In a rare occurrence, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will take questions at a press conference he is scheduled to attend with United States President Joe Biden in Washington on Thursday, CNN reported.
Modi has not addressed a single press conference in India after he became prime minister in 2014. In May 2019, he attended a press conference but did not respond to questions. The Indian prime minister also does not usually take questions from journalists during his foreign visits, except the occasional interviews.
The Indian authorities had initially objected to the White House’s proposal that Modi and Biden hold a joint press conference, two unidentified US officials told CNN. New Delhi had insisted on joint statements before the media without entertaining questions from reporters.
But after “lengthy and delicate” negotiations, and only on the eve of Modi’s visit, Indian officials agreed to the press event, according to CNN.
The format of the press conference on Thursday will allow only one question from the US press and one from an Indian journalist. By convention, leaders take questions from two reporters on each side.
When asked about the development, White House National Security Spokesperson John Kirby told reporters, “We’re just grateful that Prime Minister Modi is going to be participating in a press event at the end of the visit. We think that’s important and we’re glad that he thinks that’s important too.”
Though Modi has visited the US five times since becoming prime minister, this is his first with the full diplomatic status of a state visit. However, Biden is under pressure as 75 senators and members of the House of Representatives have urged him to raise human rights issues with Modi.
“A series of independent, credible reports reflect troubling signs in India toward the shrinking of political space, the rise of religious intolerance, the targeting of civil society organisations and journalists, and growing restrictions on press freedoms and internet access,” they said in a letter sent to the White House.
The Democratic lawmakers said they want US and India to share a “close and warm relationship” but added that friendship should be based on shared values. “Friends can and should discuss their differences in an honest and forthright way,” the letter read.
On Wednesday, a group of six global journalist bodies said that press freedom was under attack in India. In an advertisement in The Washington Post, the press bodies said that journalists in India face physical violence, harassment, bogus lawsuits and hate campaigns on social media.
Several lawmakers, including Bernie Sanders, Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have also decided to boycott Modi’s address to the US Congress later on Thursday.
However, the White House has said that Biden will not lecture Modi on concerns about India’s democratic backsliding. “Ultimately, the question of where politics and the question of democratic institutions go in India is going to be determined within India by Indians,” a senior White House official said on Wednesday. “It’s not going to be determined by the United States.”