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.