Will it be chicken tikka in New Delhi, idli-dosa in Bangalore or pav-bhaji in Mumbai for the American president and the first lady? From November 7 to Novrmber 10 this year President Barack Obama will make his maiden visit to the country that he describes as a rising power and a 21st century center of influence.
"I look forward to advancing our partnership and experiencing all that India and its incredible people and its ancient culture have to offer," the President said. "And I intend to create an Obama platter," he said. Asserting that "relationship between India and the US would be a defining partnership of the 21st century", the President said, "That's why a third of my cabinet has visited India."
As India prepares for the visit of President Barack Obama in early November, down my memory lane land the unforgettable moments of the earlier visits to India of five former presidents of Unites States of America:
Dwight D. Eisenhower
The year was 1959. More than a million people greeted President Dwight D. Eisenhower when he landed in New Delhi as part of an 11-nation tour. The enthusiastic crowd chanted “Eisenhower zindabad!” as the motorcade carrying President Eisenhower and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru proceeded from Palam Airport to Rashtrapati Bhavan. The entire city was decked with lights and thousands of Indian and American flags to greet the first U.S. president to visit India. As their motorcade arrived near the downtown Connaught Place in the heart of New Delhi, it stopped in front of the flourishing fruit and vegetable market. Both, Prime Minister Nehru and President Eisenhower came out of their cars for the traditional welcome with flowers and garlands by the vegetable and fruit vendors, enthusiastically waiting for them. They got themselves photographed with them and some lucky ones even shook hands with the world's two great leaders. This was the scene whenever a foreign dignitary, a President or a Prime Minister passed that point on their arrival. And this is the world I wish to rediscover, sans the threat of security that separates the peoples' leaders from their own people.
During the four December days he spent in India, President Eisenhower addressed Parliament, attended a state banquet, received a Doctor of Laws degree from Delhi University, was entertained by Indian
singers and musicians, visited the Taj Mahal in Agra and a village nearby. From Indian leaders to common people, the president created a bond that would endure despite differences on major international issues then and in the following decades. Speaking to the largest crowd ever gathered, up to that time, at the Ram Lila Grounds in New Delhi, President Eisenhower said, “I see in the magnificent spectacle before me a soul-stirring testimonial by half a million of India’s people to America, a sister democracy—and to the cause for which both India and America stand: The cause of peace and friendship in freedom.…We who are free—and who prize our freedom above all other gifts of God and nature—must know each other better; trust each other more; support each other.
President Nixon’s visit in 1969 came at a politically turbulent period. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was struggling to fight for her place with the old guard Congress leaders like her Deputy Prime Minister Morarji Desai, Home Minister Y. B. Chavan, and Lok Sabha Speaker Neelam Sanjiva Reddy. When the Air Force One carrying the Presidential party landed in New Delhi, the public welcome was none of the overwhelming enthusiasm president Eisenhower received ten years earlier. The visit was too short for discussion on substantive issues with the Indian leaders. ‘Neither Mrs Gandhi nor Nixon displayed much warmth. The substantive discussions, mainly on Vietnam, lacked spark and animation. After landing in New Delhi at noon, Nixon called on Acting President Hidayatullah at Rashtrapati Bhavan and held official talks later with Prime Minister Gandhi. That night he attended a Presidential banquet hosted by Hidayatullah and witnessed a cultural show for half an hour. The next morning, the presidential party left for Lahore after breakfast. The chemistry between Indira Gandhi and Nixon was not at the same level as that of Nixon and Pakistani leaders.
Nixon and Kissinger again visited India in 1971 when the US relationship with India had reached 'a state of exasperatingly strained cordiality like a couple that can neither separate nor get along,' according to Kissinger. Conditions in East Bengal were very serious. Some 3 million people are estimated to have been killed in the genocide unleashed by Pakistan's military government on East Pakistan, leading to a rush of refugees into India. But all along, the Nixon administration sided with the military establishment of Pakistan over democratic India. At that time Nixon and Kissinger were in Delhi and were invited for breakfast by her.
It is stated that on the eve of the breakfast meeting at her residence with Nixon and Kissinger, Mrs Gandhi phoned General Manekshaw, the then Commander-in-Chief of the Army. She just told him to come for the breakfast in the morning, and he should come in uniform. So, General Manekshaw went for breakfast and soon they were joined by Nixon and Kissinger. Mrs Gandhi was persistent in pleading with Nixon that he should try to restrain Pakistan for what was being done in East Pakistan because the conditions there were becoming intolerable and it was almost becoming impossible for India to remain silent at the mass migration from East Pakistan following the atrocities being committed there. Nixon and Kissinger tried to underplay the situation. Rather, Nixon in half annoyance is said to have told her that the US could do nothing about it. Obviously rattled, she made a last minute appeal to Nixon to do something otherwise she might have to do something herself which she was reluctant to do. At this Nixon again expressed his inability to do anything and asked her rather ironically as to what she intended to do. At that time she stood up and, pointing towards the General (who was in full military uniform), told Nixon that if he could not control the situation then she was going to ask him (meaning the General) to do the same. There was stunning silence for a minute and the sharp message was conveyed to Nixon in a very stark manner. Obviously, Nixon and Kissinger had their egos deflated and were not going to forgive Mrs Gandhi for such an attitude, as is apparent from the recently declassified some of the Nixon White House tapes and secret documents that bring to light the way in which the Nixon administration went about the Bangladesh saga, reflecting the potential of mindsets and personal equations taking precedence over ground realities in White House decision making.
