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Obama's 'grand' finale?

Soutik Biswas | 15:04 UK time, Monday, 8 November 2010

Barack Obama addressing Indian parliament

A great finale. Well-crafted. Remarkable. Nice and positive. Workmanlike. Good oratory.


These were some of the early reactions from the foreign policy cognoscenti and lay analysts to President Obama's address to the Indian parliament. Others, still in a minority as the evening wore on, bemoaned that it was oratory without substance.

Even Mr Obama's sternest critics conceded there was something to praise in the speech. His invocation to India - where he even chose language from one of the poems of Nobel Prize-winner Rabindranath Tagore - won a lot of brownie points. As analyst Zoya Hasan said: "It was a nice and positive appreciation of India. Indians looking for praise and flattery got that in dollops."

Others, like strategic affairs analyst Bharat Karnad, saw things differently. "The platitudes in the oratory were soaring. Mr Obama was supposed to be pressing the right buttons. But how hard did he want the buttons pushed?"

Good question. For when it came down to the bare essentials of the speech, the euphoria waned a bit.

Some felt Mr Obama's endorsement of a permanent seat for India in the UN did not sound very convincing. Others pointed out that the Republican opposition to Mr Obama was far more pro-Indian and may have gladly committed to India's place in the UN. As leading journalist MJ Akbar said: "His heart was not in [India's] membership. But it's an improvement from saying nothing."

Others like Sumit Ganguly, director of research at the Center on American and Global Security at Indiana University, Bloomington, defended Mr Obama's position, saying that it was "not possible for him to say anything more" because he "has to go home and build domestic consensus on the issue". In other words, there is no use being churlish and cribbing about the fact that he did not give a firmer commitment.

Most felt that Mr Obama "rapped India's knuckle" by saying that entry to the Security Council came with the essential caveats of responsibility, and the fact that all members have to abide by all resolutions, including on Iran and nuclear proliferation.

"They will be watching India's conduct as a non-permanent member over the next two years to see whether we are fulfilling those conditions. That is implicit in the speech. Obama is asking us to distance us from Iran. There are the beginnings of that in the speech," said a former Indian diplomat KC Singh.

Will India listen?

Many here say Mr Obama's criticism of "greedy and paranoid" Burma - a strategic friend of India - is misplaced. The US, they say, has a messy record of "nourishing military regimes", especially Pakistan.

It is difficult to see Mr Obama satisfying Indians fully on his stand on Pakistan. He clearly told the parliament that terror havens in Pakistan were unacceptable, echoing what Indian PM Manmohan Singh told reporters earlier in the day. Analysts say he mentioned Pakistan half a dozen times in the speech, but didn't come down hard enough on it for "encouraging state-sponsored terrorism against India".

"Our evidence shows collusion between the government and terrorists. He doesn't say a word about that apart from the cliches," says Mr Akbar. But don't despair, said another analyst. "US's relationship with India is multi-faceted. With Pakistan it is only a transactional one."

Only time will tell whether the speech is an inflection point in the relationship between the two countries. It may not have been a game-changing, dramatic speech - that could be expecting too much from a president who is under siege at home - but it did point to certain maturing and consolidation of ties between two nations who were direly suspicious of each other even a couple of decades ago.

Comments

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  • 1. At 3:33pm on 08 Nov 2010, Pras_n_Srini wrote:

    His major accomplishment was in announcing "$10 billion" in trade-deals (of which over $5 billion was pre-existing contracts awaiting delivery"--it was no more something to swoon-over than Clinton's 2000 visit!

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  • 2. At 4:17pm on 08 Nov 2010, BluesBerry wrote:

