US House Speaker Paul Ryan invited Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday to address a joint meeting of Congress when he visits Washington in June, an unusual show of warmth for a foreign leader.
“This address presents a special opportunity to hear from the elected leader of the world’s most populous democracy on how our two nations can work together to promote our shared values and to increase prosperity,” the Republican leader of the House of Representatives said in a statement.
The invitation is a sharp turnaround for Modi, who was once barred from the US over the massacre of Muslims during the Gujarat riots.
Opportunities to address the US House and Senate are considered a great honour. There have only been two in the past year: Pope Francis, on September 24, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, on April 29, 2015.
When Modi‘s Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies swept India’s elections in 2014, there were initially questions about whether he would qualify for a US visa. President Barack Obama quickly dismissed the issue by inviting him to the White House when he called to congratulate Modi on his victory.
In 2002, when Modi had just become Gujarat’s chief minister, more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in sectarian riots in the state.
The administration of President George W. Bush denied Modi a visa in 2005 under a 1998 US law barring entry to foreigners who have committed “particularly severe violations of religious freedom.”
Modi denied any wrongdoing in the riots. India’s Supreme Court ruled in 2010 he had no case to answer.
Washington sees its relationship with India as critical, partly to counterbalance China’s rising power. Obama has called ties with India “one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century.”