India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi will receive a lavish welcome on Thursday in Washington, where he will address a joint session of Congress and be feted by President Biden and the first lady at a White House state dinner, only the third leader. state to be hosted by the current administration.
Revolving around the spectacle of a momentous visit for US-India relations, seen as an affirmation of India’s rise as an economic and diplomatic power, there will be weighty questions about geopolitical alignments regarding China’s economic influence and the Russian military aggression, as well as the erosion of India’s secular democracy under Mr. Modi. It’s unclear how much of that will be publicly addressed by the two leaders.
The visit is a major diplomatic prize for Modi, who was once denied a visa to the United States for his role in religious unrest in his home state, and as prime minister has increasingly consolidated power and brought his country to a single party. ruler.
Still, the Biden administration has painstakingly sought to bring India closer, economically and militarily, at the cost of confusing its oft-stated worldview of a pitched battle between autocracies and democracies.
Here’s what you need to know about Mr Modi’s state visit.
The United States is trying to bring India closer.
Announcing Modi’s state visit, the White House press secretary said the occasion would celebrate “the warm ties of family and friendship that unite Americans and Indians.” Like his predecessors, Biden has relied on the hope that India, the world’s most populous democracy and fifth-largest economy, will serve as a counterbalance to China’s growing global economic weight. Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen visited India last year as part of the administration’s push to move global supply chains away from its political and economic adversaries.
“New Delhi has a critical role to play in checkmating China, if the US and its allies push it politically, help it militarily and encourage it geopolitically,” said Happymon Jacob, a professor of Indian foreign policy at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.
The urgency to improve relations has intensified with Russia’s war on Ukraine, a geopolitical crisis that has put India at the center of jostling between the United States and its allies and Russia’s President Vladimir V. Putin. India, while fostering closer ties with the United States, has maintained military and economic relations with Russia, buying Russian oil at a discount and avoiding endorsing United Nations resolutions that have condemned Russia’s aggression.
Defense cooperation is high on the agenda.
The United States wants to help India bolster its national defense industry and increase military cooperation between the two countries in an attempt to wean India away from its long-standing dependence on Russia for its weapons. Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan traveled to New Delhi this month ahead of the state visit to lay the groundwork for closer defense partnerships.
A vast majority of India’s arsenal is estimated to be of Russian origin, the result of a decades-long defense relationship between the two countries at a time when the United States was supplying weapons to India’s rival Pakistan. While the share of Russian weapons in India’s defense imports has declined in recent years, the country is still dependent on Russia for parts and maintenance.
Highlighting further technological cooperation, military coordination and intelligence sharing between the two countries, Mr. Austin said during his visit to New Delhi: “All of this is important because we are facing a rapidly changing world. We see intimidation and coercion from the PRC, Russian aggression against Ukraine that seeks to redraw borders by force, and threatens national sovereignty.”
Modi is accused of undermining democracy.
In welcoming Mr Modi, Mr Biden will stand shoulder to shoulder with a leader who is immensely popular in his country but has sidelined opponents, hijacked judicial systems and consolidated power to a degree that has concerned observers and critics about democracy. erosion in the nation that recently overtook China to become the world’s most populous.
This week, more than 70 Democratic lawmakers urged the president in a letter to raise the defense of democratic values and human rights with the Indian prime minister, citing “disturbing signs in India about shrinking political space, rising intolerance religion, the attack against civil society organizations and journalists, and increasing restrictions on freedom of the press and access to the Internet.
Modi’s India has become particularly dangerous for the nation’s more than 200 million religious minorities, as his vigilante right-wing supporters have fomented religious tensions with the aim of imposing Hindu supremacy on India’s constitutionally secular democracy. . That has led to a perpetual feeling of combustibility in the soil, particularly for Muslims in India.
In March, Rahul Gandhi, India’s best-known opposition leader and Modi’s main rival, was convicted of libel and sentenced to two years in prison. He appealed and remains free, but the conviction allowed Modi’s allies to oust him from the country’s parliament.
Mujib Masal contributed reporting.