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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Times Of India

07 November, 2010

Obama’s Indian Diwali

Tarun Vijay

The Obamas arrived on the auspicious occasion of Diwali. And Michelle stole our hearts with her simple 'Rang De Basanti' gesture. Welcome a most extraordinary couple that India loves to listen to. Since the day he gave his first speech, as Democratic presidential candidate from an elaborate, columned stage resembling a miniature Greek temple, he has been my personal favourite, for the simple reason that he broke the arrogance of a racist electorate. My brother, a professor of IT at Michigan, would tell stories about Obama's simple demeanours, how once he helped a woman he did not know at airport with a hundred-dollar bill, how he was raised, his Muslim connection and his faith in American values. Obama's America, which shows how people of different ethnicities are becoming governors, gives hope to a world that thrives on diversity. Compare it to the BJP's slogan of "Justice to all, appeasement of none". This example shows how vote bank politics is not for the 21st-century India too.

I don't want him to give us grants, neither would I request him to do anything special for India. We will take care of our concerns, God willing and surely the day is not far when a strong Indian leadership will emerge matching the Indian people's strength and pride, replacing the present 'Khandaani Raj antics'. I love him for what he is and want him to serve the American cause sincerely, for which the American people have elected him, and help democracies and pluralism prosper, even at the cost of his re-election.

I am sure he has been briefed by his aides that Diwali means Rama's return to Ayodhya after the annihilation of the demons and the freeing of Janaki from the clutches of Ravana.

Will he be able to forge an alliance with Rama’s India to free Mother Earth from the clutches of terrorism? Does that form part of his American dream or his business in India?

No. He is here on an economic mission. Taking India together to fight terror may form part of his speech but doesn't form part of his immediate action plan. America fights the threats of terror on its own shoulders, using others as instruments to achieve American goals. They provide protection to the biggest supporters of terrorism in the world, the Saudis, with marines and dollars and lavishly overfeed Pakistan's dictators to the delight of the Taliban. He is not obliged, quite legitimately, to bother himself the terror anxieties of others.

Still, as two great and functional democracies, India and the United States must be seen standing together and exuding confidence of a distinct world view, based on protecting pluralism and peoples’ will. His Mumbai visit and stay at the Taj, even if primarily guided by the death of unfortunate Americans in the 26/11 attack, helps India, and his statement on 26/11 has soothed Indian feelings. We must not confuse American interests with the Indian ones. And we can’t expect the US to fight an Indian war. As I had said earlier also, an Indian war needs Indian shoulders. Everything else will follow if we take this as our basic departure point for any negotiation. Take him as a Rhodes Scholar visiting an Indian university. He will speak words of wisdom and praise our culture. But his aides are different.

They should have taken Obama to the Akshardham temple in New Delhi, the most marvellous icon of a contemporary, upwardly mobile Indian’s spiritual dreams. No, that’s not on his list. He would like us to sign the CTBT, have no nuclear ambitions in spite of being encircled by two non-friendly nuclear powers. His list of business includes seeking greater market access for US companies in the retail and financial services sectors, and greater technology protection for energy companies.

White House economic aide Michael Froman said India was a "tremendous" market for the export of American goods and services. It was a source of investment back into the United States and together these could support the creation of American jobs. US exports have grown fourfold over the past seven years to hit $17 billion a year. Services exports have tripled in the same period to $10 billion a year. Indian companies supported 57,000 US jobs, the second-fastest growing investors in the United States.

As Kishore Biyani, CEO of India’s largest retailer, Future Group, says: "There are a lot of interdependencies in this globalized world, India can get a lot and India can give a lot.” But does India understand and does it have the will to ‘get a lot’ in an era when Indian entrepreneurship is resisted through Obama’s ‘Buffalo to Bangalore’ speeches and outsourcing is sought to be curtailed. Obama’s American interests must synchronize with India’s Indian interests. We will have to think twice before we say ‘yes’ to a surefire item on the American president’s economic agenda regarding the opening up of India’s much-vaunted retail sector, where the likes of Walmart are clamouring for freeing multibrand direct retail to foreign investors.

