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During an elaborate state visit to the White House, Biden makes compromises and Modi leaves his comfort zone.

In order to host Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi this week for a state visit — the highest level of American diplomacy — President Joe Biden had to make some concessions, and Modi had to leave his diplomatic comfort zone, if only for a little while.

Modi, who enjoys enormous support in India, has shown a tendency toward authoritarianism that has alarmed Western observers. Human rights organizations have accused him of discriminating against Muslims through new regulations and a crackdown on dissenters and journalists.

Biden’s approach in Asia relies heavily on Modi and India, the world’s largest democracy. The country’s population has lately overtaken China’s, making it the world’s most populous. Biden believes that India’s participation is crucial to resolving any global issue, from climate change to technological development. And in this time of rising tensions between the United States and China, Biden is eager to cultivate few partners more than China.

Officials have stated that this is why they invited Modi to pay the United States a state visit, the third such visit during Biden’s presidency.

On Thursday, American troops marched on the South Lawn, President Trump met with Modi for several hours in the Oval Office, and the two leaders dined together at a state dinner prepared by a chef who specializes in plant-based cuisine to accommodate Modi’s vegetarian diet.

During an elaborate welcome ceremony, President Biden praised the partnership between the United States and India, saying, “I’ve long believed the relationship between the United States and India… will be a friendship that helps shape the 21st century.”

In a memorable exchange, Modi answers queries from reporters.

After extensive talks between American and Indian authorities, the two leaders conducted a joint news conference, but only Biden called on reporters.

But Modi, in one of his rare public appearances since taking office, also addressed a question regarding his government’s treatment of religious minorities and its assault on dissent.

Modi, speaking via a translator, added, “There is zero tolerance for discrimination.” If there are no human values or human kindness or human rights, then it is not a democracy, as Winston Churchill once said.

It was an unprecedented move for a leader who rarely grants interviews to foreign media or holds press conferences. Press freedom advocates accuse him of presiding over a suppression of the news media.

After much back-and-forth, the parties finally settled on a plan for the news conference. White House insistence on holding one was met with resistance from Indian authorities, according to two US sources briefed on the subject.

When asked about Modi’s record on human rights, Biden pointed out that the United States and India share many ideals.

We had a productive conversation about democratic values, he remarked of his meeting with the prime minister. That’s just how it is between us; we respect one other and are always honest with one another.

President Trump told reporters on Thursday that the United States and India are “appealing partners” because of their shared dedication to democracy, which “enables us to expand democratic institutions across around the world.”

A significant international partnership

Earlier in the day, while he was welcoming Modi to the White House, President Biden stressed the importance of the two countries’ shared principles for the future of their partnership.

The power of our example is our greatest export, President Biden remarked from the South Lawn. “In a democratic society, everyone’s abilities are more fully utilized,” he said. Equal protection under the law, a free press, tolerance of different faiths, and racial and ethnic diversity are all important to us. These fundamental values, which have sustained us through each of our nations’ tumultuous pasts, are the source of our present and future success.

Biden’s efforts to strengthen ties in a region struggling to cope with a more aggressive Beijing were underlined by agreements on technology and defense cooperation reached at discussions on Thursday.

The ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine was also discussed, a war in which India has not taken a stand. The sustained purchases of Russian oil by New Delhi have been crucial in keeping Moscow afloat in the face of crippling international sanctions.

Jake Sullivan, US National Security Advisor, told reporters, “The foundation of what we hope will be a long and fruitful partnership between the United States and India is the belief that democracies with similar values should be able to cooperate.”

“That’s looking at the big picture. That belief is founded on the trust we have in the friendship between Americans and Indians,” Sullivan elaborated. “These strong connections between people will be one of the things that will be highlighted and praised during this trip.”

Courtship of a contentious leader

Modi is hardly the first autocratic leader to be welcomed to the White House for a state visit. Shortly after he took office in Beijing in 2015, Xi Jinping visited President Obama in the White House.