    Obama has always been known for his "good oratory".
    Obama has also been known for his "oratory" without substance.
    Obama has also been known for selecting quotations from one of the heroes of the country to whom he is speaking, in this case India & Rabindranath Tagore.
    Others, like me and apparently Strategic Affairs Analyst, Bharat Karnad, see things differently. We see "platitudes".
    Obama is becoming well-known for his "platitudes".
    When you get down to the essentials, there is little to no TRUST.
    Obama's endorsement of a permanent seat for India on the UN Security Council wasn't convincing. He might be perfectly sincere, but I doubt it.
    How perceptive of leading journalist, MJ Akbar: "His heart was not in [India's] membership. But it's an improvement from saying nothing."
    Most felt that Mr Obama "rapped India's knuckle" by saying that entry to the Security Council came with the essential caveats of responsibility, and the fact that all members have to abide by all resolutions, including on Iran and nuclear proliferation.
    What hyprocracy!
    The US sits on the Security Council and if the United States does not want to abide, it simply vetoes. The American Veto is one of the most severe handicaps to an efficient & effective United Nations. Witness the automatic veto when it comes to Israelis Resolutions. How many of these are there?
    The Americans would do better to stop watching India (as a temporary member) and start watching themselves (as a permanent member) because, in my opinion, the United States is ruining the potential effectiveness of the United Nations.
    Will India listen?
    India is giving off many signs that it knows exactly what it is dealing with when it deals with the United States:
    - Obama's criticism of "greedy and paranoid" Burma. Did he not know that Burma is a strategic friend of India?
    - The US, they say, has a messy record of "nourishing military regimes", especially Pakistan. Obama told the parliament that terror havens in Pakistan were unacceptable...but he didn't come down hard enough on it for "encouraging state-sponsored terrorism against India".
    The so-called ties between two nations are built on suspicion, not even optimistic suspicion; therefore India will likely turn to her Asean contacts, even BRIC before she makes important deals with the US.

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  • 3. At 5:23pm on 08 Nov 2010, BluesBerry wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 4. At 5:44pm on 08 Nov 2010, ScottNYC wrote:

    It really is too bad Obama didn't lay a wreath at the site of the Amritsar Massacre, where 1,000 Indians were gunned down on the orders of a British thug named Dyer. It truly is one of the great cover-ups in British history as Dyer received a huge cash gift from his government and was described by the British as some sort of hero. I suppose it's still too painful for Indians to acknowledge the atrocities visited upon them by the British. A missed opportunity for Obama.

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  • 5. At 7:47pm on 08 Nov 2010, Suresh Kamath wrote:

    Obama's endorsement of a permanent seat for India on the UN Security Council does not mean anything , if that does not come with VETO power.

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  • 6. At 9:02pm on 08 Nov 2010, weidao99 wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 7. At 10:07pm on 08 Nov 2010, India007 wrote:

    India has a chance for negotiations , as India is in better Economical condition than USA and OBAMA after mid term elections.

    OBAMA and USA need more Business to feed Unemployed US Citizens at the moment.

    Hope India will not get CRAP or SCRAP US WEAPONS which are outdated in USA.

    It is better for INDIA to stay away from USA , as USA is not TRUSTWORTHY Ally like RUSSIA

    USA has DIG an large SINK HOLE (AFGHANISTAN ) and feeding PAKISTAN with WEAPONS and MONEY .

    CHECK OUT after DEVASTATING FLOOD before 3 MONTHS where the hell MONEY has gone

    but AFTER US leave AFGHANISTAN , INDIA will NEXT to SINK HOLE not PAKISTAN

    US support and DEVELOP TALIBAN WHEN RUSSIANS in AFGHANISTAN

    now they feeding PAK

    wait for couple of years and see AFGHANISTAN as an TERRORIST BASE and TRAINING CAMPS for PAK.




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  • 8. At 09:38am on 09 Nov 2010, Clive Hill wrote:

    #4 ScottNYC

    ...Dyer received a huge cash gift from his government and was described by the British as some sort of hero...

    Conflicts with Wikipedia which says of Dyer 'he was finally found guilty of a mistaken notion of duty and relieved of his command.'

    Winston Churchill, Secretary of State for War at the time called it ""an episode without precedent or parallel in the modern history of British Empire... an extraordinary event, a monstrous event, an event which stands in singular and sinister isolation".

    There was also a commission of inquiry, the Hunter Commission, which was severely critical of the whole episode.

    I would like to know where you got the notion that Dyer was regarded as a hero ?

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  • 9. At 2:10pm on 09 Nov 2010, ScottNYC wrote:

    I would say a cash gift of mid six figures (in today's currency) constitutes a hero's welcome home. As for Churchill's amusing quote, let's not forget that the British starved millions of Indians to death before Dyer ever gave his orders to shoot. So Dyer was useful from a propaganda standpoint, for the Brits to point to as some sort of shocking aberration, which made the rest of them look more humane by comparison. But apparently you can't distinguish propaganda from truth, which says a lot. I bet you think Indians should be really really grateful the British showed up on their shores.

