U.S. President Barack Obama will visit India next week to attend India’s Republic Day celebrations in New Delhi as the chief guest. The visit will be the second major U.S.-India bilateral summit since Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power, with energy cooperation and climate change both high on the agenda. The Diplomat has already run a good deal of coverage on what expect out of Obama’s visit (see here, here, here, and here). The already-unorthodox visit is growing stranger by the minute, it seems: a series of tweets by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi noted that Obama would join him on India’s national radio.
Obama will appear on a special Republic Day edition of Modi’s monthly nationwide radio address known as Mann Ki Baat. “This month’s ‘Mann Ki Baat’ episode will be a special one, where our Republic Day guest @BarackObama & I will share our thoughts together,” Modi noted on Twitter. “I am eagerly looking forward to the special ‘Mann Ki Baat’ programme with President @BarackObama, which will be aired on 27th January,” he added. Modi started delivering his nationwide radio addresses beginning in October 2014. So far, no specific details have been released for the topics that Obama and Modi will discuss over the radio, but expect plenty of platitudes on the bright future ahead for the United States and India.
Obama’s trip to India is already unusual by the United States’ diplomatic standards. Obama will become the first U.S. president to travel to India twice while in office. Additionally, by agreeing to attend India’s Republic Day parade and spend multiple hours in an open-air venue, Obama is breaking with standard U.S. presidential security protocol (though both India and the United States have come together to ensure air-tight security for the visit). Generally, the U.S. president does not spend more than 15 minutes in an open-air venue during a foreign trip.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
This radio appearance with Modi is particularly out-of-the-box when it comes to a bilateral visit. Modi is reportedly inviting Indian citizens to submit questions via an online portal; the two leaders will then answer the questions together. The move could be an attempt for Obama to repair negative perceptions of the United States that grew in India following the December 2013 arrest of an Indian diplomat in New York City. That incident led to widespread protests and criticism of the United States across India, damaging the prospects for closer ties. While the Modi government has done a good job of setting U.S.-India relations back on track — particularly after the prime minister’s successful trip to the United States in September 2014 — Obama’s radio appearance could be an important positive step for perceptions of the United States in India.