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The Obamas struck a chord with India

By K Natwar Singh
Last updated on: November 15, 2010 14:21 IST
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The Obamas touched Indian hearts. The US president is an intellectual of the first order and he had done his India homework well.

I, for one, take a balanced and realistic view of the state visit of President Barack Obama. The visit began on a low note. It ended on a high note. Looked at from any angle, the success of this high-level get-together of the world's two great democracies cannot be denied. Now that the excitement has subsided, the over-heated media enthusiasm has cooled down, one should analyse the substantial, not the trivial culinary and sartorial, aspects. Indo-American relations have been deepened, widened and strengthened. The self-effacing and low-key Indian prime minister and the media-savvy and eloquent US president broke new ground, established unexpected rapport and mutual respect and understanding. This is a spectacular turnaround in Indo-US bilateralism. One must recognise that Manmohan Singh is now a respected world figure, sought-after leader. Economics, not politics, is the name of the game. Here the wise doctor is in his unpadded element. His is a staggering achievement. I am not a cheerleader for Manmohan Singh, but one should praise where praise is due.

I did not expect that Mr Obama would go as far as he did on our desire for permanent membership of the UN Security Council and his candid remarks on Pakistan. The road leading to the Security Council is a bumpy one. Will India be the sole new member to make it? No. There will be a package. Will we be satisfied with a non-veto-carrying permanent seat? Out of question. Who are the likely candidates for a reformed and expanded Security Council? Brazil. Most certainly, even if Argentina and Mexico oppose it. One Muslim country. Indonesia is the obvious front-runner. The Arabs will resist.

South Africa and Nigeria will slug it out for the African seat. Germany. A distinct possibility. That would increase the number of European membership to four, the other three being Russia, the UK and France. All western countries will support Germany regardless of Italy's objections. There is a school of thought that demands a seat for the European Union. Japan will have full US support. China will oppose.

China's position following Mr Obama's support for India has been enunciated — a cheque that  will not be easy to encash. The bargaining and negations will be prolonged and torturous. We have our work cut out.

When British Prime Minister David Cameron, in his speech in Bangalore, lumped Pakistan and terrorism, the reaction in Pakistan was instant and loud. There was no such clamour from Islamabad following the Obama statement. The US has not abandoned its trusted ally, but for America, India is a much higher priority. At the same time, we should not be seen as arm-to-arm strategic partners in reordering the international power balance. This is a risky enterprise. We live in Asia. Sino-Indian relations cannot be linked to Indo-US ties. We are not yet equal partners. The ratio between the two economies is one to thirteen. The US has a worldwide network of military pacts. Who the enemy is, I do not know.

The Obamas touched Indian hearts. He is an intellectual of the first order. He had done his India homework — Gandhi, Tagore, Vivekanand, Ambedkar, Panchtantra. Jai Hind — will Manmohan Singh say Jai America?

The welcome department is quite remarkable. The donor-recipient relationship is a thing of the past. The give-and-take is mutual. We need America and America needs us is a cliché done to death, but it is a new and welcome development.

There always is the "but". Mr Obama has two years more as president. On the home front, he will encounter formidable challenges. Whether he will be a one-term president or not is mere speculation. But the very fact that such a possibility is being talked about, should be worrying him.

In the next few weeks, India will be host to the presidents of France and Russia, and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. The UK prime minister was here earlier in the year. Thus, all five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council have made their Indian pilgrimage in less than eight months. Surely this calls for noiseless celebration. How pleased must the mandarins of the ministry of external affairs be. That brings me to Hamid Ansari and Meira Kumar. Who will make it to the Rashtrapati Bhawan first, he or she? In either case, the IFS will be singing in the rain.


I will quote the last six lines from page 403 of Ramachandra Guha's latest book The Makers of Modern India. Dr Ram Manohar Lohia says this about the future of English in India: "The river has changed course, rendering the bridge of English useless. Russian language is making huge strides. The downstream of public opinion is flowing towards it. After sometime, Russian language will flaunt the same claim. The clash between English and Russian may lead to a dual race. That English will rise to the level of an international medium is a myth." In this particular case, Dr Lohia proved to be a false prophet.

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