Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been extended an unusual honour by “friend Barack” Obama – the US president penned the profile of Modi in Time magazine’s most recent issue on the world’s 100 most influential people. Modi was quick to respond with a thank you on Twitter.
Obama’s three paragraph sketch praises Modi in the language of a liberal-left president. He opens by noting Modi’s rise from the son of a tea-seller to the head of the world’s largest democracy and how this “reflects the dynamism and potential of India’s rise.”
Obama then picks out the bits of Modi’s agenda that an Afro-American Democratic Party leader would most appreciate: helping the poor, empowering women and “confronting climate change.” There is a mention of yoga and Digital India but nothing of Make in India or the Indian prime minister’s hard face towards Pakistan.
The issue of religious minorities is touched upon in the last paragraph. Obama notes how, when the two had been at the Martin Luther King jr memorial, “Narendra and I” reflected on King and Mahatma Gandhi and “how the diversity of backgrounds and faiths in our countries is a strength we have to protect.” Modi, the US president writes, “recognizes” that a billion “Indians living and succeeding together can be an inspiring model for the world.”
Obama’s gentle reminders to Modi that as a prime minister he needs to sustain the pluralism and secularity of India has been a subtext of the recent revival of Indo-US relations. This was notably lacking in Obama’s statements when Manmohan Singh was in power, though the US president lost patience with Singh’s inability to fulfil any of his policy promises.
A member of Obama’s National Security Council, in the run up to the Republic Day summit, explained that while Indians “find it hard to believe” but “Obama genuinely sees India as the obvious candidate to be a future partner of the US.“ The same liberal-left themes that colour Obama’s policies make him look naturally to democratic India.
The Time magazine sketch underlines that while India has focused on Modi’s putting aside the US visa ban, the other story is how Obama has concluded that Modi is not the narrow-minded rightwinger and religious nationalist that many US academicians had claimed he was. Just in case, however, the US president makes it a point to remind Modi what it means to head a democratic leader.
The article written by Obama:
By Barack Obama
As a boy, Narendra Modi helped his father sell tea to support their family. Today, he’s the leader of the world’s largest democracy, and his life story—from poverty to Prime Minister—reflects the dynamism and potential of India’s rise.
Determined to help more Indians follow in his path, he’s laid out an ambitious vision to reduce extreme poverty, improve education, empower women and girls and unleash India’s true economic potential while confronting climate change. Like India, he transcends the ancient and the modern—a devotee of yoga who connects with Indian citizens on Twitter and imagines a “digital India.”
When he came to Washington, Narendra and I visited the memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We reflected on the teachings of King and Gandhi and how the diversity of backgrounds and faiths in our countries is a strength we have to protect. Prime Minister Modi recognizes that more than 1 billion Indians living and succeeding together can be an inspiring model for the world.
Obama is the 44th President of the United States.