Obama’s description of Indian leaders in memoir causes flutter

Former US President’s blunt impressions of India’s leaders in his new book, A Promised Land, has caused ripples in political circles.

Obama in India
Obama describes Singh as 'a chief architect of India's economic transformation' [File: EPA/Harish Tyagi]

Former US President Barack Obama’s descriptions of India’s leaders in his new memoir, A Promised Land, has caused ripples in political circles, with former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh receiving praise.

The book, released on Tuesday, covers his campaign for the White House and his first term in office, during which he visited India when the now-opposition Congress party was in power.

It contains his impressions of then-Prime Minister Singh, party President Sonia Gandhi and her son, Rahul Gandhi.

Obama describes Singh “as a chief architect of India’s economic transformation” and “a self-effacing technocrat who’d won people’s trust not by appealing to their passions but by bringing about higher living standards and maintaining a well-earned reputation for not being corrupt.”

Obama’s praise for Singh was welcomed by senior Congress leaders like Shashi Tharoor.

Obama shakes hands with India''s PM Modi after their remarks to reporters following a meeting in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington
Congress leader Shashi Tharoor tweeted that Obama did not name Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the book [File: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]

But it is Obama’s frank and less-than-flattering description of Rahul Gandhi, the 50-year-old heir of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, that drew criticism from Congress party leaders.

“Rahul Gandhi has a nervous, unformed quality about him as if he were a student who’d done the coursework and was eager to impress the teacher but deep down lacked either the aptitude or the passion to master the subject,” quoted The New York Times from the book.

Rahul Gandhi was defeated twice by Prime Minister Modi in the 2014 and 2019 elections respectively. His grandmother, Indira Gandhi, and father, Rajiv Gandhi, both of whom were assassinated, held the post of prime minister.

‘Divisive nationalism touted by the BJP’

Congress leader Tharoor tweeted that Obama did not name Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the book that has caused a flutter in India.

“I have got hold of an advance copy of @BarackObama’s #APromisedLand & though I haven’t read every page, I did read every bit on India flagged in the Index. Big news: There isn’t much. Bigger news: in 902 pages, @narendramodi is not mentioned by name at all” (sic), Tharoor, a member of Parliament from the southern Indian state of Kerala, tweeted.

But the India portion does mention Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), with Obama writing of his concern about the “divisive nationalism touted by the BJP”.

Obama described Sonia Gandhi, Rahul’s mother, as a “shrewd” person with “forceful intelligence”. Rahul Gandhi, the former US president further wrote, “seemed smart and earnest”.

Obama described Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, right, as having a ‘nervous, unformed quality’ about him [File: Altaf Hussain/Reuters]

He also wrote on the future of the Congress party. “Would the baton be successfully passed to Rahul, fulfilling the destiny laid out by his mother and preserving the Congress Party’s dominance over the divisive nationalism touted by the BJP?” according to the excerpts published by thewire.in.

Rahul has been a vocal critic of Modi, attacking his government on charges of fanning religious nationalism and favouring business interests.

The last six years of Modi has seen a rise in attacks against minorities, especially Muslims, with dozens of Muslims lynched by Hindu far-right mobs. Critics say a citizenship law passed last December, which sparked nationwide protests, runs counter to the country’s secular constitution.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies