On Wednesday Narendra Modi became the sixth Indian prime minister to address the US Congress. The Indian leaders spoke about their vision of the world and India, and from their speech one can decipher the how the political and foreign policy outlook has undergone a paradigm shift in India.
Jawaharlal Nehru, a towering personality in international arena visited United States during 1949. He addressed US house of Representatives and Senate separately. The speech was later known as ‘Voyage of Discovery’ . The address came after Nehru met the president Harry S Truman. The meeting between prime minister Nehru and Truman was considered as a flop. Because India had stated position as neutral in the cold war US was having with erstwhile USSR.
Nehru did specify his vision of world in his speech.
“it is true that India’s voice is somewhat different; it is not the voice of the old world of Europe but of the older world of Asia. It is the voice of an ancient civilization, distinctive, vital, which, at the same time, has renewed itself and learned much from you and the other countries of the West. It is, therefore, both old and new. It has its roots deep in the past but it also has the dynamic urge of today” Said Nehru.
Speaking on his perceived mode of development Nehru made it clear how India views aid, and that spoke volumes about his understanding of aids . ”We shall, therefore, gladly welcome such aid and cooperation on terms that are of mutual benefit. We believe that this may well help in the solution of the larger problems that confront the world. But we do not seek any material advantage in exchange for any part of our hard-won freedom.”
After Nehru, it took years for an Indian leader to address US congress. This speaks about how a leader is invited to address US Congress.
Because at that time India was pursuing Non Alignment policy with a ‘socialist leaning’. When India started changing policy in the 80s, another leader was again invited to address the US congress and Rajiv Gandhi addressed the Congress in 1985. Rajiv Gandhi’s visit though many consider has been a game changer in Indo US relations, he called a spade a spade during his speech in US. He was critical of star war programmes of Ronald Regan. But still got standing ovation from the members
After Rajiv it was Narasimha Rao who addressed the Congress. It was after US become the sole leader of the world after the collapse of USSR. And India by that time has openly espoused neo liberalism and Narasimha Rao’s speech reflected that.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee who addressed the US congress spoke about the need to change the past assumptions on international relations. And was stressing on security issues, which has always been close to RSS programme
Manmohan Singh, who tried hard and won US civil nuclear deal addressed the US congress the next after a frame work agreement was agreed spoke at length about the bonhomie between US and India in 2008
When Modi addresses the US congress, the outlook of India and US on many international issues have become similar and his speech reflects essentially that
Image Source: The New York Times Archives