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  • 10. At 3:00pm on 09 Nov 2010, Eternal Peace wrote:

    @ 8 Clive Hill
    "an episode without precedent or parallel in the modern history of British Empire... an extraordinary event, a monstrous event, an event which stands in singular and sinister isolation"
    A peaceful protest of unarmed civilians, including women and children were shot and killed in an enclosed park without warning. It was a cold blooded and brutal murder. All India got from Britain that time were these meaningless words and enquiries.
    General Dyer died at his home in England. He did not spend a single day in prison let alone tried for crimes against humanity. Have a bit of perspective and be sensible when you copy and paste stuff from wikipedia without understanding the context and what this incident still means to many Indians.
    Applying your argument, the 7/7 and 9/11 bombers should be criticised in severe words and enquiries set up. They should of course be allowed to die in the comfort of their homes, wouldnt you say?

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  • 11. At 6:18pm on 09 Nov 2010, Innovator wrote:

    I am not sure whether the General Dyer issue is relevant to Mr Obama, as he is not British. However, General Dyer's conduct is deplorable and he should have been punished, and more importantly the circumstances that led to the event put right. That is now history.
    Of more relevance are crimes agianst humanity in India's backyard. The massacre of some 20,000 plus Tamil people in neighbouring Sri Lanka. Gen Dyer's massacre pales into insignificance because of the scale and the time elapsed compared to this grave crime in May 2009. And the perpetrators are still in power. Is this what Obama indirectly meant when he stated that India should stand up for the oppressed voiceless people?
    Gen Dyer's massacre highlighted what British rule then was, an immoral occupation of the Indian sub-continent. This eventually paved the way for independence from Britain. This is what Mahatma Gandhi referred to by Obama, and Indian freedom fighters such as Subash Chandrabose also stood for.
    If we are to make progress as humanity, we need to learn from history, but apply the learnings in the current context (rather than harping just on the past and ignoring the present).
    The genocide of Tamils in Sri Lanka and the events of May 2009 also highlight the immoral occupation of Tamil people by the Sri Lankan state. If India and Obama are to follow Mahatma Gandhi's heritage, would they act to bring about an end to Sri Lankan occupation of Tamils and bring about their independence from Sri Lankan tyranny? and bring those people responsible to justice?. . peacefully through the UN.
    If India and Obama can act in this way, then they would have behaved in a manner Mahatma Gandhi would be truly proud of. India could then truly claim UN Security Council membership, and Obama and India could set the scene to bring about meaningful change to the UN system.

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  • 12. At 6:25pm on 09 Nov 2010, scriva wrote:

    Obama can sway people with his oratory. He is being tested in America. He has shown his warmth for independent India and its best founding fathers. He has finesse but politics and economics are the winners in government. There is much to be gained through improving trade but China has a commanding position than India. The agreed nuclear exchanges may prove of mutual benefit in terms of jobs and enhancing energy supply in India. There is not much US can offer to improve widespread poverty situation in India as solutions have to be home grown.

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  • 13. At 8:15pm on 09 Nov 2010, Zad wrote:

    Is India not doing what Isreal is doing in Palestine. US has vetoed the UN resolutions on Palestine issues for the sake of Israel, But we do have a UN resolution on KASHMIR and India has been running away form acting upon it. A resolution which India itself agreed to. Let the KASHMIRIS choose their fate, which according to British think tank is definitely not to stay with India, neither with Pakistan but Independence.

    Free KASHMIR please, act on UN resolution before asking something else...

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  • 14. At 8:28pm on 09 Nov 2010, JusticeForAll wrote:

    Obama is a big talker, usually praises but not in action.

    The Great Mahandas Gandhi was fighting for independence and freedom. India was unified by the British and not by the people of Indian leaders. The Great Gandhi would not have imagined that India will commit crimes against freedom struggle.

    Whereas the current Congress led Indian regime is crushing freedom struggle, high in corruption and lawlessness and involved in occupation and state terrorism.

    Indian IPKF has committed war crimes against Tamils in Sri Lanka and later the Indian regime has collaborated with the Sri Lankan regime in alleged war crimes against Tamils.

    Do you think Obama or any other Western leader does not know this?

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  • 15. At 11:52pm on 09 Nov 2010, juneidy wrote:

    There is a difference, not just a difference rather immeasurable
    difference between begging and earning. For an example if some rich man
    gives tons of gold to a beggar. Now then, can this beggar declare
    that he earned it? It is a point to ponder.

