Way back in March 2000, when US President Bill Clinton finished his address to a joint session of Parliament in New Delhi, and walked down the aisle in Central Hall, a number of MPs cut across party lines from both Houses of Parliament, jumped over benches and jostled for space to somehow shake hands with him.
More than what the visiting dignitary spoke about, the honourable parliamentarians’ over-enthusiasm and joy to meet the visiting dignitary — including those who till the other day had never missed an opportunity to deride America and its leadership — made the news.
A decade later, in November 2010, when President Barrack Obama was to address a joint session of Parliament, the MPs were especially told to "behave in a dignified manner" during and after his address. The advisory was official, sent by the parliamentary affairs ministry to leaders of all parliamentary parties to ensure that "decorum and dignity" of India's temple of democracy was maintained.
The decision to send that advisory was guided by the spectacle that was created during Clinton's visit and the leadership in the UPA government keen to avoid that.
It was also the occasion when those sitting in the audience — in the visitors and media gallery in Central Hall of Parliament — wondered if ever an Indian leader would possess the same oratorical flourish and energy to speak like a world leader at such forums.
It was also informally debated then, among media persons, that whether Obama had spoken extempore or was making a smart use of a teleprompter to read his speech and make it appear like extempore.
Jump to 8 June, 2016, the United States Capitol, Washington DC. The occasion: Prime Minister Narendra Modi's address to a joint session of the US Congress.
The manner in which Modi spoke, the substance and flourish of it, despite the fact that he spoke in a (English) language which for a long time in his life must have been alien to him, and the kind of rapturous applause he received from the US Congressmen, would make every Indian feel happy and confident of oneself and the nation, whether in India or abroad. On Wednesday, Modi accomplished something that a vast majority of Indians had only dreamed about for long.
The thunderous applause when he finished, continuing for over a minute from all corners of the hall in the Capitol, was comparable to the one Modi received at BJP's National Council meeting at the Talkatora Stadium in New Delhi in 2013, after then BJP President Rajnath Singh had almost made it clear that Modi was going to lead and be the face of the party in the 2014 parliamentary polls.
A clearly overwhelmed Modi kept waving at the audience in all corners, accepting the cheers with gratitude. The two places were thousands of kilometres apart — in two different continents — but at both the places, there was recognition that Modi had arrived as a leader and was here to stay; at the national level back then, and now on the global platform.
If over a decade and a half ago, Indian parliamentarians had vied to shake hands with Clinton, a number of American Congressmen and women, or their aides on Wednesday (as Mani Shankar Aiyar claimed that such Joint sessions of Congress are attended not just by Congressmen but by their aides as well) took turns to take Modi's autograph and shake hands.
If something like this had happened during 2000-2010 (in between Clinton and Obama’s addresses to the joint sessions of the Indian Parliament) then the Parliamentary affairs ministry in consultation with the Speaker wouldn't have considered issuing an advisory to the MPs to maintain decorum as it did in the year 2010. Full marks to Modi on that count.
One lost count of the number of times Modi received a standing ovation from the US Congressmen. The number of times they stood to applaud him, and the number of times they clapped and cheered could not just have been for courtesy. They felt for him and for what he spoke. All this in a country that had denied him a visa, just two years ago.
Only the now-famous "Modi Modi" chant was missing.
When the chant had begun, first in Ahmedabad after he was elected as chief minister for the third successive time, and subsequently all over the country in the run-up to parliamentary elections, and later at Indian diaspora meets abroad, there were many in the BJP and outside, who suspected that a group of specially-hired and trained youth had been planted to do so.
They could never make out the difference between spontaneous cheers and a rehearsed drill. What would his critics say now, following his reception by the US Congress?
Yes, the key issue here, domestically, is the delivery of goods to people at large in a fair and transparent manner. He spoke of his dream on that count. The fact that his successful five-nation tour has coincided with the ‘two years in office’ celebrations at home has boosted the morale of his party cadre, and enthused those in the government.
That he did say things that the American leaders would have loved to hear from him is also true: "Today, our relationship has overcome the hesitations of history. Comfort, candour and convergence define our conversations. Through the cycle of elections and transitions of administrations the intensity of our engagements has only grown. And, in this exciting journey, the US Congress has acted as its compass. You helped us turn barriers into bridges of partnership."
He said what millions of Indians wanted to hear him say, on terrorism and Pakistan, without mincing words in front of the US Congress — which for long has pampered Pakistan. "Not just in Afghanistan, but elsewhere in South Asia, and globally, terrorism remains the biggest threat. In the territory stretching from West of India's border to Africa, it may go by different names, from Laskhar-e-Taiba, to Taliban to IS.
“But its philosophy is common; of hate, murder and violence. Although its shadow is spreading across the world, it is incubated in India's neighbourhood. I commend the members of the US Congress for sending a clear message to those who preach and practice terrorism for political gains. Refusing to reward them is the first step towards holding them accountable for their actions," Modi said.
There were also concerns among certain quarters over whether or not he would reflect on an important issue — intolerance, which has been a much debated issue among many in India and abroad.
Broadly, he began with the same theme that he had spoken on at a gathering of Christian priests at Vigyan Bhawan in New Delhi recently. "India lives as one; India grows as one; India celebrates as one. For my government, the Constitution is its real holy book. And, in that holy book, freedom of faith, speech and franchise, and equality of all citizens, regardless of background, are enshrined as fundamental rights. All the 1.25 billion of our citizens have freedom from fear, a freedom they exercise every moment of their lives."
For those who for long had thought (rightly so) that Indian leaders did not have a sense of humour, Modi went on a different take: "I am informed that the working of the US Congress is harmonious. I am also told that you are well-known for your bipartisanship. Well, you are not alone. Time and again, I have also witnessed a similar spirit in the Indian Parliament, especially in our Upper House. So, as you can see, we have many shared practices."
Speaking on the practice of Yoga, he said, "And, no Mr Speaker, we have not yet claimed intellectual property right on Yoga".
First Published On : Jun 9, 2016 19:18 IST