Sunday, November 07, 2010

Before the politics

Obama has a matter of fact style of speaking which has appealed to me since I saw him campaign. He deftly explained issues about Muslims, war, extremism to voters back then, and he explained his protectionist logic when the economy demanded it. In India, he has equally been calm and measured in telling us again and again that America's interest lies in trading with India: you have a growing market and we want this trade to be a two way street. Unemployment has rocked America and Obama is here with a clear economic agenda. And another thing is clear: Obama is not making a political argument for business, he is making a business argument.

If you saw some of the panelists on TV giving their opinions, you then saw that unlike some of our trigger happy anchors, seasoned diplomats and officials have been taking pains in explaining why Obama cannot come to India and start immediately pandering to a country that honestly can't even vote for him and even more honestly is not his top priority in the war on terror. Before he landed in India, in an interview to PTI, he made it quite clear that Pakistan needs to control terrorist elements that are bred there, but to make similar statements just as he landed in India would color this trip quite differently. For many of us watching the first speech at the Indo-US Business Council in Mumbai (on TV - I wasn't there!) it was immediately clear that this speech was not aimed at India but at America. He was quite frankly telling the Americans that I am going to solve this economic crisis even if it takes going to every Asian country and signing business deals myself. That he did not point out to the Indians - us - what the advantages of these deals were was never more obviously then the befuddled expressions on the faces of so many illustrious anchors, but this is the job of the Indian government, not Obama. He wasn't giving that speech to win the heart of the business community - after all, $10 billion deals were already signed - but he was there to announce these to this constituency.

If people have immediate needs - shelter, food, clothing - "healthy materialism" as Obama called it in a town hall meeting "is made happen by businesses and people". I think he needs the common American to not worry about these things, and that is what he is doing. Plain and simple. Of course, tomorrow's address at Parliament may open up some political questions but I am not sure that is his focus. He has already said that he is the President of the United States of America, as differentiated from the leader of the free world, and I think this is a different Obama than the guy we saw cockily accepting a Nobel Prize based on intention! The more measured personality we see, trapped by the recent mid term elections that has seen Republicans win the House in the US, is not what are used to seeing. After all, when he visited Cairo, his speech made a play to end animosity between the American and Muslim word. We are used to the "yes we can" stuff which is why we want him to come and give some impassioned speech about how India is wonderful and Pakistan is evil and Afghanistan is useless and because we are such an emotional people we are reacting rather personally to the fact that he hasn't! But diplomacy is diplomacy and what is talked about in private between government often never makes it to the public fora and I didn't need to have seen The West Wing to know that, but I have and I do.

What has been pointed out by many, and is clear to anyone watching analysis of the past two days is that we don't hold the US or even President Obama in awe. People, including the students who met him, have raised some tough questions and made some valid points. I haven't yet seen all the articles in the American press to analyze how Americans are reacting to "this" India but as someone pointed out, the India-US relationship is more equal today because economics is taking the front seat. In fact, we feel richer and so by extension, more comfortable to call out the Americans on what they are "not" doing, but in truth if this was simply a political visit, over time India might not have this backbone. In a political context we still have a desire to get a pat on the back for being the good guys in South Asia and that has never been more obvious that sentiments expressed all over the media. However, economically, its different. America was hit hard by the recession, we were not in comparison, but to grow we need more markets and the US is one of them. So do they.

I'm looking forward to the speech in Parliament. It'll tell us more about how India is viewed in the global marketplace.


IR said...

The US is facing its worst economic crisis , however the policies adopted by this administration , will not take them out of this mess.They are increasing liquidity , which will only increae inflation in the rest of the world and create a bubble.

This is also a covert currency war , since depreciating the dollar would mean a flip for US exports , while they preach better currency management to other countries.

Corporate america does not need this liquidity , since most big US firms are sitting on large cash reserves ( non-financial firms ) , they just dont want to invest in the US and create jobs , since that is a long haul , consistent high returns are availbale in emerging markets hence the love affair.This fact is not lost on Indians ( as you've pointed out )

Obama , in public or in private will only look after his countries interest ,whether political or economic, he is not India's president.However at the moment the US needs us more than we need them ( economically ) , unfortunately this fact is not asserted enough by our goverement.

i feel , we are contended with
" oldest civilization ..... " or good boy of south asia tags , not real material benefits ?

mahima said...

Yes, one more proud person saying "the worlds oldest democracy & the worlds largest democracy" or what have you & i will snap. but all said, looking fwd to his speech tonight, then i'll blog some more - im not a financial mind so that would be more my thing! hehe.

egg style said...

Staying absolutely on-message in spite of a shellacking (cool word!!) from the gang back home must’ve been tough. But as you say, there was much to read in Obama’s ‘measured’ tones in Bombay (very well put, the bit about the ‘business argument’). For a leader considered so ahead of his time, I was expecting the Taj Mahal Hotel’s classic streetside arches to play backdrop for his 26/11 speech in the city, but I guess time n space are mundane matters in a world where Socrates and Einstein are but blinks apart.

The backdrop of the town-hall scene at St Xavier’s (my alma mater) was also a surprise to me. It wasn’t the main hall, thank heavens. Obama didn’t have to face the indignity of the back-hall chant of Xavier’s rowdy regulars. The chorus goes “Start the fuckin music! Start the fuckin music!” no matter who’s on stage …and I guess I wouldn’t have been too stunned if some johnny backstage even had a remix of Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy, if not stuff like Jannat’s Judai or Tathastu’s qawwali gig, cued up for a megadecibel blast across campus, all the way from Quad 1 (basketball court) to Quad 4 (the woods, with all of seven trees and a cubic rock as its cornerstone). Oh, there’s no Quad 3.

Aptly, Obama’s Q&A was held in Quadrangle 1, though surprisingly without the picturesque Chapel behind him, the typical format for all campus speeches that begin with weighty words (“The Berlin Wall has fallen…” frinstance). The arches at the other end of Quad 1 looked nice enough, so maybe Obama’s spot was sensibly chosen after all (nice point again, by the way, about the missing awe of America and its Prez this time, a good sign really).

Anyhow, twas nice being taken back to college by all those TV cameras. It’s that exact spot where, growing up (like this other spot along a curving lane in another city) one couldn’t help notice this thing about getting a shellacking: you bounce back, no matter what, and bounce back higher.

egg style said...

Whoops! That comment has appeared twice in its original form and once in its edited form (technical posting error). Please feel free to delete as appropriate. tks

mahima said...

thanks eggstyle... i have some decent thoughts that i really missed publishing so i have decided to start blogging again... im a bit out of touch but with a little practise maybe things will be back to normal!

egg style said...

Happy Blogging, Mahima!!
PS: Could you delete the first two of the three ramble-on comments posted by me? And of course the two pleading ones to that effect? (Though no harm there)