Furthermore, Biden is hardly the first president to show support for Modi. The Indian Prime Minister and President Trump spoke at a “Howdy Modi” gathering for the Indian diaspora in Houston. In retaliation, Modi hosted a “Namaste Trump” event in the largest cricket stadium in the world in Ahmedabad.

Similar greetings have been extended by other world leaders. Modi will be the honored guest at this year’s Bastille Day parade, hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron.

A central tenet of Biden’s foreign policy is the struggle between “democracy and autocracy,” a backdrop that is arguably nowhere more pertinent than in India.

Rahul Gandhi, the former head of India’s biggest opposition political party, was banned as a lawmaker in a judgement his supporters termed politically motivated in March, a day after he was given a two-year jail sentence for defamation.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Modi’s ruling party, has been under fire from human rights organizations and opposition parliamentarians for its more aggressive brand of Hindu nationalist politics and its continuous crackdown on dissent.

In 2005, Modi was denied a visa to the United States because of allegations that he had incited anti-Muslim rioting while serving as chief minister of Gujarat state. The majority of the over a thousand fatalities were Muslims. In India, a Supreme Court-ordered investigation cleared him of wrongdoing.

Human rights organizations, legislators, and dissidents have all made it plain that they want Biden to bring up his worries about Modi’s record when he visits the White House. This week, more than 70 Democrat lawmakers wrote to President Biden, requesting him to bring up human rights concerns with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Respect for human rights, press freedom, religious freedom, and pluralism are again central pillars of American foreign policy because to your leadership. Furthermore, these principles are essential for a genuine democracy to function. Legislators said, “We must be consistent in our application of these ideals to friends and foes alike if we are to have any credibility as advocates for them abroad, just as we strive to do at home.”

Both Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) and Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington) took the initiative to draft the letter. Jayapal posted a tweet about the letter, “We must protect freedom of the press, religious equality, access to the internet, and different ways of thinking about politics.”

Six Democratic members skipped Thursday’s speech by Modi to Congress. Before the speech, Democratic representatives highlighted Modi’s treatment of Muslims. This included Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Confronting the influence of China

An administration official stated on Thursday that the state visit included technological and defense cooperation announcements. These covered defense sales, production, and technology partnership.

India’s diversification away from relying on any one nation, like Russia, for weaponry has been observed by US officials, and American defense commerce with India has surged in the past 15 years.

A senior administration source predicted, “You’ll see major cancellations of defense system purchases from Russia,” in part because “we know Russia can’t actually provide it,” as Russia is rapidly depleting its own defense production in this horrific war in Ukraine. Given Russia’s current supply chain woes, “everyone around the world who buys Russian equipment is worried whether they can get spare parts and then new systems.”

On Thursday, it was revealed that India would be buying MQ-9B SeaGuardian drones, strengthening the military ties between the two countries against the backdrop of a more bellicose China.

President Biden and Prime Minister Narendra Modi discussed plans for a partnership between General Electric and Hindustan Aeronautics to construct F414 jet engines in India.

In addition, it was announced that India would join the United States-led Artemis Accords, an international cooperative agreement for space exploration, that a joint mission to the International Space Station would be launched in 2024, and that Micron Technology, a semiconductor manufacturer based in the United States, would begin construction on a new $2.75 billion assembly and testing facility in India.

New developments on visas and diplomatic presence in each nation were anticipated, and the two men also discussed ways to improve educational exchanges. The agenda for India’s upcoming September G20 conference was also discussed.

Biden’s efforts to strengthen ties with India come as both nations try to contain China’s rising power. The president has had multiple interactions with Modi, notably through the Quad leaders’ summits.

He claimed at a charity event last week that Xi was angry with him for reviving the four-way partnership.

According to Biden, the Chinese president contacted him and told him not to do it because it would place him in a difficult position. We’re merely attempting to uphold international norms for free passage of air and water.

Despite Sullivan’s claims that Thursday’s White House visit was not about China, discussions on China’s role in the military, technology, and economy were expected to take place.

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