Hence when GK Pillai, the most famous Home Secretary we have ever had, reiterated for the 12th time that the US didn’t share information on Headley, he only exposed New Delhi’s actual position in Washington. Those who matter get their share of information and dollars without asking. Those who don’t are treated to mouthwatering dinners and seen off. It’s demeaning to see Indians asking for American help, complaining that the US should have done much more for us and demanding to have the US tell Pakistan to behave. Obama speaks from his strength and India must speak from her own power points. The help we receive from the US and especially from Israel in the form of intelligence inputs has to be deciphered and utilized professionally. Mumbai’s 26/11 exposed our own unpreparedness. In an era of an obliging media, it’s easily forgotten that the Congress was so shaken post-26/11 that it had to dismiss the home minister and the state’s chief minister. It had no answers to the agitating wives of Karkare and Kamte. The 26/11tragedy could become possible because police were less equipped, because there was no coordination between the intelligence agencies and the ground-level executioners and the supposed fighters. The neta-type use of the khaki, the paucity of bulletproof jackets and the poor quality of weapons and training remain significant factors that has nothing to do what the US administration did or didn’t do. In fact, hIndia has gone down in the world esteem rapidly under the present UPA governance. In this age and time, when the US chose a different path by electing Obama, leadership is still stuck in family fiefdoms and projecting a king overshadowing all the democratic norms and practices we boast of in Central Hall’s subsidized food mart. Our security priorities are mired in vote-bank politics and Kashmir’s fate is not guided by the unanimous resolution passed by the Indian parliament but by foreign policy considerations of a third country. Like a baby nation born out of the clutches of an Idi Amin, we are nauseatingly deep in the muddy waters of CWG and 2G spectrum corruption scandals and tolerating anti-national rhetoric in the national capital for superficial political gains with abysmally delayed milestones in infrastructure building. We are still in the middle of addressing basic issues like providing safe water to Indian villages and helping 40% of the population earn more than Rs 20 per day with a little bit of literacy too. That’s us today, talking to a US president with truckloads of request and complaints.

And we think we will be talking to Obama like the Chinese, with our heads held high on our shoulders?

Obama’s India visit shouldn’t be seen in the light of ‘not sharing Headley information’ or the reverses Democrats suffered on the eve of his departure for Mumbai. His first priority is the United States and he is trying to prove that he is as good and strong as Lincoln or Martin Luther King.

India was never his priority and will never be. He spoke in Cairo and his Assalamu Alaikum drew world attention. He went to China and his bending a bit too much drew flak back home. He is standing firm on his permission to build a mosque at Ground Zero. His foreign policy is in shatters and his Asian message is yet to be understood. He has great respect for India and its ancient wisdom that was shining in his first statement on this visit. But economy and strategy are different matters and here India gets his anxieties and a will to exploit our market. And also to use our region to increase his influence and have American interests protected in Central Asia and Islamic countries. So he will use Kashmir, Islamabad, and Kabul and so on. He will continue giving dollars and training to Pakistan’s Taliban in uniform, the devilish army, in spite of Indian worries and a democracy under threat from an avowedly Islamic state. He will never shut the American market for China, the biggest economic support for a one-party dictatorship of communists hungry for global supremacy.

Still, all said and done, of all the presidents of the United States, he stands out as one of the most elegant, transparent and honest leaders his country has ever produced. He is liked in India not because we think he will donate a few million dollars to us, but because Indians like men of character and wisdom, even if they fail electorally in public life and get defeated politically. His speeches reflect his mind and his heart. He is the CEO of the United States of America, hence that’s his first priority and if we do not get as much attention as China gets, he is not to be blamed. Ask your leaders in New Delhi what they did when China was building its military and economic strength.

Obama is disliked in a section in the US for racist reasons too and that factor also gets him our sympathies.

As a man of wisdom and straightforward heart that loves India, he is welcome. The rest is a ruthless race for business.

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