As a departure from protocol, PM Modi went to the airport himself to receive and welcome the U.S. President. Mr. Obama was given a 21-gun salute and a ceremonial welcome at the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan. America and India are true global partners in the work of strengthening economies and strong democracies. That is why the President is the first to have visited India twice while in office. As Prime Minister Modi said, “This is a natural global partnership. It has become even more relevant in the digital age. It is needed even more in our world for far-reaching changes and widespread turmoil. The success of this partnership is important for our progress and for advancing peace, stability and prosperity around the world.”
In his remarks at a reception with President Mukherjee, the President quoted a hymn that was dear to Mahatma Gandhi’s heart:
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.
“Here in the eventide, Indians and Americans, let us know, in the darkness or day, in good times or bad, whenever one of us looks to the other, we will surely say, abide with me,” said the American President.
In his talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday, both the leaders managed to remove the hurdles to operationalize the civil nuclear deal besides deciding to jointly produce military hardware and stepping up economic engagement. In what Obama called a “breakthrough”, the two sides resolved key hurdles pertaining to the liability of suppliers of nuclear reactors in the event of an accident and the tracking of fuel supplied by the US. The United States said a decade ago it was making a “long-term strategic bet” on India and the visit showed that India was also ready to reciprocate. The visit was heavy both on symbolism and substance. Barack Obama became the first US president ever to be the chief guest at India’s Republic Day and the first to visit India twice during his presidency. The President and the Prime Minister of India welcomed President Obama as the chief guest at India’s 66th Republic Day celebrations — a day that honors when India’s constitution officially went into effect.
On the substantive front, the most important takeaway from the Modi-Obama summit is the coming together of India and the US on “grand strategy” in Asia.
The signing of the “Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region” may sound mild but it is packed with signals – to China. This is the first time India and the US have come together openly to say that they do not want Asia to be dominated by one power.
But is also important to remember that this is not an “alliance” against China since both India and the US are economically engaged with Beijing. It is a sort of building of fences to ensure China follows international rules.
The other important takeaway was the renewing of the 10-year India-US defense framework agreement, which envisages more military co-operation between the two countries. The two also decided on four defense projects for co-development and co-production.
US President Barack Obama, who addressed a town hall-style meeting in Delhi on the last day of his tour to India, went the Bollywood way to connect with the university students and activists. In the first two minutes of his speech, Obama quoted popular dialogue from ‘DDLJ’. “Senorita… bade bade deshon mein,…you know what I mean…”he said.
In an attempt to leave an impact on the audience, he delivered a well thought-out, strategic speech with allusions to eminent Indian personalities. Obama who started his speech in Hindi with ‘Namaste’ and ‘Dhanyawaad’, referred to star Shah Rukh Khan, and Sports Persons Milkha Singh and Mary Kom in his speech. “Every Indian should celebrate the success of Shah Rukh Khan, Mary Kom, Milkha Singh equally, not by the colour of skin, or worship,” he said.
“Proud to be part of the gender and religion equality speech of President Obama. Sad he couldn’t do the Bhangra…next time Chaiyya Chaiyya for sure,” Shah Rukh tweeted.
MC Mary Kom too said it felt proud to be acknowledged by the US President. “I am thankful to him for mentioning my name. He acknowledged my performances over the years. It was surprising because he could have taken anybody’s name. I am feeling very proud,” said the five-time world champion. “Obama ji taking names of sports people is very encouraging for Indian sports people,” said Milkha Singh.
President Obama’s public address to Indians as his last event in Delhi was the icing on the cake – he celebrated India’s diversity and hoped that the country won’t splinter along religious lines or any other lines.
It was a gentle reminder from the visitor that it would take a strong India to face the multiple challenges in Asia. Differences will remain as between any two friends but the old-style suspicion of each other which manifested itself as knee-jerk anti-Americanism in India and irritation with India in the US, will diminish. This in the end means a stronger relationship which gives India diplomatic and strategic space against difficult neighbors.