Obama Charm: How Warm?
When Barack Obama assumed the reins of the post of US President, the Indian foreign policy establishment was concerned that he might well return to a narrower focus on India-Pakistan problems, interject himself into the Kashmir dispute, raise the question of outsourcing in a bow to his trade union base, complicate the implementation of the historic civil nuclear initiative and privilege the relationship with China over that with India. But Obama sought to put Indo-US strategic relations on a new trajectory by endorsing New Delhi’s claim for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council, lifting curbs on high-tech exports by signalling the removal of ISRO, DRDO and other organisations from the Entity List, supporting India’s membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group, not raising the outsourcing bogey, and promising it an important place in the Asian security architecture. This underlines a fundamental shift in India-US relations, which this time looked more like a meeting of equals. Without naming China, Obama made it clear that the US values India more. Here it is worth mentioning that a world order dominated by Chinese military power and economic clout may not augur well, given China’s aggressive nature. Thus, the growth of Indian economy, technology, industry, infrastructure and nuclear power is crucial to keep China under a tight leash.
But subtract President Barack Obama’s charisma and sweet-talk and it becomes an ordinary visit with a lot on the minus side for the host country. In all the bonhomie, not enough thought was given to how Indo-US partnership is going to benefit our poor. The smokescreen created with jargon and feel-good phrases cannot conceal the social reality. Some political analysts feel that Mr Obama came to India as a trader to sell US wares and buy jobs for his country. He made his mission abundantly clear by landing in Mumbai, the financial capital of India, rather than in New Delhi. On his very first day, he accomplished his primary goal by selling business deals worth US $10 billion to the India Inc and securing 50,000 jobs for the Americans, but what about India’s share of the employment pie? To show America’s solidarity with India on the terror front, Mr Obama decided to stay in Hotel Taj and meet with the families of the terror attack victims. However, he tactfully evaded naming Pakistan as the perpetrator of terrorism. It is worth reminding Mr Obama of his own assertion, during his election speeches, that Pakistan was using US aid in terror activities against India, and such reports have been submitted by different US agencies. So India needs much more from the US than token gestures on Pakistan-sponsored terrorism.
In spite of these facts, the unassuming manner of Mr Obama was impressive. He wowed a packed Central Hall of Parliament with a speech that exuded warmth, a desire for a fruitful partnership between two of the world’s largest democracies. He saluted iconic Indians such as Mahatma Gandhi, Swami Vivekananda, Rabindranath Tagore and Dr BR Ambedkar, and quoted Panchtantra. “It may not have been possible for me to stand here as the President of the United States, had it not been for Gandhiji and the message he passed on to the world,” Mr Obama said with emotion in his voice, drawing thunderous applause from the parliamentarians who had packed the historic Central Hall. After walking into the hall, he greeted the audience with a “namaste”, thanked India with “bahut dhanyavad” and ended his address with “Jai Hind”. He also mentioned the villages of Punjab and by-lanes of Chandni Chowk. He continued to surprise his hosts—instead of 20 minutes as scheduled, he addressed for about 45 minutes. In fact, he was so impressed with India’s growing prowess that he used the adjective “incredible” and adverb “incredibly” for India 19 times during his trip. The deep influence of Gandhiji on President Obama was quite evident. Earlier he visited Rajghat. During the 20-minute visit, the President jotted down a note from the heart in the visitor’s book at the Rajghat memorial. “We will always remember the great soul, who changed the world with his message of peace, tolerance and love. More than 60 years after his passing, his light continues to inspire the world,” Obama wrote. The US President, who had also visited the Gandhi Museum at Mani Bhavan in Mumbai, wrote in the visitor’s book: “I am filled with hope and inspiration as I have the privilege to view this testament to Gandhi’s life. He is a hero not just to India but to the world.”
President Obama’s address in Parliament will rank as one of the best in the years to come. One line bowled us all that he is here as the US President due to Mahatma Gandhi. I am sure his reference to Gandhiji will kindle the spirit of the youth, who know him only from the image on currency notes, to learn more about the values of the great leader and their relevance. Bapu is respected, I feel, by every Indian, but ‘Gandhi’ is not, as we have a new generation of so-called ‘Gandhis’ who claim to follow the legacy of the Mahatma only in name and claim but not in action. But Mahatma is still alive in the hearts of over 100 crore Indians who respect his teachings. Perhaps that’s the greatest respect a man can get.