Obama, Modi, and the Republic Days
Strolling a power corridor…
Jan 26, 4:00 pm. The air was electrifying. The hall star-studded with the expensive suits type. The type that controls the lion’s share of a country’s GDP. The characters straight out of ‘The Economic Times’. It was the stuff stories to grandkids are made of: “I was there!” I waited with a growling stomach in the pre-historic moment. Then the moments turned into minutes. Then minutes into hours. Sure, history was still in the making. But it was a race against time. Unless I was fed soon, I would be history too!
The hall was crowded. VVIPs in the front. Media at the back. Our ‘high-profile’ delegation sandwiched in-between. I had skipped my lunch. But snacks were invisible. As were cookies. Or tea. Not even water. Why? I diverted my attention to the delegation team. They were the who’s-who, alright. All of them had made India proud, albeit outside India. So much so, that each was rotationally summoned back to be interviewed by a TV channel. This allowed me to play musical chairs, to steal the seat temporarily vacated by an achiever and socialize with the adjacent one… Gururaj Deshpande, M.R. Rangaswamy, Shekar Narasimhan, Padmasree Warrior, Mohandas Warrior, Naren Gupta, Parag Saxena, Karl Mehta, Inderpreet Wadhwa. My luminary friend Rajan Navani and I were the only locals in this NRI delegation.
As mingling progressed, a pattern emerged. All were IIT alumni or equivalent, US postgrad in the 70s, plush jobs, serial entrepreneurs, windfall exits. Been there, done that. Now they were in their happily-ever-after era. The bygone adrenalin coming from the political adventurism, I suspected. Though only a handful, they had knitted a powerful lobby to influence the business bridges between the two countries. Commendable intents, no doubt. But were the influences for real? Or was politics just a way of clinging to the power they once exuded? If indeed they were so influential, how come we were sitting in the nth row at the Indo-US Business Summit like yesteryear stars?
7:00 pm: Obama and Modi finally made their grand entry. Smartphones came out in a frenzy. I joined the clickers. The aspiration was to capture my handshake-in-action with either one on the dais and then proudly broadcast the pic in my blog. That was not going to happen. Clearly, my next write-up needed to be based on content, and not self-promotional pics. Which meant I had to play-down my hunger and play-up my focus.
The body chemistry between the two was bold, but it didn’t reveal much. ‘The clues would lie in what they speak,’ I declared, ‘In Modi’s make-in-India rhetoric and Obama’s spirited support.’ Shekar, then sitting next to me, smiled, ‘There will be no such rhetoric today.’ I was annoyed by his know-it-all comment, how can he possibly know? I waited for the speakers to dazzle and the forecaster to stumble. But I was proved wrong. There were NO make-in-India fireworks. Only a softer emphasis on mutual opportunities. The content gave me no opening to weave an exciting story.
But the oratories were good. I was impressed with Obama’s composure in spite of his visible exhaustion and Modi’s delivery in flawless English. Their talks spoke volumes on their push-on-ability, a leadership trait worthy of being illustrated. This time it was Naren’s turn to destroy my enthusiasm, ‘Did you notice how extensively they used the teleprompter?’ The revelation killed the punch, I realized I had been watching a rehearsed act. As the proceedings came to a dampening close, I made a silent note—next time I watch history-makers, it will be in the geography of my bedroom TV!
8:30 pm: The delegation dined together. The team shared a strong rapport. The disparities of Indian society were discussed in the 5-star ambience. Since it was a dry day, the dinner didn’t last long. That suited me fine. I wanted to catch a good sleep before my early morning flight. They insisted I join them for Obama’s morning speech at Siri Fort Auditorium. But I needed to get back to real work. Another three-hour tealess ordeal was not my cup of tea. And where was the ROI? The escapade had been a dull experience of mixed tidbits, nothing sensational to write home about.
Jan 27, 11:00 am: No sooner had I landed, I received Rajan’s call, ‘You should have stayed back. The event was on time. Our team was honored with the front-row. And Obama warmly shook our hands.’ What a bummer, I lamented, if only I had stayed back! ‘Don’t fret,’ Rajan consoled me, ‘the delegation has a summer meet in DC. They have extended you an invitation, you will have your fill of Obama soon.’
Rajan kept talking, I was all ears. I discovered Shekar is Commissioner of Advisory Committee for Asian Americans in the Obama administration, and often interacts with the US President. Recently, the President had shared his displeasure with Shekar about our Prime Minister’s make-in-India flings on US soil. Shekar had conveyed the sensitivity to his Indian counterparts; they, in turn, had cautioned our Prime Minister to tone down the make-in-India pitches in front of foreign dignitaries. It was a diplomatic coup of sorts, and Shekar had played an anchor role.
Clearly, there was more to the delegation than I had perceived. They hadn’t crossed the ocean to wield their political prowess. Instead, they were here to influence American business polity in India’s favor. And it went beyond business and politics. Almost all of them ran NGOs with massive initiatives in the spheres of Indian education, health, environment and rural development. I was amazed. Both, at them and myself. Amazed by their crusade to give back to the motherland. And amazed at letting my judgment race ahead of my knowledge.