Within whatever intellectual traditions the Hindu right claims, those who speak for it have always been fans of Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Margaret Thatcher, Israel, the War on Terror, the Clash of Civilisations and so on. Barack Hussein Obama II is not on their list of world statesmen to be admired and would in their view of the universe be a subaltern figure with too many liberal postures and a “half Muslim-type name”. As a BJP pundit put it, “Obama’s the sort of figure you chattering classes like.” (Why, he’s even hosted six iftar dinners, a pseudo-secular tradition our NaMo has put a swift end to!)
Yet hard-nosed strategic and business interests have brought Obama to the side of Narendra Modi in a move that will inevitably be used to buttress the Indian prime minister’s very obvious ambition of being the most presidential of our PMs. There will be the defence parade rolling out before the US president. There will a state banquet in Rashtrapati Bhavan (the world’s tallest president with the world’s shortest?). There will be breathless television coverage. There will be Obama sharing Modi’s Mann ki Baat (translated ‘What’s on my Mind’ or ‘Mind Talk’?)
But what’s it all really about? The ascent of Modi or just a case of Obama stooping to conquer? Experts have written lots of dense stuff. My favourite theory about why the US president was propelled in India’s direction is because the NRIs (who also run the numerous NaMo fan clubs) have now infiltrated the White House with dhoklas and khakras. The less exciting reason is that US lobbies want clauses of the nuclear liability bill changed because “it does not make any business sense”. Basically this means that the nuclear lobby is very keen to sell us technology, but in case there’s a Bhopal- or Fukushima- or Chernobyl-type accident, they don’t want to pay the damages. They would prefer to stick to the ancient Indian tradition whereby Union Carbide bosses could fly the coop! That is quite an impressive business model.
I am also told that we in Hindustan are to be the bulwark against China. The US strategic line-up in the Pacific is apparently Japan, India and Australia. But do we really care about dominating the world as the US does, particularly when so many Indian businesses are raking it in in Shanghai? Just read Obama’s 2015 State of the Union Address delivered two days before he set off for New Delhi and what he’s also saying (in his usual brilliant style) is that the US was number one, is number one, will remain number one. Some nuggets: “Today America is number one in oil and gas. America is number one in wind power.” Then, “We need to sell more American products overseas. But as we speak, China wants to write the rules for the world’s fastest-growing region. Why would we let that happen? We should write those rules.”
Not a fan of Make in India or Made in China, our Barack.
Finally, here’s the big conspiracy theory. There IS a clash of civilisation. On one side are US, Europe (all good Christians), Israel (Jews) and now India (Hindus). On the other side are Muslims, godless communists (China), lapsed communists and born-again Christians (Russians). Sadly, the pieces of the jigsaw are not fitting the grand theory. The Muslim nations are now seriously divided between Sunni and Shia (make no mistake, ISIS is more committed to slaughtering Muslim heretics than anyone else). And the most significant foreign policy statement in Obama’s address was the decision to continue an engagement with Iran (he said he would veto any new sanctions bill against Iran). Israel, on the other hand, sees Iran (the backer of Hezbollah) as enemy number one. Clearly, the forces of Good are divided.
Where in all this do we fit in? There was a time when India engaged with Muslim countries. Ever since Modi came to power, he shook hands with Nawaz Sharif, and then he was done. No more handshakes with the Pakis and there has really been no engagement with West Asia. There is, however, an exceptional friendship with Israel that is now keen on visible head-of-state-level contact (they run one of the most influential embassies in Delhi).
Conspiracy theories apart, it’s unlikely that a Modi-led regime can outdo the former regime of Manmohan Singh in pleasing the Americans.
Manmohan Singh was, in the words of an old communist, “a stooge of the Americans”. There is in the BJP also the ideological strand of swadeshi that would make it more difficult to crawl when the US president asks us to bend.