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  • 16. At 02:08am on 10 Nov 2010, Jay wrote:


    @ Zad (#13). There are many resolutions involving Kashmir. Pakistan, which occupies a big part of that state, did not fulfill its obligation and so does India. If you are talking about the cliché of plebiscite in Kashmir, then you need to remember that the pre-condition (mainly to vacate the occupied part and stop supporting ethnic cleansing of non-Muslims from he valley) for that was NEVER fulfilled by Pakistan. On the contrary Pakistan started using state-sponsored terrorism against India, long before 9/11. For more detail you can read the blog and comments in Kashmir related topic in this BBBC blog (e.g. "Kashmir: A good initiative?": http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/soutikbiswas/2010/09/kashmir_a_good_initiative.html .
    In fact, it goes against US that it turned a blind eye to this Pakistani sponsored terrorism (against India, in Kashmir and other parts of India) till US realized Pakistani role in exporting Islamic terrorism globally which also started hurting its “allay” USA. Obama is among few US presidents who is taking tough stance, publicly, against Pakistan and distancing India from Pakistan in its foreign policy. He is the first US president in last few decades that did not travel to Pakistan while coming to India.

    Yes, there is difference between the aspirations of India and US from this relationship. But we have reached that maturity to understand that we both can have a better future in collaboration, rather than confrontation (as in cold-war era). Indian political leadership has more political compulsions and natural skepticism (due to historical reasons). It also does not matter if US remains the sole super-power in the world in future. But two civilized, democratic country should cooperate to make better future for not only their own people but the whole world (as far possible).

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  • 17. At 02:18am on 10 Nov 2010, Jay wrote:

    India should not have got involved in Sri Lanka in the first place. Neither India should have allowed its soil to be used for exporting terrorism against any country, specifically against its neighbor, Sri Lanka. I know that it was mainly a Tamil agenda and they (Dravidian Tamil parties) dragged India into it, even now many Tamil political parties harbor and use that sentiment (mostly) internally. In that sense, Anybody can justify its violence against any other country as “freedom” struggle (just like the Islamic terrorists in Kashmir)! There are specific ways to deal such situation in many democratic countries like Sri Lanka. We cannot change our past, but let’s not spoil our future.
    But we are not talking about that here. Let’s restrict our discussion to Obama, India and US.

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  • 18. At 02:31am on 10 Nov 2010, Jay wrote:

    I am really surprised the way many India media is branding Obama’s visit to India as if US is begging to India! I do not think that is correct interpretation. It may feel great and touch the raw nerve of many Indian readers in India (and boost sell of newspapers and TRP of TV channel). In reality, India does not have that much economic power to “save” US, nor to influence world economy in a significant way. If current Indian political leadership thinks that India has reached that stage, then they should first stop accepting “donations”/”aid” from abroad in welfare schemes, as NDA government denied foreign “aid” sometime ago. If you seek real info (about hunger, education, health care, gender equality etc) about India’s “development” you will be ashamed that we are naïve enough to boast of national “development” and looking to the world and ourselves through a very narrow hole.

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  • 19. At 03:17am on 10 Nov 2010, hari wrote:

    On a side-note, it is really sad, however not surprising, that the Indian media went gaga over Michelle's dance moves to Bollywood hits. Unfortunately, we Indian people, ergo Indian media, strive so much for attention/appreciation of our culture (or whatever it is) that any such actions by a visiting delegate (especially from the west) is considered a great act of friendship and embracement of our culture. Not that Michelle's act had some ulterior motive; I am just wondering why our needs are so shallow?

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  • 20. At 04:01am on 10 Nov 2010, Pulkit wrote:

    It only makes sense for the president of the U.S. to deal carefully with both India and Pakistan. On one hand, he has a rising power that he thinks will counter China nicely and will create jobs back home and on the other is its primary "ally" in the war on terror.

    Obama realizes that he cannot afford to distance himself from India - especially true when the relations between China and the U.S. are quite cold - it is a future power and his visit can help American companies tap into the Indian market (potentially creating jobs back home) and neither can he distance himself from Pakistan as the U.S. relies heavily on Pakistan to support its "war on terror" in the Afghanistan region. It only makes sense for him to walk this line carefully. He isn't David Cameron. The U.K., in essence, can afford to criticize Pakistan because it simply doesn't depend on it that much (apart from the NATO mission in Afghanistan...which is well, not exactly a priority for the U.K.) but the U.S. can't. Sure, the U.S. can be adamant about making Pakistan act and might even get a bit tough on its "ally" but there is only so much it can do. My point being that it makes sense when Obama doesn't criticize Pakistan too much because he simply can't afford to do so.

