President Biden will welcome India’s prime minister to the White House for a state visit and lavish dinner next month, offering a highly valued diplomatic perk to a critical economic ally but also to a leader who has demonstrated authoritarian tendencies.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will meet with Mr. Biden on June 22, according to a White House statement on Wednesday. It will be the president’s third state dinner, after hosting the leaders of France and South Korea. Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, said the visit would celebrate “the warm bonds of family and friendship that link Americans and Indians together.”
For Mr. Biden, the visit is an opportunity to draw India even closer on economic and security cooperation, especially when it comes to countering China’s growing influence over the global marketplace.
Rick Rossow, a senior adviser and the India chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said it was in the interest of the United States to continue working with India, which is one of America’s biggest trading partners and is an ally on security in the region.
“The upside — commercially, security wise — is strong enough where I think you’re going to see a high level of engagement,” he said. “If you look at the numbers, look at bilateral trade and investment, the numbers are really quite solid.”
But the visit will also test one of Mr. Biden’s favorite observations: that the world is at an inflection point where countries must choose between autocracy and democracy.
Mr. Modi, the leader of the globe’s most populous democracy, has been steadily pushing his country toward what is effectively one-party rule, consolidating political power by sidelining his rivals and bending the judicial system to his will.
In March, Rahul Gandhi, India’s best-known opposition leader and the prime minister’s chief rival, was charged with defamation over political criticism leveled at Mr. Modi. The sentence led to Mr. Gandhi’s ouster from India’s Parliament just months before a national election in which Mr. Modi will seek a third term.
It was the kind of development that Mr. Biden has been warning about, both inside the United States during President Donald J. Trump’s time in office and abroad.
“There is a contest between autocracies and democracies, and we have to succeed,” Mr. Biden said last summer during remarks in Madrid. He used the same phrase again at the United Nations in New York, during his State of the Union address this year and just two weeks ago during his meeting with the president of South Korea at the White House.
Mr. Modi, who is wildly popular in India, has deployed some of the same political approaches as Mr. Biden’s predecessor.
Publicly, the Indian leader embraced Mr. Trump as a kind of kindred spirit. Both rose to power by embracing right-wing populism and arguing they were champions of people fighting against a corrupt establishment. Both vowed to make their countries “great again.” And both exploited religious, economic and cultural divisions.
During a 2019 political tour through the United States he called “Howdy, Modi!” the prime minister spoke glowingly of Mr. Trump in front a 50,000 Americans at a Houston stadium.
“Every time, he has been the same — warm, friendly, accessible, energetic and full of wit,” Mr. Modi said of Mr. Trump. “I admire him for something more: his sense of leadership, a passion for America, a concern for every American, a belief in American future and a strong resolve to make America great again.”
Mr. Rossow said that barring Mr. Gandhi from Parliament “probably registered a bit more” among people concerned with Mr. Modi’s actions. But he said Mr. Modi had also pushed inside India to shift power from the central government to the states, even though many of the local governments are not controlled by his political party.
As a result, he said, Mr. Biden is likely to focus on the broader issues common to both nations when Mr. Modi arrives in Washington. The two men will also see each other this month during Mr. Biden’s visit to Australia for a summit.
The United States is increasingly hoping that India can help be a bulwark against the growing economic influence of China. Last year, Janet L. Yellen, the Treasury secretary, visited India in an effort to cement ties as the United States seeks to move supply chains out of the grips of its political and economic adversaries.
Mr. Biden’s government is trying to encourage chip manufacturers and others to move their facilities to places like India, rather than continue to be reliant on China. That desire intensified after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which helped to scramble the global network of suppliers, especially for high technology goods.
“If they really start fiddling with how elections are run, if they take a dramatic step to worsen the livelihoods of Muslims in the country, then I think there might be a harder look,” Mr. Rossow said of Mr. Modi and his government in India. But for now, he added, the United States will work around the challenges.