Cover Story: Guest, Guts & Gestures
Intro: The US President as Chief Guest at Republic Day celebrations reflected India’s emergence as a global power. Guts and gestures showed by Modi and Obama brought smile for the two democracies overcoming key hurdles.
Henry Kissinger, famous foreign policy expert and diplomat, once said, “As a professor, I tended to think of history as a run by impersonal forces. But when you see in practice you see the difference personalities make.” Though this is truer with the autocratic leadership, what is proved in recently held Indo-US summit level interaction is that even in democratic societies, leadership matters in foreign policy formulation and implementation. It is not only the vision and intent but ability to handle the pressures of bilateral negotiations with guts and gestures showed both by Obama and Modi, is the significant deviation in otherwise formal and bureaucratic decision making. There may be perceptive interpretations on the outcome of this visit but one thing is sure that it is marked by the level of guests and hospitality provided to them, guts shown in getting breakthrough on many issues by mitigating roadblocks and gestures used by both leaders which made the whole visit informal. The US President as chief guest at Republic Day celebrations itself reflected India’s emergence in international power equations. Guts and gestures showed by Modi and Obama brought smile for the two democracies overcoming key hurdles.
Another Cover Story: A Breakthrough
Generally, summit level interactions are preceded with moths of bureaucratic and diplomatic parleys. First time ever that is also just four months after PM Modi had a top level interaction with the US, President Obama accepting invitation to be the chief guest at Republic Day celebrations itself was a landmark event. India till recently shying off openly befriending with the US, displayed the friendship with heart, as Guest of Honour for the Republic Day is conventionally reserved for the special friends. The US also reciprocated by accepting invitation and warning its longstanding ally Pakistan against promoting or shielding any kind of terrorist activities. This friendship reflects the changing dynamics in international politics where friendship of two biggest democracies with huge potential is the key for future peace and development. In that sense, President Obama being the guest in India for three days itself was a significant event.
Despite being two democracies, with complimentary positions on many issues, both the leaders and their teams were well aware about the divergent views rooted in the different cultural and developmental milieu. There was a need for showing guts to address those impediments to chalk out future action plan. The joint statement released by both leaders, Sanjha Prayaas; Sab Ka Vikaas (Shared Effort; Progress for All) is embodiment of the diplomatic acumen both the leaders showed without compromising on their respective national interests and stated positions. Breakthrough on the Civil Nuclear Deal is just an example on this. But the US openly affirming that India meets MTCR requirements and is ready for NSG membership and that it supports India’s early application and eventual membership in all four regimes and India’s constructive role in promoting secure, stable, and prosperous Afghanistan are also significant indicators. The US support for India’s permanent membership in UN Security Council also can be very handy for India in international posturing. The US partnership in Modi government’s flagship programmes such as smart cities, digital India and Make in India with special focus on defence production are also important indicators of deepening of relationship and bold decision making. Energy and environmental concerns are still the tricky areas but both India and the US by focusing on renewable energy, conveniently avoided any discord, at the same time reaffirmed their commitments towards environmental protection. Addressing mutual and global concerns without referring to Pakistan and China was the noteworthy achievement of both the leaders.
Breaking the protocols for personal chemistry was the mantra of Modi-Obama meet. Body language and gestures was the most striking feature of this high level interaction between India and the US. Modi broke protocols by receiving the President and his wife at the airport, addressing him with the first name, giving bear hugs, while shattering all security concerns Obama spent lot of time in open air despite the security guidelines of Secret Service looking after the security aspects. Their one to one interaction at Hyderabad House, open dialogue with the Indian industry and candid interface with Indian masses through ‘Mann Ki Baat’ (Saying Straight from the Heart) were significant gestures that made this event truly republic.
It is a matter of time to actualise the implementation of this vision in shaping the future world by the two democracies forward in and assessments will go on. Hiccups about red tapism in investment and unwarranted remarks on human rights and religious tolerance issue by President Obama were two negatives of this visit, blown out of proportion by media. Otherwise, Obama’s visit to India will be landmark in taking the bilateral ties to new heights and shaping the future world.