The electrifying presence of President Barack Obama, young, cheerful and enervating rocked Mumbai on Saturday. While many may have complained on camera of the restrictions due to security that he was at the Taj the site of the great tragedy almost two years ago on 26 November is a gesture which Mumbai is unlikely to forget in a long time. His stay in the Taj will remain memorable. Suffice to say no Indian political leader has found it fit to make such a gesture howsoever symbolic it may be and there also is the charisma of the US President.
Many may rue the business angle as the visit more than the human one. With $10 billion contracts in the offing and generating over 50,000 jobs in the United States, this facet is no doubt compelling. Coming as the same is over the losses faced by the Democrats in the mid term elections, perhaps the visit came a bit too late to influence the same.
But forget the economics, merely looking at symbolism the visit by the President and the First Lady to institutions of Mumbai such as the Mani Bhawan or St Xavier’s College will earn the US President many friends in the maximum city of India before he moves to Delhi for the political side. Obama particularly caught the Mumbai mood when he praised the eternal spirit of the Mumbaikar with a reputation of a city that never sleeps.
The atmospherics of the visit of the US President to Delhi are also right. Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur will break protocol to receive the US President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama when they land in Delhi. As per precedence the Prime Minister has so far received former President George Bush and the Saudi King, when he came as the chief guest for the Republic Day parade in 2006. While the India and Saudi relations were in a reset mode with energy driving the proximity, it is apparent that the government wants to send a similar message for the Obama visit. And when compared to the visit of President George Bush who is said to have been the main architect of the Indo US nuclear deal though the current US President also strongly supports the same, the Prime Minister is going out of the way to ensure that there is parity.
Indian observers however are disappointed due to lack of castigation of Pakistan at the Gateway of India in front of the Taj Hotel. The Opposition BJP leaders have also come out with as strong statement though the Party is a major supporter of better Indo US relations. While there is much hope ahead that President Obama would support India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the Wassenaar agreement would open the route for India to access dual use technologies there are also some concerns that this may put some restrictions on the country.
As per the Wassenaar arrangement, participating States have to take, “appropriate measures to ensure that their regulations require authorisation for the transfer of non-listed dual-use items to destinations subject to a binding United Nations Security Council arms embargo, any relevant regional arms embargo either binding on a Participating State or to which a Participating State has voluntarily consented to adhere, when the authorities of the exporting country inform the exporter that the items in question are or may be intended, entirely or in part, for a military end-use”.
Thus India will have to go in for some major restructuring of domestic laws and undertake substantial efforts to ensure that it complies with these stipulations to fully benefit from the Arrangement. A similar restriction on entry to the NSG will be in the offing, but this will facilitate trade within the close elite community that such groups are.
Mean while in Jammu and Kashmir, hoping to gain attention of the US President the separatists have called for a shut down but how much effect it would have remains to be seen, though a major terror attack as it happened during the visit of former US President Bill Clinton may lead to some attention. This may not be far fetched though the security forces are taking all the precautions.
But the US is not likely to attempt any mediation given the strong resistance of the Indian government and also experience of the past especially in the Middle East where the peace process is stuck despite mediation by Washington over many years. But the Kashmiri leaders will get much traction at home and that appears to be their larger aim.
While the Establishment in Delhi has already played down the visit by denoting that do not expect any big ticket announcements, there would be hopes of some significant breakthrough or something that has been hidden from the public view for fear of jeopardizing by the naysayers.
What ever it be, the President and Michelle Obama’s splendid gesture of stay at the Taj sends a powerful message to the terrorists and extremists, that Mumbai shall survive, it is the Obama M3 at work.