India-US Ties – the Obama Impact

“When our two democracies – the world’s largest democracy and the world’s oldest democracy -stand together,” Obama said. “Both of our nations will have more jobs, more opportunities; our nations will be more secure, and the world will be safer; and a more just place.”

US President Barack Obama’s address at Delhi’s Siri Fort Auditorium on January 27 was, I am sure, the best of all speeches he had given in India so far.

During this second official trip to India, where he was the Chief Guest for Republic Day Celebrations, he aptly said in the speech, “My visit reflects the possibilities of a new movement. I believe the relationship between India and the United States can be one of the defining partnerships of the century”.

“In India and America, our diversity is our strength,” Obama had said. “India and the U.S. are not just natural partners. I believe America can be India’s best partner.”

He also said that India and America have both reached Moon and Mars. In fact not just Outer Space, but he touched on several other common topics for the two nations. Like nuclear energy, climate change, religious freedom and civil rights.

As an Indian journalist in Bahrain, listening to Obama talk about religious freedom, I could quickly think of how Bahrain too gives us great freedom, when it comes to practicing our respective faiths.

One look at the mosques, churches, temples and gurudwaras around us tells us that the residents of Bahrain too enjoy religious freedom which is not common to the region.

Quoting India’s constitution, Obama said, “Your Article 25 says all people are equally entitled to the freedom of conscience and have the right to freely profess, practice 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.”
Watching the speech, and the earlier meetings of US President Obama and Indian Prime Minister Modi, I had to mentally applaud the greatness of ‘democracy’ once gain.

Obama and Modi, despite humble beginnings – one was the grandson of a cook, and another was a tea-seller- are now the heads of the two largest democracies of the world!

Only in robust democracies can these remarkable things occur, where it is the ‘ballot power’ and not the ‘bullet power’ that decides who leads the people.

From appreciating Indian Americans’ contribution to US economy to showing US’ willingness for bilateral investments; and from encouraging the youth to embrace green technology to making reference to Bollywood actors and dialogues, he charmed the audience like, perhaps, no US President has ever done before.

Obama gave credit where it was due, like when he said, “In recent years India has lifted more people out of poverty than any other country.”

“And now we have this historic opportunity… with India leading the way to end injustice of extreme poverty all around the world.”

Indians were particularly impressed by his special stand when he said, “I support a reformed United Nations Security Council that includes India as a permanent member”.

Without a doubt, this trip of Obama, and this speech of Obama, will have far-ranging implications on India-US partnership. It seems to have suddenly taken the two countries together on to a bolder, firmer, and a higher plane; a plane that India’s neighbours like China and Pakistan were not very happy about.

Despite criticisms on Modi government about making Obama’s trip into a PR ploy, and about stage-managing some strange political game show, I must say congratulations to the government. They pulled off one of the best foreign-dignitary trips in recent years.