Sunday, November 7, 2010

Obama in India

I have not thought about India for a while (more generally, it seems like foreign relations has been "off the front page" of American newspapers for quite some time, with the focus primarily on the recession instead).  But I've been thinking about India the past couple of days as Obama has embarked on a 10-day overseas trip that begins with 3 days in India.

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The visit started in Mumbai, with a remembrance at the Taj Palace where the terrorist attacks occurred during November 2008. 

A major focus of the trip is strengthening the business ties between the US and India, and the articles have focused on the issues of outsourcing and how the US should balance free trade with focusing on our own economy.

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When asked who he'd most like to have dinner with, Obama gave Gandhi as his answer. Jim Yardley of Times has a very interesting article (here) about the contradictions in both Obama's and the Indian nation's admiration for Gandhi at a time when economic (in particular, consumer) growth remains a foremost goal:
Now that Mr. Obama is visiting India for the first time, on a trip pitched as a jobs mission, his fascination with Gandhi is influencing his itinerary and his message as he tries to win over India’s skeptical political class. “He is a hero not just to India, but to the world,” the president wrote in a guest book on Saturday in Gandhi’s modest former home in Mumbai, now the Mani Bhavan museum.

Yet if paying homage to Gandhi is expected of visiting dignitaries, Mr. Obama’s more personal identification with the Gandhian legacy ... places him on complicated terrain. Gandhi remains India’s patriarch, the founding father whose face is printed on the currency, but modern India is hardly a Gandhian nation, if it ever was one.

His vision of a village-dominated economy was shunted aside during his lifetime as rural romanticism, and his call for a national ethos of personal austerity and nonviolence has proved antithetical to the goals of an aspiring economic and military power. If anything, India’s rise as a global power seems likely to distance it even further from Gandhi. 

India is inching toward a tighter military relationship with the United States, once distrusted as an imperialist power, even as the Americans are fighting a war in nearby Afghanistan. India also has an urbanizing consumer-driven economy and a growing middle class that indulges itself in cars, apartments and other goods. It is this economic progress that underpins India’s rising geopolitical clout and its attractiveness to the United States as a global partner.

Gandhi is still revered here, and credited with shaping India’s political identity as a tolerant, secular democracy. But he can sometimes seem to hover over modern India like a parent whose expectations are rarely met. 
What an interesting (depressing?) reflection. Whereas Gandhi led by his spiritual energy, Obama is compelled to focus on economic growth and power politics.

478. Does Yardley's piece look at Gandhi through rose-colored glasses, though?  Was Gandhi indeed all-idealist and none-realist?

479.  Which American corporation was the first to outsource jobs to India?  When did it occur?   Which American corporation currently has the most employees in India?

480.  Is Obama studying the history of the various nations during this trip?  If so, does he do so by reading himself, or does he have tutors who help him? 

481.  Had he ever been to India prior to becoming President?  What does he think of it -- and what were his expectations?  Has he experienced the traffic cacophony? Is he getting to have any genuine experiences or is he entirely "in the bubble"?

482. The Indian stock market has been on a tear during 2010 (at least based on the returns of the Matthews India Fund); will this continue?  What is driving the stock market gains there?

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