Addressing a joint sitting of the US Congress on Thursday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that India had attained freedom after “one thousand years of foreign rule”.
“Last year India celebrated 75 years of independence,” Modi said. “Every milestone is important but this one was special. We celebrated a remarkable journey of our 75 years of freedom after thousand years of foreign rule in one form or another. This was not just a celebration of democracy but also of diversity.”
While mainstream historians recognise British rule as a colonial period for India, Hindutva supporters extend this idea back much further up to the reign of Muslim rulers in various parts of the country. In the past, Modi has mentioned India having undergone “1,200 years of slavery”.
Modi is in the United States on a three-day visit, starting June 21. This is his sixth visit to the country as the prime minister but the first official state visit.
Hours before Modi’s address, former United States President Barack Obama said in an interview that India may start “pulling apart” if the government does not protect the rights of its ethnic minorities. He added that in a meeting between a US president and Modi, the “protection of the Muslim minority in a majority-Hindu India” was worth a mention.
At least six Democrats – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cori Bush, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Jamaal Bowman, and Summer Lee – boycotted Modi’s address at the US Congress, accusing him of human rights violation.
In Thursday’s address to the US Congress, Modi said he understood the “battles of passion, persuasion, policy” and the debate of ideas and ideology amongst lawmakers.
“There will be – and there must be – a contest of ideas at home,” Modi said. “But we must also come together as one when we speak for our nation.”
Speaking about India’s diversity, the prime minister pointed out that the country has 2,500 political parties, 22 official languages and thousands of dialects.
“We are home to all faiths in the world, and we celebrate all of them,” he said. “In India, diversity is a natural way of life.”
The prime minister also said that attempts must be made to revive multilateralism and reform multilateral institutions with better resources and representation.
“That applies to all our global institutions of governance, especially the United Nations,” the prime minister said. “When the world has changed, our institutions too must change. Or, risk getting replaced by a world of rivalries without rules.”