The presence of US President Barack Obama on the 66th Republic Day of India and his speeches supporting democracy were considered by many as both excellent and diplomatic. He won the hearts of Indians from the first day of his arrival, especially in his greeting, “Namastey and Bahut Dhanyabad.” The charisma of President Obama made Indians feel that the US was their real friend and great patron, a position that was dominated by Russia for so long. This is how a dynamic leadership can bring change in the thinking and attitudes of electorates in a democratic climate.
The President of Nigeria was present in the Republic day of India in 2000, the President of Mauritius in 2002, the President of Iran in 2003, the President of Brazil in 2004, and the President of Bhutan in 2005. None created as significant an impression so far.
We all know how Prime Minister Narendra Modi received President Obama at the airport, breaking the protocol and going so far as to call him on first name basis, indicating the close friendship between the two. We saw how they enjoyed tea in the lawn of Hyderabad house in an extremely close, personal talk. Of course the First Lady Michelle Obama alone did not get the company of her counterpart, Ms Jashodaben Chimanlal Modi – absent from the life Mr. Modi and from the public audience as well.
President Obama, while describing the virtues of democracy, candidly confessed he was the grandson of a cook who became President, while Prime Minister Modi was a tea-boy turned prime minister of a great democratic nation. In his view, it is democracy that could create such opportunities and fulfill the dreams of people. He pointed out on the last day of his departure, the importance of the relationship between India and America by calling it a “true global partnership.”
In his words, “I am here because I am absolutely convinced that both our peoples will have more jobs and opportunities and our nations will be more secure and the world will be safer and a more just place when our two democracies – the world’s largest democracy and the world’s oldest democracy – stand together.
On the empowerment of woman, President Obama mentioned that every daughter deserves the same chances as our sons, and every woman must be able to go about her day and walk the streets or ride the bus and be safe and treated with appropriate respect and dignity. He highly appreciated Swami Vivekananda’s speech in Chicago over a century ago, applauded the actor Shahrukh Khan, and praised athlete Mikha Singh. He pointed out that “every Indian can take pride in the courage of a humanitarian who liberates boys and girls from forced labour and exploitation” in praise of Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi, the most recent winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace.
We are all aware of President Obama’s light warning while speaking on the freedom of religious practice in India. In his words, “India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along the lines of religion faiths.” The US President concluded by quoting Mahatma Gandhi on India’s traditions of religious tolerance: “For me, the different religions are beautiful flowers in the same garden, or they are branches of the same majestic tree.”
Obama has successfully drawn the attention of Indian citizens with different thoughts and ideas. The major strategic approaches he wisely inculcated in the mind of the Indian government was to prepare the expansion of their supremacy over South Asia and strengthen their strategic interventions looking to the east. The US acknowledges the presence of People’s Republic of China politically, in the name of economic benefit.
China has already started construction of a deep sea port at Guwadar at Baluchistan of Pakistan, and connecting their Xingjian province to Pakistan through the East- West Corridor – a long highway spanning 12, 000 km, and with other infrastructure facilitating military movements.
The Chinese Foreign Minister visited Bangladesh between 27-29 December, 2014 and proposed building a deep sea port at Sonadia Island of Bangladesh to establish their supremacy on the Bay of Bengal. In addition, China proposed to establish the Dhaka – Cox’ Bazar broad gauze railway and open a corridor of BCIM-EC from Cox’ Bazar to Kunming (K2K), and among other things, to establish a coal based power plant. At the same time, China and Pakistan are trying to get closer to Russia. Pakistan invited the Chinese President to remain present during their Independence Day to demonstrate their affinity with China and Russia. What a fantastic paradigm shift in strategic approach of politics in South Asia.
Some political thinkers are of the opinion that there might be some major changes in the politics of South Asia in the name of economic cooperation. President Obama’s visit is the beginning of this journey in disguise. Presently, China’s socialist market economy is the second largest economy and also the fastest growing economy in the world. China is planning to celebrate its 100 years of independence with pomp and parade, to highlight their successes in turning the country into a developed nation by 2049. It might indirectly give a message that socialism with an open market economy is the perfect answer to change the fate of millions of downtrodden people faster than the gospel of democracy; that democracy creates chaos and contradictions, as is the case at present in Bangladesh.
Obama’s visit inspired the essence of democracy, freedom of speech, and religious tolerance while strengthening India’s position in South Asia through the voice of democracy.
Dhiraj Kumar Nath is a former secretary and former adviser to the Caretaker Government of Bangladesh.