Defining moment

Two years in office after an epoch-making election victory, US President Barack Obama’s incandescent personality might have dimmed a bit back home, but his inspiring speech to Indian parliamentarians at the end of his three-day visit showcased the power of his vision, the depth of knowledge and the oratorical skills that surely must have influenced the Americans to choose him in the first place. Before Obama arrived in New Delhi, there wasn’t a great deal of expectation considering that the American economy faced a huge crisis, the Democrats had received a severe electoral jolt and he himself had portrayed India as part of the problem the US faced. That he began his visit from Mumbai, sewing up business deals to help the US economy, gave the impression that he was more worried about pleasing his domestic constituency than addressing Indian concerns and expectations.

But his parliament address indicated that, unlike any of his predecessors, he has a grand vision for India’s role in the fast-changing geo-political situation. He was ready to acknowledge India as a world power, give it a greater say in Asia, recognise its role in Afghanistan and, for the first time, offer unequivocal support to its permanent membership bid in the UN Security Council. Conscious that Indian public opinion perceived America as pro-Islamabad and of not paying enough attention to cross-border terrorism, Obama openly condemned the terrorists’ safe-havens in Pakistan as ‘unacceptable’ and demanded urgent action against the perpetrators of the 26/11 terror attack on Mumbai. Despite Pakistani pressure, Obama was also clear that the US would have no mediatory role in Kashmir, though he advised India that resolving the border dispute and ensuring a ‘stable’ Pakistan was in its interest.

In fact, Obama’s desire to make the relationship between the two countries “one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century,” has its roots in the 2000 visit of another Democrat President, Bill Clinton, who gave a paradigm shift to Indo-US relations. Clinton’s successor, George W Bush imparted the much-needed trust and thrust by recognising India’s de facto status as a nuclear power and opening the doors of nuclear commerce for the country. Now Obama has gone a step further by offering support to India’s membership of exclusive nuclear and missile technology groups. Thanks to its growing economic clout, India is at the crossroads of history and it is up to her to grab this moment.

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