Indian Decade

India and Obama Candy

The Indian media lapped up Obama’s fine words. But what did we actually get from his visit?

US President Barack Obama is gone, and with him much of the hullabaloo surrounding his visit. Over the past week, the Indian media has been in overdrive, almost a frenzy. What would he eat? What would he wear? How would he dance? Who wears the trousers at home? The media has been falling over itself trying to find any angle in covering the visit of arguably the most admired politician on the planet. His oratory skills are indisputable — a stark contrast with our leadership. There's no doubt he could easily win an election here in India if he was allowed to run.

But now, as the dust settles, it's time to ponder what India actually gained from the visit of a man who came to sell an American dream. Apart from the $10 billion in new trade deals, and inspiring words like defining US-India ties as one of the 'indispensable partnerships of the 21st century', did the visit actually herald the beginning of a new era, as the mainstream media would like us to believe? Certainly, all the actors involved in the whole trip played their roles well — the media as it has always done, parliament with its applause, the government basking in glory. And, of course, President Obama, like all other US Presidents before him, played to his audience.

I'm not sure whether history was rewritten this past week, but one thing I am certain about is the fact that the American president did actually achieve the things he set out to. He knew only too well, for example, that there was an eager audience just across the border, one strategically more important than India and a country he did not want to displease. So he left India with just a little bit of candy – notional support for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

The visit somehow failed to address the key question for many Indians – what to make of Pakistan's support for terrorism in India? Apart from fleeting mention of how the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks must be brought to justice, Obama was quick to point out on more than one occasion that Pakistan was more oppressed than oppressor, and that a strong and stable Pakistan is necessary for the safety and security of the region.

Essentially, Obama yielded little during his three-day visit. No one knows better than the US administration that India’s hope of a UNSC seat is a far off dream – it could take decades for reform to be agreed on and implemented.

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Trade was the main thing on the agenda for the visit, but again it was about the United States’ needs - in this case to push deals for new export businesses with India that would boost US job creation. According to Obama: 'The sheer size and pace of India's progress in just two decades is one of the most stunning achievements in human history.'

Thanks Mr. President. But once again the Indian leadership somehow failed to capitalize on the achievement of the country’s masses.