Modi sees big role for India in ensuring global stability

Mr Modi acknowledging the applause after making an hour-long speech to a joint session of the US Congress on Wednesday at the US Capitol in Washington. Behind the Indian Prime Minister are US Vice-President Joe Biden (centre) and Speaker of the House
Mr Modi acknowledging the applause after making an hour-long speech to a joint session of the US Congress on Wednesday at the US Capitol in Washington. Behind the Indian Prime Minister are US Vice-President Joe Biden (centre) and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (right).PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

He says a strong US-India partnership can be a force for peace, and calls for deeper security ties

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called for deeper security ties between the United States and India while laying out a vision that included, for the first time, a prominent global role for India in maintaining stability.

In a landmark speech before Congress on Wednesday, Mr Modi told American lawmakers that a strong US-India partnership could be a force for peace throughout Asia and the world.

"India is already assuming responsibilities in securing the Indian Ocean region," he said. "A strong India-US partnership can ensure peace, prosperity and stability from Asia to Africa, and from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific."

It can also help ensure security of the sea lanes of commerce and freedom of navigation, he added.

His remarks seemed at odds with previous positions taken by the Indian government, which has largely been reticent when faced with calls from the US for greater involvement in world affairs.

Ms Alyssa Ayres, senior fellow for India, Pakistan and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations, told The Straits Times that the remarks were significant, even if it was too early to tell how such a vision would play out.

"He was almost laying out a vision of the two as joint maintainers of stability across the region," she said. "This is a much more expansive vision of what India could be doing to project its own power than you've seen from previous Indian governments."

Those remarks were the highlight of a deft hour-long speech before a joint meeting of Congress where the Indian leader celebrated warming ties between the US and India, while also frequently making veiled references to Indian concerns.

Without uttering the word "Pakistan", Mr Modi spoke about terrorism being incubated in India's neighbourhood and commended members of Congress for "sending a clear message to those who preach terrorism for political gains".

"Refusing to reward them is the first step towards holding them accountable for their actions," he said.

That, said Mr Rick Rossow, the Wadhwani Chair in US-India Policy Studies at the Centre of Strategic and International Studies, was an overt reference to Congress getting in the way of Pakistan purchasing US F-16 jets last month.

"He was sending a big thank-you card on the floor of Congress for having taken that step," he said.

Even when Mr Modi cracked a joke, he appeared to be sending important messages to Congress.

His quip about India not claiming intellectual property (IP) rights on yoga, for instance, could be seen in the light of the constant complaints from Congress that India's patent law causes US pharmaceutical companies to lose revenue.

"He said it jokingly but he was clearly trying to make the point that all countries own IP but not every country harasses the other because of it," said Mr Rossow.

However, the overall tenor of Mr Modi's address, before the chamber that once barred him entry into the US, was one of friendship.

Over and over again, the Indian leader spoke about the history and values that the world's oldest democracy shared with the world's largest one.

He stressed that the relationship has come a long way since the year 2000, when then Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee stood before Congress to call for the two to step out of the shadow of the hesitations of the past.

"The constraints of the past are behind us and foundations of the future are firmly in place. In the lines of (poet) Walt Whitman, the orchestra has sufficiently tuned their instruments, the baton has given the signal, and to that, if I might add, there is a new symphony in play," he said.

VIDEO: Jeremy Au Yong with more on the significance of Indian PM Modi's speech http://str.sg/43yp

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 10, 2016, with the headline 'Modi sees big role for India in ensuring global stability'. Print Edition | Subscribe