Sunday, May 3, 2009


Barack Hussein Obama has completed 100 days in office and his honeymoon with the American people is not over yet. But Indians still love George W Bush, perhaps not as deeply as Dr Manmohan Singh told him when the two met last, but certainly more than they do Obama. Obama's successful visits to a number of countries, his bowing to greet the King of Saudi Arabia, his offer of talks with Iran, his almost winning over Hugo Chavez etc have not impressed Indians deeply yet, if the results of a poll on this page are to be believed.

"Will Obama be better for India than Bush?" This was the question that readers were asked to vote on. Of the 202 readers who voted, only 63(31%) said "Yes" while 89(44%) felt exactly the opposite. 34(16%) were not sure - "May be" - and there were 16(9%) good souls who did not hesitate to say that they were "Clueless!".

Evidently, Indians still remember the support that President Bush gave to India on the Indo-US Nuclear Deal to scuttle the efforts of China and Pakistan to influence the Nuclear Suppliers Group against it, and the personal interest he took to push it through the Congress before he left office. That one solid gesture of support that he showed for India makes him a very popular man here, perhaps the only place on the planet where he is not hated or ridiculed.

Barack Obama, on the other hand, has not yet demonstrated unequivocally that he too is India's friend. There is a certain uneasiness among Indians about his new Af-Pak policy for dealing with the serious problem that the US and even Pakistan faces from the Al Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. His statement on Kashmir during his election campaign is the source of that suspicion. Although he has been careful not to link Kashmir with the ongoing war on terror in Af-Pak after becoming President, many analysts apprehend that he will quietly put pressure on India to make some concessions on the issue to enable Pakistan to concentrate fully on eliminating the increasing threat that it faces from the Taliban and Wahhabi type of Islam. If he falls for that dishonest Pakistani line, it will just not go down well with Indians. In fact it will simply not be acceptable.

My understanding is that he will soon realise, if he has not already, that any concession given by India to Pakistan over Kashmir will be projected as a victory of the jihadists, of Islam, over infidels. As a result, rather than reduce tensions between the two countries, it will lead to a surge in terrorist attacks in Kashmir and the rest of India, and also attract more young men to jihad. Both against India and the Great Satan, the US, in Afghanistan as well as the mainland. Perhaps the much maligned Bush had understood this basic fact early on. That is why he backed India unequivocally where he could, without appearing to be anti-Pakistan.

Obama will follow suit too. With American troops in Afghanistan and their supply lines running through Pakistan, the US cannot afford to appear to be anti-Pakistan. At least not yet. And when this is better understood by Indians, his popularity will perhaps far exceed that of Bush. The tone of his administration is already beginning to change; Pakistan's bluff is being increasingly called and results are being demanded. This is a development that needs to be watched very carefully.

Perhaps Obama should visit this country in the next few months. Whenever he does, there is little doubt that Indians will be bowled over by this visionary American President who has has caught the imagination of people of the whole world in a manner that has not been seen in recent history. He too will not go back without being profoundly affected by the people of the land of Gandhi, the great leader that he too admires.
Readers may also read:
1. President 'Blessed' Obama, this is our moment
2. For India. if Bush was good, Obama will be better
3. Obama: Born to be President
4. Holes in souls and soles
5. 100 days: Barack Obama