Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the Wall Street Journal in an interview published prior to his departure to the United States on Monday that his visit will focus on elevating his country to a “much higher, deeper, and wider profile,” both as a partner to America and in international venues such as the United Nations.
Modi is expected to arrive in America on Wednesday. He is scheduled to arrive in New York initially to lead a yoga session at the United Nations, then depart to Washington where he will engage in extensive meetings with leftist President Joe Biden and senior American leaders, chat with technology and other corporate leaders, and serve as the guest of honor at a White House state dinner. Both New Delhi and Washington are touting the visit as a historic one, meant to forge stronger ties between the two nations in light of a changing geopolitical landscape and the growing mutual threat of communist China.
While India and America have long maintained friendly relations, India’s longstanding ties to the Soviet Union, and then Russia – and Washington’s corresponding relationship with India’s top geopolitical rival, Pakistan – have kept the countries at a distance. Reports indicate that Biden will attempt to bridge that gap with defense deals, including potential agreements to cooperate on the construction of fighter jets and armed drones. The White House is also expected to prioritize discussions of the Ukraine war, a topic that Modi’s apathetic government has urged the world to “move on” from.
Mostly absent from the Biden administration’s public remarks on Modi’s visit is any condemnation of escalating incidents of human rights crimes under Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Hindu nationalist attacks on both Christian and Muslim communities have skyrocketed since Modi became prime minister in 2014. Currently, the most intense Hindu-Christian conflict is ongoing in Manipur, northern India, where tensions between the indigenous Meitei and Kuki tribes have displaced tens of thousands and resulted in the burning down of dozens of churches, residences, and other areas inhabited by Christians.
“We never shy away — and you can do that with friends; you’re supposed to do that with friends — you never shy away from expressing concerns that we might have with anyone around the world,” White House Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby told reporters in early June when asked if the Biden administration has concerns about the erosion of democracy under Modi.
Speaking to the Wall Street Journal on Monday, Modi praised India’s relationship with America as being in a state of “unprecedented trust,” but emphasized his ambitions for his country over strengthening ties with any potential partner.
“India deserves a much higher, deeper and wider profile and a role,” Modi asserted.
“Let me be clear that we do not see India as supplanting any country. We see this process as India gaining its rightful position in the world,” the prime minister continued. “The world today is more interconnected and interdependent than ever before. To create resilience, there should be more diversification in supply chains.”
Modi told the newspaper he aspires for India to be given influential positions in every possible major international venue, identifying a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council as an especially important goal.
“Look at the membership of key institutions—does it truly represent the voice of democratic values?” Modi asked. “A place like Africa—does it have a voice? India has such a huge population and is a bright spot in the global economy, but is it present?”
“There has to be an evaluation of the current membership” of the Security Council, he continued, “and the world should be asked if it wants India to be there.”
The United Nations established the permanent membership of the Security Council in the aftermath of World War II, giving China, America, Russia, France, and the United Kingdom five permanent seats. All other countries vy for temporary seats on a rotating basis.
Modi issued a statement before departing for the United States that focused primarily on ties to Washington, praising the “vigour and vitality of the partnership between our democracies.”
“India-US ties are multifaceted, with deepening engagements across sectors. USA is India’s largest trade partner in goods and services,” Modi’s statement read. “We collaborate closely in science & technology, education, health, defence and security fields. The initiative on Critical & Emerging Technologies has added new dimensions and widened collaboration to defence industrial cooperation, space, telecom, quantum, Artificial Intelligence and biotech sectors.”
“Our two countries are also collaborating to further our shared vision of a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific,” he added, an apparent dig at China, which has increased its belligerent activity in the South China Sea and demanded full control of the waterways between the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
Modi’s visit will feature both a State Dinner, the highest honor the United States affords to foreign heads of state, and a more intimate dinner hosted by First Lady Jill Biden. He has been invited to address a joint session of the U.S. Congress – the first leader of any country besides Israel to do so twice – and give remarks to the Indian diaspora at the Ronald Reagan Center.
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