Opinionated Obama Must Realise He's Dealing with a PM Who's as Responsive as Ruthless
Narendra Modi and Barack Obama
“A superior man is modest in his speech, but exceeds in his actions.”—Confucius
For the chief executive of a global superpower like America, verbal modesty literally exceeds his intent and actions. President Barack Obama is reputed to be one of the world’s best orators. His Demosthenic dexterity can demolish even dedicated dissentients. Obama, however, is no exception when it comes to using words as weapons to target and tarnish other democracies. Every US president applies the US model of culture and democracy, which is used as a patent yardstick to measure the quality of cultural and religious harmony of other nations.
Last week, Obama displayed the diplomacy of arrogance by questioning the idea of a genuinely secular India. He even linked the country’s survival with its capacity to keep people of all faiths together, as if Indians are constantly engaged in bloody confrontations on the streets. His sermons came as a shock to even those who avoid seeing any evil in American acts of misadventure and malice.
In India, POTUS was not just given an unprecedented welcome, but PM Narendra Modi broke protocol to turn the Obama visit into one of the most productive sojourns compared to past presidential landings. It was considered one of the Modi government’s most stellar achievements and the PM and his team were least prepared for the unexpected and unsolicited advice from their otherwise affable guest. But Obama is a helpless victim of his domestic vote bank politics. After all, Democrats have never been genuine friends of India, preferring to give precedence to Pakistan. They have been backing Indian secularists, who have fought relentlessly against the saffron surge. Yielding to their pressure, the US had treated Modi as a pariah for over a decade. Once he became PM, Indian opinion-makers expected a change in both the mind and heart of the US establishment. Some early signs were visible during Modi’s US visit, when Obama, the American leadership and the corporate world bent backwards to woo the leader who controls one of the biggest markets for the US defence industry and other services eight months after Modi took over the reins. The Americans seem to have reverted to type, playing blow hot, blow cold with India. It surprised many of Obama’s Indian admirers when he said at the National Prayer Breakfast address in Washington, “Michelle and I returned from India—an incredible, beautiful country, full of magnificent diversity—but a place where, in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs—acts of intolerance that would have shocked Gandhiji, the person who helped to liberate that nation.” Coming a week after a similar statement in New Delhi, Indian diplomats were scrambling to find a plausible justification behind his sudden emphasis on India’s communal situation. A careful reading of Obama’s speech reflects that he was determined to send a strong message to his hosts. His critics were unkind to him for his selective praise of achievers from the minority communities, leaving out outstanding players from other states and faiths. Yet he went on to say, “Every person has the right to practice their faith how they choose, or to practice no faith at all, and to do so free of persecution and fear of discrimination. Nowhere is that more important than India, nowhere is it going to be more necessary for that foundational value to be upheld. India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along lines of religious faith, along lines of anything, and is unified as one nation.”
Such uncharitable remarks have upset all those lobbying hard to forge strong business ties between the two nations. It is no surprise, therefore, that not one member of the chambers of industry has bothered to raise the issue of US interference in Indian domestic affairs. It is quite possible that some serious communal flare-ups may have upset the US establishment, but it is presidentially immature of Obama to have gone public with his disapproval and veiled warnings.
Obama, it seems, has not understood the might and mind of Modi. The PM is not a leader who would take an attack on his ego and purpose lying down. His ministers have already given a strong rebuttal. But Obama’s politically incorrect opinion may cost the Americans hugely in terms of both trade and ties. India has already started rebuilding bridges with Russia and China. It may again restrict imports from the US and go slow on various promises Modi had made during POTUS’s visit. America has already been reminded that future arms imports would depend on it staying away from India’s internal affairs. As per official figures, India is the largest importer of US arms. Of the $16 billion spent on importing weapons over the past three years, over $6 billion went to the US, followed by $4 billion to Russia. This is the first time that the US has emerged as India’s largest arms supplier, displacing Russia. India has acquired a variety of US defence equipment in the last three years, including C130J Super Hercules aircraft, Harpoon anti-submarine missiles and the C-17 heavy lift transport aircraft. India is also the 17th largest holder of American debt. It has invested over $6 billion at relatively low returns in the US treasury debt bonds. Despite India being heavily tilted in favour of building a better relationship with the US, the latter’s politicians remain hostile towards India’s business and strategic interests. For example, some of the active members of US establishment have launched a tirade against the Indian pharma industry. On February 26, an open campaign called ‘Harmful Indian Medicines’ began in Washington against the Indian generic drugs industry. US agencies have been holding public hearings in Washington as part of its investigation titled ‘Trade, investment and industrial policies in India: Effects on the US economy’. Various industry associations from India have been forced to appear before these agencies for clarifications.
Even in the past, Americans have resorted to similar pressure tactics and flip-flops to extract favourable decisions from India. But they haven’t realised that they are dealing with a PM for whom personal dignity and national interest are non-negotiable. If he is capable of being an expansive host, he can be ruthless opponent as well.
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