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Who are the two Indian American Reps headed to Modi’s speech?

Two prominent Indian American lawmakers are joining the bipartisan congressional delegation heading to India to attend Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence-day speech, Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Shri Thanedar (D-MI).

Khanna is heading the delegation alongside Michael Waltz (R-FL), as both co-chair the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans. It is possibly the first time a delegation of American politicians have joined the celebrations, according to the Hindustan Times.

Since India’s independence on August 14th, 1947, the Prime Minister has annually hoisted the Indian tricolor at the main gate and delivered a speech from its ramparts, the ‘Address to the Nation.’

The speech typically focuses on the past year’s achievements and issues, and remembers the Indian independence movement. The tradition is similar to the presidential address on the 4th of July and the State of the Union speech in the United States, but is followed by a military parade.

Modi giving the Independence Day Address at the Red Fort in 2020 // Photo by Prime Minister’s Office via Wikimedia Commons

In a media statement, Khanna said they were there to advance economic and defense cooperation between the US and India and deny Chinese influence in Asia.

Deborah Ross (D-NC), Kat Cammack (R-FL), Jasmine Crockett (D-TX), Rich McCormick (R-GA) and Ed Case (D-HI) will be joining Khanna, Thanedar and Waltz in the congressional group.

Reportedly, the delegation will meet with government ministers as well as prominent Indian businesspeople, tech executives and media in Mumbai, Hyderabad and New Delhi.

They will also be making their way to Raj Ghat, a memorial complex founded in honor of Mohandas Gandhi that also celebrates many other Indian leaders.

Khanna’s grandfather, Amarnath Vidyalankar spent four years in a British jail alongside Gandhi and other independence leaders remembered at the site. He was an Indian nationalist, socialist, elected representative, minister, journalist and social worker, according to USA Today.

Khanna has said that Modi’s actions in politics run counter to those ideals, a sentiment shared by many other Indian Americans.

Khanna tweeted in 2019 that “It’s the duty of every American politician of Hindu faith to stand for pluralism, reject Hindutva, and speak for equal rights for Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhist & Christians. That is the vision of India my grandfather Amarnath Vidyalankar fought for.”

For the visit, Khanna and Waltz released a joint statement ahead of their visit that praises “our shared founding values of democracy, freedom of the press and assembly, and human rights.”

He told the Hindustan Times that “we will also uphold the values of human rights, freedom of the press, and a vibrant democracy” through the visit, but avoided directly condemning Modi’s Hindutva (also called Hindu nationalist) ideology for opposing those values as he has in the past.

Shri Thanedar regularly advocates for deepening US-India ties, and was chosen to escort Modi on his high-profile state visit to the US earlier this year. The chemical businessman-turned-politician said that he considered the role an “honor,” and hopes for greater US-India cooperation, especially against China and Russia.

Thanedar hasn’t spoken publicly about his opinion of Modi’s domestic politics, but he did attend and speak in support of an event organized by the Coalition of Hindus of North America (CoHNA) against bills in western cities and states banning caste discrimination, according to the Hindustan Times. Georgetown University’s Bridge research project on Islamophobia describes CoHNA as supporting the allegedly discriminatory policies of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party and links them to many far-right Hindu nationalist organizations.

The visit comes as India increases its engagement with Congress and the Senate. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) lead a delegation of senators to India earlier this year, after which Eric Garcetti was approved as ambassador to India and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee recognized Arunachal Pradesh as Indian territory, against Chinese claims on much of the territory.

The congressional delegation also hopes to engage in ‘cricket diplomacy,’ using cricket ties to draw the two countries closer together. Major League Cricket launched as the only pro cricket league in the US this year and the US is hosting the T20 World Cup next June, boosting the US’s profile in the game.

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