Obama’s visit to India: Rhetoric vs actions

Major issues that the two leaders perhaps ought to have focused on seem to have been given only minor attention.

India - Obama visit

With Obama’s plane taking off from Palam Airport for Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, it’s time to look beyond the rhetoric. Two great countries, two great democracies, two great leaders, the security, the hospitality, the bromance, the chewing gum and the stripes.

Gum chewing faux pas?

Suit of an egomaniac?

It’s time to look at what this whirlwind trip meant in the real sense besides that India celebrated its 66th Republic Day and Obama became the first US President to attend it, which indeed was historic.

The first take-away is the attempt at clearing the logjam over the Indo-US civilian nuclear cooperation agreement – a historic deal signed by George W Bush and Manmohan Singh in 2008 – that has been readied for operationalisation. Some hurdles were ironed out rather than deferred for a later date.

The governments have shown their intentions, with the US backing off a demand to track nuclear material sold to India and the Indian government offering to insure the concerns of the US suppliers.

“Noting that the Contact Group set up in September 2014 to advance implementation of bilateral civil nuclear cooperation has met three times in December and January, the Leaders welcomed the understandings reached on the issues of civil nuclear liability and administrative arrangements for civil nuclear cooperation, and looked forward to US-built nuclear reactors contributing to India’s energy security at the earliest,” said a joint Indo-US statement released by the White House.

Devil in details

As they say, the devil is in the details, and it may take a long time before India sees a US-backed nuclear facility.

Most of the expectations of the Indian middle-class (read software professionals) were handled by a “look-into” response from the US.

So, no claim-back for the $3 billion social security contribution to the US from Indian temporary workers, no assurances on H1B visas. The climate-change narrative also did not get any fillip.

And apart from largely ceremonial condemnations of terrorism, there was no announcement of any joint anti-terror group.

The most significant aspect of the trip, which may have far-reaching consequences in the future, was India’s growing willingness to play a stronger role in Asia Pacific and Obama prodding Modi to fish in the troubled South China Seas.

Obama exhorted India to take a bigger role in the Asian region. This is something which will not go down well with Beijing, which is already concerned about India’s growing proximity with Japan.

The new AJIA (America, Japan, India, Australia) quadrilateral, which is being talked about in closed Indian-American diplomatic circles, is definitely going to raise caution in the world’s second-largest economy.

However, the highlight of the trip was Obama’s town hall meeting where he struck a good chord with the young audience and made all the right noises – from accepting religious diversity to freedom of expression and women’s rights.

“Every person has the right to practice his faith without any persecution, fear or discrimination. India will succeed so long it is not splintered on religious lines,” Obama told the audience comprising mainly young people at Siri Fort auditorium on Tuesday.

His comments came even as Modi’s extended family of Hindu nationalists spew venom against India’s religious minorities.

Obama on Tuesday also cited Article 25 of the Indian Constitution dealing with Freedom of religion.

“Your [Constitution] Article 25 says all people are equally entitled to the freedom of conscience and have right to freely profess and practise and propagate religion. In both our countries, in all countries upholding freedom of religion is the utmost responsibility of the government but also the responsibility of every person,” he said.


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