You can't cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water,' and so we have to act together."

Turning to Modi, Biden said, "Our conversations these past two days leave me with absolute confidence that we can cross the sea together. And we are encouraged -- all of us who have been in contact with you these last couple days -- with your sense of purpose, with your incredible energy, and with your commitment to this relationship."

Obviously touched by the sentiments expressed, Modi in his remarks said, "I'm very grateful to you wholeheartedly for that. And listening to both of you, it is very clear that because of my travel this time, the relations between India and America, a new confidence has risen in that relationship, a new excitement is there in this relationship."

And, he predicted, "Ultimately, the relationship between two countries, the basis of this relationship is always the manner in which the kind of confidence that is there in the two countries, and what is the chemistry between the leadership of two countries -- that is what works for a long time, and in the last two days especially and for last four days that I have been in the US, I have been feeling this, that not only on Mars have we met."

"India and the US haven't met only on Mars. We are also meeting on Earth as well, and we are coming close."

Prime Minister Narendra Modi signs autographs for children of the Indian community in Washington DC. Photographs: PTI Photo

"There are certain problems," Modi acknowledged. "You use a system which is 120-volts, and we use a 220-volt system in India. So 120 and 220 -- when you have to bring them together and the difference in the energy which is there, so we'll have to undertake necessary steps in order to bring it together, and I'm sure we'll succeed in it."

"And today I say this with great confidence, that India is moving fast, and forward very fast. And the youth part that is there in India and the talent which is there in India, and the very innovative nature of Indians and India, and the ancient civilisation that we have in India -- all these things that are there."

"India is committed, India is determined. And I would like to assure the world community and especially the United States of America that to fulfill the aspirations, hopes and aspirations of the world, they are all looking up to India, and India has become ready for that. India is ready to march ahead step-by-step and in tune with America."

"It is a hugely successful journey that I have undertaken here, and today I got this opportunity to meet all of you here. And I would also like to thank President Obama from the core of my heart that you took out a lot of time."

"We were together yesterday and today for for quite some time. Today, in fact, he took me around. And with such ease, with such humility, he has given a new dimension to our relations."

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Aziiz Haniffa/ in Washington, DC