Midway through his first state visit to India, US President Barack Obama already seems to have won over everyone (except the Communists). He has spoken of business deals that will create jobs back home (the investment should make people in India happy). He has commiserated with the victims of 26/11. He has pressed flesh with Indian businessmen eager to see and be seen with the President of the US. He has pledged support for India’s candidature at the Nuclear Suppliers Group. He has allowed access to critical technologies to three Indian organizations that were blocked from these until now. He has paid homage to Gandhi. And he and his wife have shaken a leg to Indian music (in fact, his wife has done so more than once). If Disney were to make a film about a US president visiting India, it couldn’t have come up with a better script.
On the Indian side, the mainstream media has been gushing in its coverage. Television anchors (and even hard-nosed editors at these channels) have simpered and smiled and nodded their heads appreciatively (this last, especially at the superior hopscotch skills of the US First Lady). Most newspapers and television channels are almost entirely devoted to coverage of the Obama visit. The main opposition party has distanced itself from a marginally anti-Obama statement issued by one of its members.
Overall media coverage of and political response to the visit has been so overwhelmingly positive (businessmen and business lobbies were anyway expected to react positively) that it seems almost churlish to point out that just late last week, the almost unanimous opinion in India was that this trip wouldn’t achieve much—not for the US and, definitely, not for India.
So, what, if anything at all, has changed? The truthful answer to that is: nothing. At one level, expectations from the visit were so low that a combination of a few giveaways (and takeaways) and some smart spin would appear to have worked. At another level, everyone seems to be in the grip of the Indian hospitality trap, which entails no negativity whatsoever (this could explain why even the principal opposition doesn’t wish to sound critical of Obama, at least as long as he is here). Finally, this is the country of Bollywood. How can we not love and worship the world’s most powerful man and his wife who are both only too willing to break into a jig?
In the 1960s, when president Lyndon Johnson visited India, he won the hearts of the Indian public (or so newspaper reports of that time would have us believe) by giving away small gifts—ballpoint pens and pencils. Even before the business end of his visit (in Delhi) Obama has managed to do the same— with a few more substantial gifts and a little dancing.
What will Obama’s visit yield? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org