US President John F Kennedy famously said: ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.’ Interestingly, a twisted version of this phrase is being used regularly to describe President Obama's ongoing visit to India. During the course of Saturday, Obama's first day in India, I came across the phrase ‘Ask not what Obama can do for India, but what India can do for Obama’ on Twitter accounts and Facebook walls.
With economic partnership being the key focus of this visit, and with the US team keen to take advantage of India's fast-growing economy, many Indians I know are thrilled with how the country is now being courted by US business. There's a definite sense of India having ‘arrived’. There’s pride in the fact that India, now a trillion dollar economy, has resolutely left its begging bowl history behind.
A retired diplomat on one of the many TV discussions so far this visit captured this sentiment perfectly when he said that he was amazed at the way many Indians looked at themselves now — as world movers who can’t be ignored. He recalled his early days in the country’s foreign service when even in interactions at embassies in Delhi they'd regard themselves as much less fortunate than their guests. This mindset created a lack of confidence even in social interactions.
But now, the fawning that was seen during the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush presidential visits has (so far) been absent. I have to agree with the diplomat. There’s a sense of equal stature now as far as bilateral discussions go, with both sides knowing they need to extract things and tempt each other to make this landmark tour a success for their respective country.