What happened when Obama visited MODIfied India?

Let’s hope there have not been compromises which may lead our country into a tragedy of epic proportions

Trust us Indians to make a festival out of even visits of Heads of States of other countries. This is exactly what the atmosphere was in Delhi before and during the visit of Barack Obama, President of the United States of America (USA). He had been invited by our Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi, as the Chief Guest for the Republic Day Celebrations of 2015, in September during his visit to Washington. Our tech-savvy PM invited Obama not following official protocol but, rather via Twitter and of course keeping up the spirit the White House also accepted by tweeting out their reply. Firstly, for a little history, President Obama is the first and only US Head-of-State who, has been invited to preside over Republic Day Celebrations. Now, the presence of a US President at our Republic Day celebrations is in itself a little ironic because the celebrations entail a show of Indian military might associated with Cold War anti-Americanism.

There were hardly aspects of the visit that were not discussed in newsrooms, households and front page of national dailies. Be it the 15,000 CCTV cameras that were installed at a feverish pace, for the security of President Obama (and also taken off with equal enthusiasm) to the fact that, he was chewing gum at the Republic Parade.  

The installation of the CCTV cameras that, appeared out of nowhere all over Delhi for Obama’s security, has been a thorn in the eye of the people of Delhi. Their argument is (and rightly so), that where was the Government’s initiative in installing these cameras when, the public demanded it for their security, given the previous incidents of gruesome crimes against women in the capital. Further, what hurt the people even more was the fact that, these cameras were taken down as soon as, Obama left Delhi. But, the Delhi High Court in a welcomed step has pulled up the Government on this account. Residents of New Delhi are quite accustomed to VIP movement and the delay associated with it. But, President Obama’s visit tested the patience of the residents far too much. The traffic around Central Delhi was affected to a large extent since roads from IGI Airport to Hyderabad House, and those from Maurya Sheraton Hotel (where the Presidential Delegation were putting up) to Rashtrapati Bhavan and till Rajghat were, all blocked. This decision of blocking both of Obama’s carriageways for the general public was removed from Standard Procedure which only requires blocking of one. Usually, only 30- 35 companies are sanctioned to police every year on Republic Day. This time, the count had been doubled. The armed commandos and snipers on high rises had also been doubled. The threat perception had been extremely high and Obama features on the hit list of the IS and the al-Qaeda. Security this time had been double the arrangements that have been in place for US Presidents visiting India in the past.

When the Obamas landed Sunday morning i.e. 25th January, Modi broke protocol and went to personally receive Obama at the New Delhi airport. Soon after, he gave Obama a spontaneous greeting, picking up on the Obama-Modi Bromance (fondly called Mobama) which, blossomed in September last year during Modi’s visit to the US. Apart from this blatant show of camaraderie, Modi’s outfit not only caught the attention of the Indian media but, was commented upon by the global media also.  A Wall Street Journal article declared Modi the clear winner in terms of fashion: "Narendra Modi Outshines Michelle Obama With Airport Outfit." Modi also beat the First Lady by changing his outfit thrice while; the latter did so only twice. But, our PM’s Navy ‘Bandh-gala’ suit that, he wore on Sunday for bilateral talks with President Obama, grabbed the most eye-balls. It seemed like a simple pinstriped suit, but on closer scrutiny, it was seen that, the golden ‘pinstripe’ was actually ‘Narendra Damodardas Modi’ embroidered close to a 1000 times. Modi supporters loved the look but, it was subjected to a lot of scrutiny too. It is of course taking personalisation to a ridiculous extent. In the past, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak is said to have worn a suit with his name stitched all over it (the question is whether we should draw parallels only with regard to outfit choices with the notorious Egyptian autocrat).  During the President Obama’s address at the Rashtrapati Bhavan he deemed Modi a fashion-icon and said that, he himself had been contemplating trying on the ‘Modi Kurta’. Obama also caught our imaginations by citing a dialogue from a famous Bollywood movie in his address. 

To make the general public feel like a part of these festivities, the menu of the Lunch served at Hyderabad House on Sunday, the 25th January was also made public via a tweet, by none other than the Spokesperson of the Indian Foreign Ministry. Now, it sure does seem like President Obama’s visit was an entire chain of such trivial discussions and gatherings.

 But, some business was discussed too. On Monday, the 26th,  at the Indo-US CEO forum, Obama managed a pledge of $4 billion in investments and loans, seeking to release what he called the "untapped potential" of a business and strategic partnership between the two countries. Despite, the bonhomie between the two leaders, Obama and Modi reminded business leaders, including the head of PepsiCo, that trade ties were still fragile. India accounts for only 2 percent of U.S. imports and one percent of its exports, Obama said. While annual bilateral trade had reached $100 billion, which is less than a fifth of U.S. trade with China.Modi said U.S. investment in India had doubled in the past four months and vowed to do more to slash the country's notorious red tape and make it one of the world's easiest places for business (once again we are presented with an example of our PM’s pro-corporate leanings). There were talks of joint effort of the two countries in navigating the South China Sea which has been a bone of contention between India and China with, the latter laying territorial claims. The White House in reciprocation also said, that India could help them fight the battle with the Islamic State, underlining their confidence in New Delhi’s ability to take part in global security. 

Most significant highlight of the Presidential visit is the apparent break-through in the Indo-US Nuclear Deal. Both the countries announced that, they had broken the N-Deal deadlock, but as to what this entails for our country still remains to be vague. The Nuclear pact had long been the irritant for bilateral talks between the two countries. The Indo-US Nuclear Deal and the Nuclear Liability pact in 2008, and been a topic of many a heated discussions. Despite the fact, that imported reactors and fuel nuclear fuel would make electricity three times more expensive to Indian consumers (largely because we do not have  the amount of Uranium deposits that, are required for Nuclear power to be viable, and would have to import it)  than what they pay, the then government had gone ahead in clinching the deal. Thus, these very high costs involved also pointed to the fact that, the liability could not possibly lie entirely with the Government. The eventual compromise that, the UPA Government then made, forced by the opposition including BJP ensured that liability in the event of a nuclear accident will have to be shared by equipment suppliers unlike their responsibility free status elsewhere as otherwise the entire burden would be on the government run operator and the Indian tax payer. That time, BJP Leader of Opposition, Mr. Arun Jaitley was at his articulate best, in driving home this argument. This responsibility proved too much of an irritant for nuclear suppliers and their accountability free happiness. Now, since then the Tsunami-induced nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, has changed the nature of the global Nuclear power business, bringing it to a screeching halt. Just to put things into perspective, here are certain facts; the damage in Fukushima amounted to US$36 billion with it having paid US$12.5 billion by December, 2012. In the light of these figures, International investors are meaning to stay away from nuclear power projects without the concerned governments taking liability for accidents. Also, please compare the above mentioned costs and the relief fund set up by Indian Government for if a nuclear disaster is to occur, which is a measly 1500 crores. Of this 750 crores will be given by General Insurance and other public sector Insurance companies and the other 750 crores by the Indian Government. Now, with all these facts at our disposal it is hard to fathom on what grounds the ‘break-through’ which, both the Governments are going on about, has been achieved. Let’s hope there have not been compromises which may lead our country into a tragedy of epic proportions. 

So, Obama’s second visit to India has been peppered with trivialities and even an apparent Global breakthrough and ended with the promise of further correspondence between the two countries. 

9th February 2015