In this day and age, there is no place for state visits as they happened in the past. India and America will be spending tax payer money under difficult economic conditions and their leaders must be responsible for concrete outcomes from such spending. This impending visit of President Obama to India could be a historic one where democracy will be tested in its truest sense. The people of the two countries must be able to see tangible improvement in the quality of their lives as their leaders meet to create opportunities and share a common destiny for growth and peace.
Democracy is often a clichéd term when used in the limited context of exercising one’s franchise or universal suffrage. The true symbolism of democracy would be when the people of each of these two large democracies are able to respect the culture and context of each other and use it to further their quality of life. Though in the last ten years the Indian presence has grown in the US mindscape, there is still a lot of misconception about the country, people and its position. Public opinion shapes the actions of leaders in a democracy. If I were a part of the Indian government or its think-tank, I would be running a campaign on CNN, NBC, ABC and Fox Networks in the United States to raise awareness and bring real issues to life; those that need results and resolutions. Else India is still a blip in the pile of news babble that is made out in North America despite President Obama’s visit. Branding India as not just a tourist location (Incredible India) but a young vibrant country with capabilities to participate in a Global Knowledge Economy is important to effectively partner in areas that will impact people of the two countries positively in their everyday lives. The notion that India is just an outsourcing destination must be systematically replaced with the idea of equal partners in trade and commerce. As we all are beginning to realize size has very little value in a Knowledge Exchange.
President Obama is an ardent student of history and a good strategic thinker. He has a good understanding of the vision of the founding fathers of independent India. He must keep that context in mind while relating to his own current agenda to serve his country’s interests. He must seek a dialog on the issues that really face him. One of the areas where he needs help is in reshaping the perception of his country’s business about his administration. This will be a great opportunity for him to open up opportunities for trade and commerce by eliminating obstacles such as sanctions and creating collaborative opportunities in trade and commerce between niche entities at the grassroots level. Be it aerospace, financial services, manufacturing, hi-technology, nuclear
science, alternative medicine, K-12 education or simply software product development.
The Indian Government and India Inc on the other hand must just not show up to meet him gawk eyed in pin stripe suits or sherwanis (Indian formal suits). They must have a value proposition for three of Obama’s and his administration’s main drivers; Education, Infrastructure and Healthcare. Concrete proposals on what Indian businesses can contribute could be critical in shaping perceptions and decisions to further commercial interests. Obama is a rational man with very live issues and emotional pitches will have little effect by means of results. Whether directly to him or his delegation, the pitch must be of an intellectual nature where there is a clear strategy and proposal for action that can create current as well as future value. An earnest attempt must be established to open areas such as Research, Manufacturing and Security rather than just retail and financial services for economic progress of both nations. A clear indication must percolate both ways on the seriousness and maturity of a long term partnership rather than a short term opportunism and populism.
There will always be room for symbolisms such as visits to Golden Temple but Obama and his administration must look for opportunities to visit places such as Bhabha Atomic Space Center, the Indian Institute of Technology and / or the Indian Institute of Sciences where some of the finest minds in India dwell and produce extraordinary work. Issues such as UNSC and Terrorism will come up a natural course of discussion but cannot become the nucleus of focus. It must be the path to recovering and sustaining a healthy economic environment that must occupy critical attention. What the US does with Pakistan is its own business. The aid that is promised on paper to Pakistan takes ages before it actually materializes physically. In the case of India, it is collaboration that is sought to create wealth for both countries. An honest approach can bring investments on the ground to fruitition resulting in a
win-win for both countries. Let us hope that the leaders and their delegations will display maturity and wisdom in making this a truly real event. Welcome, President and Michele Obama.