Event ReportsPublished on Nov 27, 2010
One of the most awaited and celebrated events of 2010 in India was the State visit of US President Barack Obama from November 6-8. Considerable amount of discussions and debates had taken place both before and during the visit.
The Obama visit: A Perspective
One of the most awaited and celebrated events of 2010 in India was the State visit of US President Barack Obama from November 6-8. Considerable amount of discussions and debates had taken place both before and during the visit. But a post-visit analysis was essential to evaluate and estimate the impact of this high-level, high-profile visit, for India, the US as well as the rest of the international community, to draw their own conclusions, particularly in the evolving geo-strategic context with economics having as much an important role as politics. The weekly interaction at the ORF Chennai Chapter thus focused on the topic ‘The Obama Visit: A Perspective’, on November 27, 2010.

Mr. R. Swaminathan, former Special Secretary and DG-Security, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, provided a comprehensive account of the visit, covering all the important events and issues associated with it. Beginning with the media hype that led to certain high expectations, Mr. Swaminathan analysed the statements made by analysts and commentators from both India and the US. He pointed out that the value of the visit varied from “a stupendous success” to “a non-event” depending on the perspective of the viewer. The wish lists that were generated in the run-up to the visit often ignored ground realities and also the meticulously-planned nature of the event, Mr. Swaminathan observed.

Clarifying the misconceptions regarding President Obama’s emphasis on business deals and job creation in US, Mr. Swaminathan drew attention to all the efforts made to add symbolism to substance during the entire course of the visit. He justified the silence maintained by the visiting President on complex issues relating to China and Pakistan. According to Mr. Swaminathan, the strong objections to President Obama “sermonizing” to India were unnecessary and need to be taken in context. Considering the success of the visit in so far as the defence sector went and the statement about India’s desire to have a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, along with the maturity shown in avoiding public statements regarding sensitive issues, Mr. Swaminathan said that the visit avoided the risk of being worse and perhaps could not have been much better.

Chairing the session, Mr. D.S. Rajan, Director (Retd.), Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, drafted out the diplomatic implications of the various decisions taken and deals signed during the visit. He addressed the limitations of such high-level visits in dealing with specific and historic issues.

During the interaction that followed participants discussed several significant issues and made important points:

•  Bilateral cooperation in the agriculture sector is proceeding at a slow pace. The reasons include the sensitive nature of agricultural issues in India and the time lag in adopting new technologies. The issues of transfer of technology and subsidies are also equally complicated. Considerable amount of ground work needs to be done to further the levels of bilateral collaboration in agriculture sector and this would require more than a State visit by a US President to India.

•  Media hype and the unrealistic expectations resulted in baseless criticisms and unfounded disappointments. The infrequency of the visits by US Presidents results in too much of importance being attached to such events. In meticulously-planned visits of such nature, miracles are not to be expected.

•   The visit portrays the strategic role India is expected to play in global affairs in the years to come. The strength exhibited by Indian economy is another attractive factor that encourages higher levels of partnerships. The enhanced Indian capabilities and purchasing power have made many of the economic deals with the US possible unlike on earlier occasions.

•  Comparison between the successive administrations of Presidents George Bush and Obama is a difficult task as the two leaders represent unique individualistic and political ideologies. But a genuine interest in developing and promoting close ties with India is observed in both the cases. The expressions and body language may vary, but the substance of relationship remains the same.

•  It is natural for any super power in the international system to propose their views on various issues of importance. But no opinions are forcibly imposed on another nation. Diplomatic maturity of the State is to be exhibited in all circumstances and every decision taken must be in accordance with the national interest of the country concerned. The choice to accept or reject suggestions rests solely upon sovereign States, and this is applicable to India with reference to President Obama’s suggestions relating to Iran and Myanmar.

(Report prepared by Neethu S Thottammariyil, II Year, MA (International Studies), Stella Maris College, Chennai)
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