By Devang Pathak:
Republic Day – first celebrated on 26th January 1950, commemorating the day on which the Indian Constitution came into force.
Also, 26th January 1930 – Indian National Congress made the declaration of Purna Swaraj.
I thought I should start by stating some “well-known” facts about our Republic Day to calm the noise down about the fashion statements of leaders and guests, the food eaten, the chewing gum chewed and scores of other “controversies” which erupted in the past three days.
As our esteemed guests have departed, let us take a look at a few things we can take from this historic visit of Barack and Michelle Obama.
Strategic from Day 1
The invitation to Barack Obama was seen as a clever PR ploy by the Prime Minister. But both the parties came ready to deliver substance and not just hype. The biggest news on the first day was the final resolution of the differences over the historic Civil Nuclear Agreement which provides a much needed boost to India’s energy needs. The next set of issues which were tackled were the easing of the H1-B Visa restrictions which the President assured to take into consideration under his immigration reform, joint production on four defence projects and US participation in Smart Cities Project MoU’s with three states. The joint statement issued by the heads of states showed that this wasn’t just a visit for symbolism but a strategically vital step. Mr. Obama, who likes to keep things close to his chest, also announced in his Siri Fort Speech that the US would support India’s bid to be a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
China is a Common Cause of Concern
In our euphoria of hosting the US President as our guest and friend, we forgot the probable reason for USA’s increased dealings with India in the first place. India is the only democratically strong, economic alternative to China in Asia. USA and China have been major business partners for decades but the security and human rights conflicts which they share are not private. The activities of Chinese submarines in the Bay of Bengal, their advances in the South China Sea and the reports of Chinese troops entering the Indian territory, just days after the visit from the Chinese President, have made India anxious about China’s intentions as well. The joint statement mentioned the concerns over the Asia-Pacific maritime waters which naturally irked China. China has retorted by downplaying the significance of the Obama visit and even signalling potential hurdles for India in the Nuclear Suppliers Group. While terror originating from Pakistan is a major concern for both the countries, the Chinese economic and military overtures are significant too.
Pro-Business and Trade all the Way
While the opposition Republicans in USA pride on being vehemently pro-business and capitalism, Democrat Barack Obama bought a plethora of pro-business announcements for India. Modi’s pro-business agenda met a perfect match when at the US-India Business Summit; Obama announced comprehensive schemes to boost trade and business. While Modi addressed the concerns about the bureaucracy which derails projects and the Intellectual Property Rights conflicts, Obama announced $2 billion of leveraged financing for renewable energy investments in India through US Trade & Development Agency, $1 billion investment in loans for SME’s through Overseas Private Investment Corporation and $1 billion for ‘Made In America’ exports to India for the next two months.
It’s all about the Legacy
Barack Obama faces a difficult situation domestically. After 6 years as the President of the world’s largest economy and with his critics increasing day by day, Obama saw the India visit and meetings as an important foreign policy moment in his legacy. The goodwill generated by the visit and the announcements, if translated by concrete action, would forge a long term strategic partnership with a country which can soon be the fastest growing large economy in the world.
Modi has been in office for seven months but his actions and policies are always aimed at being ‘historic’. From the Madison Square Garden speech to ensuring the first time that a US President was the Chief Guest at the Republic Day parade, every strategic decision is made with an eye for the history books. The India visit was an attempt to add a striking achievement to last few years of political life for one leader while another feather in the cap for a leader who has just started his term.
Indian Media seeks Western Validation more than Indians
Barack Obama became the first US President to visit India twice during his term. He also became the first US President who was the Chief Guest at the Republic Day Parade. It was indeed a historic moment, but not the only moment.
The 24 x 7 news channels decided to approach the visit with the hype and noise of a loud Indian wedding. There were contests run with #NamastePOTUS , news channels spent whole day covering passing motorcades, created various hashtags for the visit, and created news items out of the smallest controversies or banalities. The genius of the system lies in the fact that these same news channels can then debate- “Was the entire visit based on pure hype?” and “Why do Indians seek Western validation?”
The other extreme lies in an apathetic attitude of the western media to the visit. The New York Times instead chose the visit as an excuse to broadcast their imperialistic stature with racist tendencies in a piece titled “In India, Obama elevates the Nation’s Self-Esteem”. While the President of the United States was heaping praises about India, his nation was blissfully oblivious of our significance.
I have deeply admired Mr. Obama and his oratory skills since 2008. I enjoyed listening to his speeches and lauds for India. But I am also aware of his tendency to pander with words such as the DDLJ reference or the Hindi greetings. Thus, here is hoping for a more robust and self-confident India next year.