M A I N   N E W S

India, US natural partners, says PM
Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday painted a vivid picture of India and the United States joined together by the bonds of democracy and told members of the US Congress the two nations were “natural partners.”

In an address to the joint session of Congress, a privilege reserved for a few key US allies, Dr Singh reiterated India’s commitment to democratic values and practices. This, he said, “means there are many concerns and perceptions that we share with the United States.”

Dr Singh received a warm welcome at the US Capitol from lawmakers, including Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton, Edward M. Kennedy and Joseph Lieberman, and members of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans - Congressmen Joe Wilson, Frank Pallone, Jim McDermott and Joseph Crowley. Bobby Jindal, the only Indian American Congressman on Capitol Hill, was also present in the audience.

In a speech peppered 29 times by enthusiastic applause, Dr Singh noted that a shared commitment to democratic values and processes “has been a bond that has helped us transcend differences.”

As democracies, Dr Singh said, India and the US must work together to create a world in which democracies could flourish. “I believe we are at a juncture where we can embark on a partnership that can draw both on principle as well as pragmatism,” he said, adding that both countries must build on this opportunity.

Dr Singh, who dined with President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush at the White House on Monday night, said the objective on his visit was to lay the basis for transformed ties between the two countries. “I believe that we have made a very good beginning. With the support and understanding of the Congress, the full benefits of our partnership will be realised in the months and years to come.”

The Prime Minister raised India’s concern, one shared with the US, about the threat of terrorism. “Open societies like ours are today threatened more than ever before by the rise of terrorism,” he said. Saying India and the US had both suffered grievously from terrorism and must make common cause against it, Dr Singh added those who resort to terror “often clothe it in the garb of real or imaginary grievances.”

“We must categorically affirm that no grievance can justify resort to terror,” he said to thunderous applause, adding that both India and the US must work together in all forums to counter all forms of terrorism. “We cannot be selective in this area. We must fight terrorism wherever it exists, because terrorism anywhere threatens democracy everywhere.”

The Prime Minister wooed Corporate America in his speech and noted that 400 of the Fortune 500 companies were already in India. He said India needed massive foreign direct investment, especially in infrastructure, and hoped American companies would participate in the opportunities being created.

Dr Singh heaped praise on the Indian American diaspora and told US lawmakers their presence in high technology industries in the US makes India and the US natural partners. Many from the 1.8 million strong Indian American community packed the chamber’s galleries for Dr Singh’s historic address.

A day after India and the US finalised a joint agreement which includes cooperation in the sphere of civil nuclear energy, Dr Singh assured members of the Senate and House of Representatives that India’s track record in nuclear non-proliferation was “impeccable.”

“We have adhered scrupulously to every rule and canon in this area. We have done so even though we have witnessed unchecked nuclear proliferation in our own neighbourhood which has directly affected our security interests,” he said, adding, India, as a responsible nuclear power, “is fully conscious of the immense responsibilities that come with the possession of advanced technologies, both civilian and strategic.”

“We have never been, and will never be, a source of proliferation of sensitive technologies,” he said to sustained applause — enthusiasm that will perhaps belie naysayers’ claims that nuclear cooperation with India could have a serious fallout.

While the Bush administration has informed the Indian delegation that it does not favour a vote on UN Security Council expansion at this juncture, Dr Singh kept the issue alive on Capitol Hill, saying the Security Council must be restructured as part of the reform process.

“In this context, you would agree that the voice of the world’s largest democracy surely cannot be left unheard on the Security Council when the United Nations is being restructured,” he said to applause led by Republican Sen Norm Coleman, a tireless advocate of UN reform.

The architect of India’s economic policy told the Americans these changes had liberated Indian enterprise from government control and made the economy much more open to global flows of trade, capital and technology.

Dr Singh emphasised the need to make special efforts to bring US and Indian private sectors closer. Mr Bush and Dr Singh have set up a CEOs forum and attended the group’s first meeting on Monday.

After the speech, Florida Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen told The Tribune she welcomed Dr Singh’s address because “India is a pivotal ally of the US and because there are many areas where both our countries can work together for the betterment of all.”

The congresswoman, the co-chair of the India Caucus, said she looked forward to “working with him on the myriad of issues that are so important to our strong relations. India and the US both stand for freedom, liberty, justice and equality and that in itself is the foundation for a grand relationship.”

Congressman Bobby Jindal said he was “confident that his address, as well as his meeting with President Bush on Monday, represents a major step forward in the strengthening of Indian-American relations. I look forward to a continuing of that relationship.”

South Carolina Republican Congressman Joe Wilson said: “Prime Minister Manmohan Singh eloquently expressed today that the people of the United States and the people of India have much in common.”

“As the bonds of cooperation between America, the oldest democracy, and India, the largest democracy, grow stronger everyday, our relationship has never been better,” said Mr Wilson.


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