Charismatic Obama floors India

It is not always the deals and agreements signed by Presidents and Prime Ministers that define the success of their visits to other countries.

President Barack Obama’s three-day visit to India had all the elements of charm, informality and spontaneity which made the trip not just an official event but a bridge to the hearts and minds of the people. From the time he landed in India till he left some 50 hours later, Obama was the cynosure of all Indians.

He connected right away as he thanked the “people of India for incredible hospitality,” adding, “Mera pyar bhara namaskaar.” Whether at the press meet after the delegation level talks, the meeting with the CEOs and industrialists. or the Town Hall speech where he all but mesmerised the audience, Obama carried the day with aplomb.  At Siri Fort Town Hall speech, even as he regaled the audience, he showed he never forgot his roots.

“Me and Prime Minister Narendra Modi come from humble backgrounds but are blessed with extraordinary opportunities,” he remarked reminding that the grandson of a cook and son of a single mother can become the President, and a tea-maker, the PM. As he had tea poured by the PM at the Hyderabad House, Obama referred to Modi’s Chai pe Charcha and quipped, “We need more of those in the White House!”

 The visit of no other head of state in recent times has exuded such warmth and no other foreign leader received such public attention and adulation. The reason probably was that he went straight to the hearts of the people he talked to and addressed with a directness and simplicity not often seen in official and diplomatic conduct. He greeted the country in India’s idiom and used words and phrases that cut the distance between two cultures.

The invocation of Swami Vivekananda’s Chicago address, which is a seminal event in the west’s recognition of India and India’s outreach to the west, was itself evocative. There was a reaching out to a boy from the back of India’s beyond which showed great empathy and understanding. Films open a window to the hearts of people, and Obama used a Bollywood opening to make a point. 

 On all occasions and events and in all public appearances, he came through as a person who had interest in and respect for India. He communicated directly with the people, using symbols like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr to convey his idea, made a personal rapport with his host and told the people about it and even joked about himself. The visit was official but the message was also human, and that added to its success.

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