Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his over four-hour visit to the US Capitol established a personal rapport with top lawmakers and seems to have won over his critics.
“With your sense of humour and the way you delivered that speech, I think really identifies why we have such close ties,” Senator Bob Corker, Chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations committee said as he welcomed Modi during a congressional reception hosted in his honour.
“The fact is that our political, strategic and economic ties is better than they have ever been. We know that these are going to be even greater. While our ties are with the people of India, we know that with you as their leader the possibilities are at an all-time high,” Corker said.
Less than a month ago, Corker during a Congressional hearing was highly critical over the pace of economic reforms, human rights situation and religious freedom, and slamming the Obama administration of not being “brutally honest” in its conversation with his government.
Senator Ben Cardin, Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who for the past two weeks have been raising the issue of human rights and slavery in India, said that Modi on Wednesday “gained a lot of friends” in the Congress.
Referring to Modi’s call for India and the US working together for the benefit of the world, Cardin said this was a very powerful message.
“His presence, the amount of time he spent and his own personality is very helpful in getting friends here in America,” he said.
Modi on Wednesday spent more than four hours at the Hill. The Speaker of the US House of Representative Paul Ryan and several top Congressional leaders received him. He received standing ovations as many as nine times -- according to unofficial count -- and was applauded by scores of times by the members of the Congress.
“He (Modi) spoke eloquently about the importance of a strong US-India relationship to promoting peace and freedom around the globe,” Ryan said in a statement.
“We understand that India is in a tough neighbourhood, but we also understand that with your words here today, that you have, with that symphony that you spoke of, set a new note,” said Congressman Ed Royce, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“The Indian-American community has brought such incredible energy to this relationship. It’s the secret weapon for both countries, driving stronger engagement and helping keep things on track during challenging times.
“So Mr Prime Minister, your visit will energise this work even further. And I’m confident that Congress will remain focused on India as an anchor of stability in the region and a key American partner in Asia,” said Congressman Elliot Engel, Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
For Indian-American Congressman Ami Bera, it was a dream come true.
“India is a key partner of the United States, so I was pleased to have Speaker Ryan grant my request to bring Prime Minister Modi to Congress to address his vision on the US-India partnership,” he said.
“The prime minister’s fourth visit to the United States in just two years signifies just how important the burgeoning relationship between our countries is as we continue to address the many challenges that face our nations today -- strengthening our economies, promoting renewable clean energy, protecting our planet, improving cyber security, and combating terrorism,” said Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard.
“Madison Square Garden was electric when I first met Prime Minister Modi in 2014, and the House chamber was full of just as much energy today,” said Congresswoman Grace Meng.
Congressman Joe Crowley said he was pleased to hear from Prime Minister Modi on his vision for the next chapter in US-India relations.
Congressman Brad Sherman said Modi “delivered a very insightful speech”, which laid out the mutual benefits of America’s growing relationship with India.
The Indian-American community leaders also said that the prime minister’s 45-minute address to the joint sitting of the Congress would help boost Indo-US relationship.
“No doubt it was a brilliant speech. Most people from the Indian American community realised what a great performer and leader he was. President Obama had realised. But many members of the Congress had not seen firsthand,” said Chicago-based Bharat Barai.
“It is revealing that some of the loudest cheers and applause in response to the address came from the galleries where so many members of the Indian American community were sitting,” said Ronak D Desai, a fellow at New America and an affiliate at the BelferCenter’s India and South Programme at HarvardUniversity.
“The reaction is a potent reminder of the popularity Prime Minister Modi enjoys within certain segments of the diaspora. His recognition of the diaspora during his speech is consistent with his robust efforts so far to engage the millions of Indians living abroad, particularly within the United States,” Desai said.
Prominent Indian-American Ashok Mago from Dallas said Modi got “numerous standing ovations for his comments about the role of US and India in today’s complicated world to make peace loving countries strong economically and fight terrorism”.
“As an American of proud Indian heritage, to see an Indian PM -- be it Rajiv Gandhi in 1985 or Narendra Modi in 2016 -- in the Congress is a joy only enhanced by the music to every ear: that United States and India are not only natural allies, but inseparable partners -- the very definition of destiny,” said New York-based attorney Ravi Batra.