Barack H. Obama and India

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Memoirs: Affection for India

Chidanand Rajghatta, November 17, 2020: The Times of India

From Gandhi to Manmohan Singh, Obama's affection and concern for India shines through his book

WASHINGTON: From recalling "childhood years spent in Indonesia listening to the epic Hindu tales of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata," to musing about Mahatma Gandhi and his capacious philosophy and vision, to expressing respect for former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, US President Barack Obama's memoir A Promised Land, the first of two volumes of which is being released this week, voices unbridled affection and concern for India.

"I had never been to India before. But the country had always held a special place in my imagination.... Maybe it was because I'd spent part of my childhood in Indonesia listening to the epic Hindu tales of Ramayana and the Mahabharata, or because of my interest in Eastern religions, or because of a group of Pakistani Pakistani and Indian College friends who had taught me to cook dahl (sic) and keema and turned me on to Bollywood movies," Obama says in an introductory passage describing his 2010 visit to India. But more than anything else, he writes, his fascination with India had to do with Mahatma Gandhi, who along with Lincoln, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela, had profoundly influenced his thinking. "As a young man I studied his writings and found him giving voice to some of my deepest instinct, his notion of Satyagraha, or devotion to truth, and the power of nonviolent resistance to stir the conscience, his insistence on our common humanity," he says, regretting that India has not realized the Mahatma's vision of nation and society.

Obama also expresses admiration and respect for former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, describing him as the "chief architect of India's economic transformation" and "a self effacing technocrat who had won people's trust, not by appealing to the passions, but by bringing about higher living standards and maintaining a well earned reputation for not being corrupt."

Both while reflecting about Gandhi and his engagement with Dr Singh, the former US President wonders about not just the future of India, but also of the US, at a time the liberal order across the world is under siege from illiberal hypernationalism.

"In uncertain times, Mr. President, the call of the religious and ethnic solidarity can be intoxicating. And it's not hard for politicians to exploit that in India or anywhere else," he quotes Singh as saying, while wondering if globalisation and historic economic crises were fueling these trends in wealthy countries, including giving rise to the Tea Party in the US., how could India be immune. Obama has since suggested in interviews promoting the book that the Tea Party illiberalism led to the subsequent rise of Donald Trump.

Rueful concern about India's future courses through this segment as Obama worries about the communal and sectarian divide and violence despite the country's economic progress achieved during Singh's time as PM. Following his visit to India, he says he found himself asking if "those impulses -- of violence, greed, corruption, nationalism, racism, and religious intolerance, the all-too-to-human desire to beat back our own uncertainty and mortality and sense of insignificance by subordinating others -- was too strong for any democracy to permanently contain. For they seem to lie in weight everywhere ready to resurface whenever growth rate stalled or demographics change or a charismatic leader chose to ride the waves of people's fears and resentments."

There is no reference to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the book and little about Donald Trump since the book ends with the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. A second companion volume is expected to follow.

Observations on India

Indrani Bagchi, November 18, 2020: The Times of India

While he praises former PM Manmohan Singh’s sagacity and policies in the first volume of his biography, former US president Barack Obama notes that Singh owed his position to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and had been chosen as he posed no political threat to Rahul Gandhi, who was seen as the leader in waiting.

“(Singh) owed his position to Sonia Gandhi... More than one political observer believed that she’d chosen Singh precisely because as an elderly Sikh with no national political base, he posed no threat to her ... son Rahul, whom she was grooming to take over the Congress party,” Obama says in the book. Obama’s book, ‘A Promised Land’, is an account of his presidential years and has elicited attention in India for a lot that he has said about his interactions with Indian leaders. He has spoken of his childhood familiarity with Ramayana and Mahabharata, that he can make a dal and keema and enjoys Bollywood movies.

He holds Singh in some affection — “I would find Singh to be wise, thoughtful and scrupulously honest” — but expresses doubts about the succession plan. Singh was also his first-ever state banquet guest in 2009. The banquet finds no mention in the book.

The book highlights some of the twists and turns of India-US relations in those years. For instance, as senator in 2006, Obama introduced what would be known as a “killer amendment” to the India-US nuclear agreement, later known as the Hyde Act. He even entertained a visit by then ambassador Ronen Sen, accompanied by then foreign secretary Shyam Saran, joint secretary S Jaishankar and Raminder Jassal in his offices in Washington.

The Indian delegation failed to move him from his amendment, but it was voted down. On his watch, though, India’s hard-won nuclear waiver at the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) was diluted when guidelines were changed to allow ‘enrichment and reprocessing’ rights to only NPT members.

On his first visit to China in 2009, Obama displayed an earnest desire to address what he saw as the world’s big challenges from Sudan to Iran and the global economy to Afghanistan, together with China as equals. India followed these developments with concern. China, ironically, saved the day, because Beijing did not really want to play second fiddle to the US.

Obama also has some frank words on Pakistan. “Although Pakistan’s government cooperated with us on a host of counter-terrorism operations... it was an open secret that certain elements inside the country’s military, and especially its intelligence services, maintained links to the Taliban and perhaps even Al Qaeda, sometimes using them as strategic assets to ensure the Afghan government remained weak and unable to align itself with Pakistan’s number one rival India,” he writes.

Pakistan: military’s links to Al Qaida

November 18, 2020: The Times of India

Certain elements inside Pak military had links to Qaida: Obama in his book

Former President Obama has given a blow-by-blow account of the Abbottabad raid by US commandos that killed former al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011, in his book “A Promised Land”.

Obama describes the various options of killing bin Laden once it became clear that he was living in a safe hideout on the outskirts of a Pakistani military cantonment in Abbottabad. He said that the need for secrecy added to the challenge. “We had one other constraint: Whatever option we chose could not involve the Pakistanis,” he wrote. “Although Pakistan’s government cooperated with us on a host of counterterrorism operations... it was an open secret that certain elements inside the country’s military, and especially its intelligence services, maintained links to the Taliban and perhaps even al-Qaida, sometimes using them as strategic assets to ensure that the Afghan government remained weak and unable to align itself with Pakistan’s number one rival, India,” Obama revealed.

After the successful raid, Obama made a number of calls, the toughest of which he expected to be that with the then Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, he wrote. “When I reached him, however, he expressed congratulations and support,” Obama wrote. AGENCIES

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