(Al Jazeera) Washington, DC – Top lawmakers in the United States have invited Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to address Congress when he visits Washington, DC later this month – a rare opportunity granted only to the country’s closest allies.
Democratic and Republican leaders in the Senate and House of Representatives announced the invitation in a letter to Modi on Friday, saying that the speech on June 22 would celebrate the “enduring friendship” between the two countries.
“Based on our shared values and commitment to global peace and prosperity, the partnership between our two countries continues to grow,” the letter stated.
“During your address, you will have the opportunity to share your vision for India’s future and speak to the global challenges our countries both face.”
This will be the second time Modi addresses a joint session of Congress, after he delivered a speech to US lawmakers in 2016.
Modi’s visit to the US comes amid intensifying competition between Washington and Beijing, and as India – now the largest country in the world by population – has become a major geopolitical and economic power.
US officials regularly praise New Delhi as an important ally in the Asia-Pacific region, where Beijing’s policies – including claims to the South China Sea – have increasingly drawn criticism from Washington.
The White House announced Modi’s trip last month, saying that President Joe Biden will host him to “affirm the deep and close partnership” between the two nations.
“The visit will strengthen our two countries’ shared commitment to a free, open, prosperous, and secure Indo-Pacific and our shared resolve to elevate our strategic technology partnership, including in defense, clean energy, and space,” it said in a statement on May 10.
The Biden administration has deepened ties with India in recent years; It strengthened the so-called Quad alliance, which also includes Australia and Japan, and created a formal partnership with the South Asian country, Israel and the United Arab Emirates, dubbed I2U2.
But Modi’s critics in the US have called on Washington to do more to confront his nationalist policies, which they have said harm minorities in India, particularly Muslims.
A Department of State report on religious freedom last month noted allegations of “violence by law enforcement authorities against members of religious minorities in multiple states”, including the flogging of Muslim men and demolitions of Muslim-owned homes and shops in India.
“We’ll continue to speak directly with our colleagues and counterparts in India regarding these concerns,” a senior US official told reporters on condition of anonymity before the release of the report.
“We’re continuing to encourage the government to condemn violence and hold accountable … all groups who engage in rhetoric that’s dehumanising towards religious minorities and all groups who engage in violence against religious communities.”
India has rejected US accusations of religious freedom violations.
The Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), an advocacy group, last month voiced disappointment over the calls for Modi to address Congress.
“To fail to note Modi’s violent, anti-minority, authoritarian tendencies, and his corrupt mismanagement of the Indian economy, is not only to ignore the US government’s own findings but a strategic blunder with the potential to jeopardize global stability,” the group said in a statement.
Modi also has faced criticism over accusations of a crackdown on domestic political opponents.
Earlier this year, opposition figure Rahul Gandhi was expelled from the country’s parliament after he was convicted of defamation in Modi’s home state of Gujarat in relation to a 2019 campaign trail remark seen as an insult to the prime minister.