Monday, February 2, 2015

Much brouhaha over nothing

Pankaj Sharma

2 February 2015, New Delhi,

Strong ties between India and US have neither been one sided nor recent, despite undue excitement over Obama and Modi’s new-found ‘bromance’

Let’s celebrate the fact that our 17th Prime Minister  publicly addressed the 57th President of the United States, the most powerful person on planet Earth, by his first name. Those making a hue and cry over it must understand that the chemistry between both leaders was probably more important to the present dispensation than the hard physics of policy outcomes. After all it is the prerogative of the person.

Obama took oath as the 56th President of the United States of America on January 21, 2008. India was thrilled to have witnessed a new chapter in American politics, where a non-white was finally at the helm of affairs. The first half of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had only with four months left before the next general elections. UPA-II took shape after the elections and erstwhile Prime Minister Manmohan Singh secured his second tenure. Almost six months after he took office for the second time, Singh went on a state visit to the US. He was heading a fragile coalition, unlike the overwhelming majority that Narendra Modi enjoys today. 

However, when Singh reached Washington, he never addressed Obama by his first name, despite of an age gap of 29 years. His aim was not to create any personal chemistry, but a positive outcome for India in areas of global security, counter terrorism, trade, agriculture, education and health, besides climate change.

During a state dinner at the White House, Obama welcomed Singh with a traditional Hindi saying, ‘aapkaa swagat hai’. During this visit, Obama told Singh that India’s contribution to their partnership will and always be immense. Both India and the US have taken different paths to arrive at this moment of great friendship. It’s the story of two proud people, who struggled to break free from an empire. Both nations are bold experiments in democracy, with constitutions that begin with the words, “We the people.”

Obama paid his first visit to India in 2010. Again, the erstwhile Indian prime minister worked hard to promote greater chemistry between both nations and not get lost in personal equations. The talks focussed on export controls, partnership for an evergreen revolution, counter terrorism cooperation, civil space cooperation, climate change, clean energy, cyber security, and strategic matters such as the situation in Afghanistan.

During President Obama’s first visit, Washington had developed a strong shift in its Pakistan policy. The joint declaration at the end of this visit clearly stated that success in maintaining global and regional security required the elimination of safe havens for terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Condemning terrorism in all forms, both sides agreed that all terrorist networks, including Lashkar-e-Taiba, must be defeated. The statement also called upon Pakistan to bring justice to the perpetrators of the November 2008 Mumbai attacks. Building on the Counter Terrorism Initiative  they signed earlier that year, both leaders announced a new Homeland Security Dialogue between the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Department of Homeland Security. Both leaders also agreed to further deepen operational cooperation, counter-terrorism technology transfers and capacity building. Obama also addressed the joint session of the Indian Parliament during the visit, where he said, “With India assuming its rightful place in the world, we have an historic opportunity to make the relationship between our two countries a defining partnership of the century ahead.” 

Answering a question at the joint press conference that was later held at Hyderabad House, Obama said, “The relationship with India is extraordinarily important to me. Don’t just take my word for it, look at our actions. Obviously this trip has been of enormous significance.  It’s no accident that this is the longest time that I’ve spent in a foreign country since I’ve been President.” 

“This is a belief that is shared by Republicans and Democrats in the United States. It’s evolved over the last 15 to 20 years -- you had President Clinton, a Democrat; President Bush, a Republican; and now me, another Democrat -- each of us reaffirming in a steady, committed way, because the U.S.-India relationship is so important,” Obama added.

It was around eight months before India’s last general elections that Manmohan Singh visited the US. It was past midnight in India, when Singh left the Oval Office after long-drawn talks on September 28, 2013. US President Barack Obama personally walked down to the White House portico to see off India’s prime minister. Next morning, members of the American media and those familiar with strict White House protocol said that this gesture by the President was very rare.

The need for strong ties between India and US have neither been one sided nor recent. Both nations have been working towards strengthening their relationship with maturity for the past two decades. Therefore, we should not get unnecessarily excited by the recent ‘bromance’ that was on display between Prime Minister Modi and US President Obama.  

Author is editor and CEO of News Views India

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