    And about Obama's backing of the permanent Indian UNSC seat - what's up with the pessimism amongst you journalists? You guys seem to be complaining that the Republicans are more pro-India than Obama (which they are) and many back the UNSC seat for India. Sure, great news but how is that relevant to Obama's visit? As an Indian citizen, the only thing I'd be concerned about is whether or not the U.S. is backing up the Indian bid for a permanent seat at the UNSC and not if a Democrat or a Republic is president. It would be nice to have someone pro-India as president but I find Obama's recent "shift" (him praising India - sort of a departure from his earlier "fair" policies) to be even more optimistic. Look at it this way, Obama marks a shift in the outlook of Democrats as well and with Republicans already in the bag, what do we exactly have to worry about? All this means is that more Americans now consider India to be a potential game changer in the region. What's so pessimistic and cautious about that? Coming from a pro-Indian perspective, I find that to be quite pleasing actually.

    Make no mistake, however, for the U.S. is doing what it can to promote its on interests and a stronger alliance with India is very much in its interests. That's the moral of the story here - analysts get to carried away and start expecting too much out of a man already facing criticism for his handling of the economy back home. It is also important to note that the same principle also applies to India. It will benefit immensely from this new relationship between the countries.

    I guess what I'm really trying to say here is that a strong partnership between the countries is in the interest of both the states and that's exactly what they are doing so I don't really see the reason behind this pessimism and apparent "cautious" approach that some "experts" seem to be suggesting. It is all good as long as either country doesn't try exerting its influence on each other too much - that'd just kill the party for me.

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  • 21. At 06:03am on 10 Nov 2010, SaurabhDas wrote:

    I appreciate that the President has supported India for a permanent UNSC seat. I have enumerated 9 points which justifies India's claim for the seat. Please check it out: [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

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  • 22. At 06:14am on 10 Nov 2010, Dinesh wrote:

    Jay, if India should not have involved in the issues of its immediate neighbor (Sri lanka, in this case), then for what hell’s sake it require a permanent membership in UN? To just sit at the high table and enjoy a cup of Coffee? India aspires to play a major role in global geo-politics, but it doesn’t even able to set the moral compass right among its relatively small neighbors. As Obama said, Power means responsibility. India made many strategical Mistakes. Trusted that China will stop with Tibet (now, China is claiming Arunachal only becoz it thinks Tibet belongs to them) and thought the Majority in Sri Lanka will support them against China if Tamils are suppressed there. In the process they lost the natural allies in Tamils in either side of the palk straight.

    Moreover Kashmir is different. India pumps millions and millions of Rupees into Kashmir. The streets of Srinagar are more urbane than the streets of Ranchi or Patna. India allows the Kashmiries to cherish their Culture. Even after that if some of the fanatics hungry for Power create disturbances then its not India’s Fault. But thats not the case in Sri lanka. Just after the burning of the Jaffna library (Cultural center of Tamils) and before the start of the armed conflict one Federal minister in Sri lanka said that “if they want to practice Tamil culture they should go to Tamil nadu” conveniently ignoring the fact that the northern part of the island belong to Tamils for centuries.

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  • 23. At 10:58am on 10 Nov 2010, Arrrgh wrote:

    Hey hey hey.

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  • 24. At 2:50pm on 10 Nov 2010, Jay wrote:

    Dinesh I understand your point when you say, “Jay, if India should not have involved in the issues of its immediate neighbor (Sri lanka, in this case), then for what hell’s sake it require a permanent membership in UN? To just sit at the high table and enjoy a cup of Coffee? India aspires to play a major role in global geo-politics, but it doesn’t even able to set the moral compass right among its relatively small neighbors. As Obama said, Power means responsibility. India made many strategical Mistakes”.

    Let me reply you. Yes, it WAS a big mistake by India to intervene in Sri Lanka to solve LTTE problem. Firstly, even permanent members of UNSC MUST not have the right to interfere in any other countries internal affair UNILATERALY. That’s why many people and countries in the world is so against USA for its Iraq war (not so much against its efforts in Afghanistan). I personally do not support Indian political closeness with Burma/Myanmar and Iran.
    “Race” and “nation” are two different issue. Tamils in Tamilnadu are Indians first. They must not have any business in interfering in Sri Lankan affair (collectively). If they feel that it is absolutely necessary, then they or Indian government can approach UN and build opinions among world powers to solve the problem. I understand that it is time consuming and little uncertain, but that is the only way to approach in present day world. Tamils in Sri Lanka also should consider Sri Lanka as THEIR country. If you want a separate country in some pretext or other (as Kashmiri Muslims do in India) then no sane country will tolerate that, so did Sri Lanka. It could have been approached in a more democratic way than violent terrorism spanning over decades.
    Moreover, Sri Lanka had/has a more vibrant democracy than many other countries in the world. No one in the world will consider Sri Lankans (local Sinhalese people) as fanatic or violent. Sri Lanka was one of the most peaceful countries in the world ages.

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