Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gets to burnish his standing as a trusted U.S. partner Wednesday, addressing a joint meeting of Congress after years of being shunned in Washington over religious violence in his home state.
Modi’s appearance on Capitol Hill, where he will also have lunch with congressional leaders and attend a reception hosted by the House and Senate foreign affairs committees, will be the highlight of his visit to the United States.
A White House meeting with President Barack Obama on Tuesday consolidated the strong bilateral ties but was short on major outcomes. India, the world’s third-largest carbon emitter among nations, said it would strive to formally join a global climate deal this year — as the U.S. and China have said they will do — but it gave no ironclad commitment.
There was also some progress on a landmark civilian nuclear agreement between the U.S. and India that was reached in 2008. The two governments said that U.S.-based Westinghouse Electric Co is preparing to build six nuclear reactors in India, but it has yet to finalize a contract.
Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin, who recently visited India, said the congressional address and Modi’s meetings with lawmakers will carry an important message. “It’s basically two friends, the United States and India, the two largest democracies in the world, getting together to show that our relationship is getting stronger,” he said.
But there’s also a sense in Congress that the relationship has yet to deliver on its promise and some lawmakers have criticized the Modi government’s record on religious tolerance and combating human trafficking and slavery.
Modi will be the fifth Indian leader to make a speech to Congress since 1985. The last was by his predecessor, Manmohan Singh, in 2005. Coincidentally, it was that year that Modi was denied a visa to visit the U.S. over suspicions about his possible role in religious riots that killed more than 1,000 Muslims in the western state of Gujarat, where he was then the top official. American officials largely avoided contact with Modi until he became prime minister in the 2014. Since then, he has visited the U.S. four times.
His tenure has seen an improvement in the bilateral relationship, particularly in defense. While India resists the notion of becoming a U.S. ally, the two militaries conduct more drills with each other than with any other nation. They share concern over China’s rise and over freedom of navigation in the Asia-Pacific region.
Modi is also seen as a pro-business leader. There’s been some easing of foreign investment restrictions, and trade has grown at a fair clip in recent years, but lawmakers have complained about continuing bureaucratic hurdles and investment limits and over the halting pace of liberalization in India.