Back in pre-liberalization days of import restrictions, when the word “phoren-maal” would make our hearts beat faster, the arrival of the NRI relative would be a cause for great excitement. Everyone would crowd around the newly-arrived from pardes, sticking around on some pretext till the returnee opened his suitcase. It was then that the rabbits would be brought out of the magic chest—-the lipsticks, the “Dukes of Hazard” T-shirt (what we did not know that the show had been off air for many years and the concerned merchandise were being sold at 90% off at Woolworth’s), the walkman, the Toblerone, the 555s. Eyes would light up. People would discuss loudly how much they miss the said uncle. Sometimes though one would fall silent. That is when the suitcase would be revealed to have only personal belongings in it. The hopeful would still mill around for some time hoping for a goodie to drop out from some fold in a shirt. Finally the wait would be terminated by the NRI putting some lozenges in your hand, the ones he grabbed off the Air India tray in one fell swoop.
Now of course things have changed. The touts no longer crowd around you at the airport with their “Sir dollar sir dollar”. You look at the cellphone of the taxi driver and realize that he is holding the phone Verizon is currently accepting pre-orders for back in the US. Your cousin runs in holding an iPad in her hand and asks you, with a detectable edge in his voice, if you have one, at which you mumble under your breath that you are waiting for the Slate PC. The mystique of being an NRI has gone. And we are so much the better for it.
But somehow, the moment we have an American President coming to visit us, the Pavlovian instincts take over and we are back into our rolling-on-the-ground mode. Coconuts are taken down so that one does not fall on the anointed one’s head. Special Indian massages are arranged for him and his wife. Platters are named in his honor. The high and mighty prostrate themselves in his path. Public money is spent like water and ordinary citizens inconvenienced for HIS convenience.
And who is He?
No. Not the most powerful man in the world. That is Hu Jintao. He is not even the most powerful man in the US. Since the heady days of 2008, his influence has been vastly reduced and the aura around his head much diminished after a middling presidency. Hell he is not even the most powerful person in the Obama family—-the honor of that going to Michelle Obama, who has the angriest expression on a face I have seen since Mike Tyson and whose arms always remind me of Sunny Deol’s dhai kilo ka haath.
So why should we care about Obama’s visit considering that we as a country have little to gain from this man or his administration? Obama’s vision for the world is one where India is marginalized politically, kind of similar to that of Bill Clinton’s whose messenger Robin Raphel was as viscerally anti-India as one could be (She has now been appointed by Obama to handle the disbursement of non-military aid to Pakistan). Yet when Billu Badshah came at the fag end of his presidency, we as a country prostrated ourselves, showering him with “warmth”, bending backwards. Just like we will do for Obama.
Of course, we will forget that Obama’s foreign policy consists of pandering to Pakistan, supplying them money for non-military aid intentionally without safeguards, fully cognizant that it will be used against India. And if that was not a gigantic FU to India, the great Peace Prize winner has now given another USD 2 billion for hard-core military aid. We will forget that the cornerstone of Obama’s policy has been to pressurize India to compromise on its interests to placate Pakistan.He has also been consistently opposed to India being perceived as a nuclear power and has no sympathy for even a permanent membership at the UNSC for India. Even though that would be a largely symbolic gesture, he is reluctant to concede even that.
On the economic front, he has made outsourcing to India a cheap election target ratcheting up anti-India paranoia as a bugaboo to explain the decline of American industry. As he suffers further reverses because of his own misguided domestic policies, this false fear-mongering against India (they are coming to take away your jobs, they are not cooperating on global environmental regimes) will continue. Even as a person,there is little to respect in someone who declines to go to the Golden Temple because by covering up his head, he might be mistaken to be a Muslim. Why? Because it shows that even his so-called liberal stance is merely an artifact of political expediency and that for all the talk of “change” and a “new way of doing politics” he is not beyond pandering to the worst kind of American xenophobia and ignorance.
Perhaps it is because our saheb-submissive conditioning that we seem to believe that any American President by coming here is doing us a favor, that somehow the dust on his feet is a recognition of our position in the world. Let’s face it. Obama is coming here to promote America’s business interests particularly in the energy and educational sectors . There is nothing wrong in that, as the nation’s President that is one of his jobs. However if we do not greet the washing powder salesman by opening the door and doing a belly dance wearing thongs, why do we debase ourselves when it comes to the American President, and that too someone like Obama who has consistently displayed an unapologetic insensitivity towards Indian interests.
So what is the most India can expect from this trip, beyond the inking of some agreements of a marginal nature and some diplomatic hot air? Obama referring to India as an emerging superpower in the course of one of his many cliche-filled speeches. This of course will make us go all weak-kneed as if Megan Fox has just parked her car in a shaded street and asked us to get in the back seat with her. Superpowers, even emerging ones, should not really care for anyone else’s ratification—-after all isnt that what being a superpower is all about? That we still depend on the US to tell us that we have potential to become a superpower just shows that we ourselves are not convinced. Here’s a quick test as to when we have arrived on the world stage—-when a widely read US website, say Huffington Post, before a state visit by the Indian PM to the US, does an article on how our Indian prime minister’s wife would look in different American get-ups—a cheerleader’s costume, a cowgirl’s etc—through photoshopping [like Rediff has done for Michelle Obama—how would she look in different Indian attire]. The day that happens that’s when we are truly one of the big boys. Till then, we are nowhere close.
All that I am saying is that we should treat Obama’s visit as just another visit by a head of state and not take it as a certificate of how much the US respects India. Because it does not. Definitely not under Obama. Which is why we as a country should treat him in the same way we treat the uncle who opens his suitcase and says “Bete, I had brought all these nice Swiss chocolates for you but the customs official took all of them away”—with a polite namaste and a gentle smile before running away to play outside.