President Obama- You can make history or just log up more miles

 President Obama:  you are widely and commonly known, POTUS (which makes life easier for the subs in the editorial office), in two days time, you will be winging your way across the oceans and continents in your magnificent Air Force 1 from the Capital of the world’s oldest democracy (and surviving Republic) to the Capital of the world’s largest democracy and Republic, that also happens to be one of the oldest continuing civilisations in the world.

As you, your gracious dharm-patni Michelle and your inner team of specialists and advisors, try to put the final touches to your India strategy during these last few days, this admirer of yours seeks to bring to your attention a few ideas and thoughts that will help you to make history during your few days in India. Far be it for me to claim preposterously that I am the only bright spark (or a bright spark at all) that wants to reach out to you. Many other folks who are much better qualified as éminences grises (an elegant French phrase that your half-French Secretary of State John Kerry will be happy to elucidate for you) are already filling the print pages and the air waves with their weighty ideas. Therefore, I am reluctant to join the queue; also, there is always the chance that some bright analyst will take it on himself or herself to pass on a highly-edited but inaccurate version of what I am saying. And that might well mean a near-permanent embargo by the world’s most powerful office. Yet, faint hearts do not win battles or wars; so, hear I go POTUS.

To start with, let me tell you why I am a paid-up member of your fan club. And these reasons are not ranked in any order of priority. You are the first (and hopefully not the last) Afro-American to become POTUS. It is only those who have studied, even cursorily, the appalling history of your community  in your country, the  savage  repression  and  the heart-rending cruelties that your people have been subjected to, and the Himalayan prejudices that they have confronted and battled over the last three centuries, who will grasp the magnitude of your achievement. Your first electoral campaign has gone down in history as an incredible saga of dedication, courage, sagacity, vision and boldness. You managed to inspire an entire nation to rise above its baser instincts, its innate ethnocentricities and its burden of history.

In your first tenure, you successfully dealt with the economic and financial crises that swept your country and the world, introduced major health-care reforms and rid the word of Osama bin Laden. You also made a momentous visit to our shores in November 2010 and delivered a speech to Parliament that still evokes admiration. Your reference to the great Swami, whose historic speech in your home-town Chicago on the September 11, 1893 galvanised your country and the western world, made me even more fond of you. There are cynical scribes who gave the credit for this gesture to your skilled ghost-writers. I am more charitable and put it down to your own knowledge and wisdom.

In your second tenure, that most political observers uncharitably described as a lame-duck stint, you proved otherwise. On a variety of issues and subjects, you went out to the arena, all guns firing. And coming back to issues that concern us in these shores, you did a smart about-turn in your India policy, over-turned the silly policy of your administration on Narendra Modi and turned defeat into victory by extending an olive-hand to the new PM. Even bolder was your decision to invite the new PM to America, give him an opportunity to explain and clarify the world-views and philosophy of the new Government, and to provide him an opportunity that he loves - interacting with Indian crowds, albeit those in the Diaspora. Evidently, you two got along well, as all accounts have said. And to crown it all, you accepted the PM’s invitation and are now all set to be the first American President to grace our Republic Day celebrations and be the Chief Guest at the Republic Day parade on Rajpath.

So, here we are POTUS, back to the points that I want to emphasise to you about making your visit meaningful. I want you to carve a mile-stone in the history of India- US ties rather than make a routine pomp-and-show trip around the globe. There is absolutely no reason why the world's two most important democracies cannot have a durable, cordial, lasting, mutually-respectful, tension-free and Pakistan-free relationship. Hallelujah, I have managed to summarise the issues that I want to highlight in this letter. There is a whole load of historical baggage that we have to jettison and a lot of acrimony that we have to wipe out from our collective psyches - acrimony that has been caused by both sides.

Our two countries that should have hit the ground running in building up a great friendship got off to an awful start. I have written earlier how John Foster Dulles, your woeful Secretary of State (Foreign Minister)  managed to poison President Eisenhower's views on India, based partly on his animosity towards Communism, his twisted mind-set that "those who are not for us, are against us" and partly because the US inherited the poisonous Olaf Caroe doctrine of the departing British. Under this warped view, Pakistan became a pivotal ally for the prevention of any Soviet influence in this part of the world. The US armed forces (through the Pentagon) played their role in concocting this witches' brew, because they thought the Pakistani generals were jolly good fellows. To be fair, Nehru and his Sancho Panza, Krishna Menon, contributed their fair share to the mess, with their patronising and distorted attitudes to America.

The sorry tale of India-American bickering reached its nadir, of course, during the Bangladesh war, when Nixon and Kissinger almost put paid to the ties that bind our two countries and values. It goes to the credit of your distinguished Democrat predecessor Bill Clinton that India-American ties became meaningful and cordial from 1999 (the Kargil war intervention of Clinton) onwards. Brother Bill’s visit to India in 2000 and his rapturous welcome in Parliament were great bedrocks of our friendship. Even your disastrous predecessor George Dubya Bush, did his bit to cement our ties, though it is a moot question how he and Manmohan Singh managed to communicate with each other.

So, POTUS, please remember that our two countries are on the cusp of an opportunity that comes rarely in history. Either we make a go of it and usher in a paradigm change or we let matters slide, hoping that the tide will carry us further. There are some immediate issues that you need to sort out. Get the nuclear agreement between us going, cement defence ties, not just in American arms sales, but also in defence joint ventures, put all WTO wrangles behind us (as was done recently in a major area) and bury the Pakistan nightmare as deep as possible. India can never trust Uncle Sam so long as elements in the American establishment (whether individuals or institutions) harbour sneaking sympathies for a rogue terrorist state run by a Prussian-era army. Please tell your mandarins that the hyphenation with our western neighbour must be eliminated from the India-American scenario.

This is where I have to sign off, POTUS. Beyond a certain point, it is futile to belabour the obvious. Just for the record – either you make lasting history during this visit or you notch up more frequent-flier miles on Air Force 1. The choice is yours

Courtesy Niti Central

Latest News