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Senior U.S. Lawmakers want Modi to address U.S. Congress in June

Invitation to address Senate and House is considered a great honor. Past year Pope Francis and Japanese PM Abe were the only invitees.

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India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he addresses a gathering in New Delhi, India, January 16, 2016. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
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U.S. Capitol, Washington DC. Wikimedia Commons
U.S. Capitol, Washington DC. Wikimedia Commons

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee called on Tuesday for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to address a joint meeting of Congress during a visit to Washington in June.

“Given the depth of our relationship with India across a range of areas – defense, humanitarian and disaster relief, space cooperation, conservation and innovation – we believe this is an ideal opportunity for the Congress to hear directly from the prime minister,” Representatives Ed Royce, the Republican committee chairman, and Eliot Engel, the panel’s ranking Democrat, wrote to House Speaker Paul Ryan.

The invitation would be a sharp turnaround for a leader who was once barred from the United States over massacres of Muslims.

A spokeswoman for Ryan said she had no announcement at this time about whether Ryan would extend the invitation.

Invitations to address the Senate and House are considered a great honor. There have been only two in the past year: Pope Francis, on Sept. 24, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, on April 29, 2015.

When Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies swept India’s elections in 2014, there initially were questions about whether he would qualify for a visa. President Barack Obama quickly dismissed the issue by inviting him to the White House when he called to congratulate him on his victory.

In 2002, when Modi had just become Gujarat’s chief minister, more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in sectarian riots in the state.

The administration of President George W. Bush denied Modi a visa in 2005 under a 1998 U.S. law barring entry to foreigners who have committed “particularly severe violations of religious freedom.”

Modi denied any wrongdoing. India’s Supreme Court ruled in 2010 he had no case to answer.

Washington sees its relationship with India as critical, partly to counterbalance China’s rising power. Obama has called it “one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century.”

The letter to Ryan was also signed by Republican Representative George Holding and Democrat Ami Bera, the co-chairmen of the Congress Caucus on India and Indian Americans.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle)

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The Answer to The Impending Questions On Demonetization Are Here

While it did broaden the country’s tax base, it was a nightmare for the immense, cash-dependent informal economy.

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Indian Currency. Pixabay

Nearly all of the currency removed from circulation in a surprise 2016 attempt to root out illegal hoards of cash came back into the financial system, Resever Bank of India  has announced, indicating the move did little to slow the underground economy.

Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi’s currency decree, which was designed to destroy the value of billions of dollars in untaxed cash stockpiles, caused an economic slowdown and months of financial chaos for tens of millions of people or demonetization.

Modi announced in a November 2016 TV address that all 500-rupee and 1,000-rupee notes, then worth about $7.50 and $15, would be withdrawn immediately from circulation. The banned notes could be deposited into bank accounts but the government also said it would investigate deposits over 250,000 rupees, or about $3,700. The government eventually released new currency notes worth 500 and 2,000 rupees.

 

demonetization
An activist of Congress party hold the banned 500 and 1000 rupee notes.

 

In theory, the decree meant corrupt politicians and businesspeople would suddenly find themselves sitting on billions of dollars in worthless currency, known here as “black money.”

“A few people are spreading corruption for their own benefit,” Modi said in the surprise nighttime speech announcement of the order. “There is a time when you realize that you have to bring some change in society, and this is our time.”

But even as the decree caused turmoil for those in India who have always depended on cash — the poor and middle class, and millions of small traders — the rich found ways around the currency switch. In the months after the decree, businesspeople said that even large amounts of banned currency notes could be traded on the black market, though middlemen charged heavy fees.

demonetization
Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with mayor, flickr

The reserve bank of India report said in its Wednesday report that 99.3 percent of the $217 billion in notes withdrawn from circulation had come back into the economy. Some officials had originally predicted that number could be as low as 60 percent.

Also Read: Diverse Gathering To Be Addressed This World BioFuel Day: PM Narendra Modi

“Frankly, I think demonetization was a mistake,” said Gurcharan Das, a writer and the former head of Proctor & Gamble in India. He said that while it did broaden the country’s tax base, it was a nightmare for the immense, cash-dependent informal economy.

“You can’t overnight change that in a country which is poor and illiterate. Therefore, for me it’s not only an economic failure but a moral failure as well,” Das said. (VOA)