Modi made jokes about his lack of singing ability, how long Biden wanted him to eat even though he was fasting, and how well Indians and Americans got along.
Not known for his sense of humor, Modi made the nearly 400 guests nervous as he toasted Biden and first lady Jill Biden before dinner was served.
“I know that your hospitality has moved your guests to sing. I wish, me too, that I had the talent for singing,” Modi joked. “I might as well have sung in front of all of you.”
Modi was referring to South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, who surprised guests when he took the stage at a White House state dinner in their honor in April and sang a rendition of american foot – one of their favorite songs, to raucous applause.
Modi said the dinner would give him a chance to make up for not eating at a banquet he said Biden gave him in 2014. Modi was observing a religious fast at the time.
“I remember you asking me over and over again what I could eat during my fast. But it was not possible for me to eat anything and you were quite worried about it, ”she said. “Well, today I’m making up for it. Everything you wished for at that moment with so much affection is being fulfilled today”.
Biden recalled that two decades ago, when he was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he said that the world would be safer if the US and India “became the world’s closest friends and partners.”
“I believe it even more now that I am president,” Biden said.
Despite deep differences over human rights and India’s stance on Russia’s war in Ukraine, Biden extended Modi the administration’s third invitation for a state visit. It included the state dinner, a high diplomatic honor that the US reserves for its closest allies.
Biden hopes that all the pomp and attention lavished on Modi, from the thousands who gathered on the White House lawn to celebrate his arrival in the morning to the lavish dinner at the end of the day, will help him cement relations with the leader of a United States believes it will be a pivotal force in Asia for decades to come.
Modi is seeking to elevate the status that India, the world’s most populous country with 1.4 billion people and fifth-largest economy, has on the world stage as a manufacturing and diplomatic powerhouse while navigating strained ties with China.
Modi’s participation in a White House press conference was notable in itself, marking one of the first times the Indian leader has answered questions in such a format during his nine-year tenure. He responded to a question from a preselected American and Indian journalist and dismissed criticism of India’s human rights record.
“Democracy is our spirit,” Modi said through an interpreter. “Democracy runs through our veins. We live democracy and our ancestors have really put words to this concept.”
Modi has faced criticism over legislation amending the country’s citizenship law that speeds up naturalization for some immigrants but excludes Muslims, an increase in violence against Muslims and other religious minorities by Hindu nationalists, and the recent condemnation of India’s main opposition leader, Rahul Gandhi. for mocking Modi’s surname.
Asked by an American reporter what steps he would take to improve the rights of Muslims and other minorities, Modi said there is “absolutely no room for discrimination” in India.
Biden told reporters that he and Modi had a direct conversation about democratic values.
Washington has been frustrated by India’s close ties with Russia as Moscow wages war in Ukraine. Modi avoided directly mentioning Russia, but told lawmakers the conflict was “causing great pain in the region. Since it involves major powers, the results are stark.”
Modi’s visit was not without controversy. His speech to the US Congress, normally a bipartisan statement by a visiting leader from an allied nation, was boycotted by some politicians, citing the Modi government’s treatment of India’s Muslim minority.
“I encourage my colleagues who stand up for pluralism, tolerance, and a free press to join me in doing the same,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted Wednesday.
As some 7,000 supporters gathered for a colorful opening ceremony at the White House, a smaller group of protesters gathered a few blocks away.
They were protesting the Biden administration’s comfort with Modi, who leads the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party and is accused of allowing anti-Muslim riots to take place when he was chief minister of the state of Gujarat in 2002.
The US and Indian governments announced agreements on semiconductors, critical minerals, technology, space cooperation and defense.
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