President Carter came to India in 1978 and instantly on arrival to tumultuous welcome became the most beloved U.S. President by his signature smile and irresistible charm. The sleepy village of Daulatpur Nasirabad in Gurgaon became the focus of media attention the world over when he chose it for a visit during his tour of India to enliven the memories of his mother's association with Nasirabad.
Carter's mother, Lillian Gordy Carter, who was an active volunteer in the US Peace Corps, came to India in the 1960s. And it was in Nasirabad that she stayed and worked as a nurse. Jimmy Carter wanted to make it a model village. He even promised to extend his support and co-operation to the Indian government for the purpose. Carter's announcement stirred the hopes and aspirations of the villagers and DaulatpurNasirabad was named Carterpuri. Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter stayed an hour, presented the village with its first television set, visited the home where Lillian had stayed. Rosalynn was dressed up in the local costume, and they even ate some locally made bread, and 3 January, the day of the presidential visit, became a village holiday. Everything's changed since those days. The village has a high school as well as a primary school, a bank, drainage, electricity, telephone lines. All around is undergoing the radical makeover that accompanies soaring land prices, lifestyle aspirations, and a middle class on the move.
When former president, Bill Clinton, went to India on a state visit in the year 2000, he received a tumultuous welcome, never before witnessed during the visit of any world dignitary. People of India, irrespective of their political affiliations, loved him from their hearts and greeted him with the greatest welcome he could have ever imagined to get anywhere in the world.
President Clinton arrived in his limousine at the Fategarh Haveli, a mansion over 100 years old built by a former Prime Minister of Jaipur. He was garlanded and showered flowers by the village women, dressed in traditional attires, who sang a welcome song in the traditional Rajasthani folk style. As Dr Kanchan Mathur, sociologist who acted as the official interlocutor between the President and the villagers, translated the song into English, Clinton burst into laughter. Roughly it meant:
"I get up at four in the morning daily, I clean, mop, wash and cook. Even then they think I am not doing any work. Where do I go and tell my worries? Where do I go and tell my pains?"
Then as stunned officials watched, the women dance with Clinton, a senior official said, "Till a couple of days back, we found so hard to convince them to remove their veil while receiving the President. When he actually came, they broke every tradition, and dances with him!" After the welcome, as the women started narrating their struggles to over come social stigma and gain economic independence, the spoon-fed language gave way to more natural conversation, and the fear of facing the world's most powerful political figure vanished in the general air of informality. Stories were several more, and breaking away from a traditional head of state's formalities, Mr Clinton stretched his stay at the village much beyond the time schedule. When he began to depart, the village, where the women have made such a difference -- suddenly noticed that the limousine of their unforgettable guest was being driven by a woman.
George W Bush
President Bush's visit to India in 2006 can truly be termed as historic. India at large welcomed President Bush to India as a genuine friend. President Bush through the civil nuclear deal and the other agreements arrived at in the fields of defense cooperation, space cooperation and high-technology cooperation indicated through this comprehensive engagement that USA was truly interested in a strategic partnership with India. In his address to the Indian nation on the eve of his departure he publicly asserted that India was the United States natural partner for the 21st Century and praised genuinely India's vibrant democracy and its multi-ethnic and multi-religious free society.
George Bush launched a "historic" charm offensive in New Delhi, lauding India as a "grand democracy" and US partner in a bid to reach out to its people over the heads of tens of thousands of protesters. Standing on the manicured lawns of Hyderabad House, once a symbol of British power in India, the American president and the Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh clapped hands and exchanged hugs after concluding a much-heralded nuclear deal and outlining a series of trade pacts.
"History was made today," Mr Singh said. "Our discussion today makes me confident that there are no limits to the Indo-US partnerships."
Looking forward to his visit to India, Obama quoted from an eminent Europe scholar who traveled to India more than a century ago, who said, "Whatever sphere of the human mind you may select for your special study, whether it be language or religion or mythology or philosophy, whether it be law or customs, primitive art, or science, you have to go to India, because," he said, "some of the most valuable and instructive material of the history of man are treasured up in India, and India only."
Obama said: "So when it comes to the sphere of our work, building a future of greater prosperity, opportunity and security for our people, there is no doubt; I have to go India. But even more, I am proud to go to India, and I look forward to the history that we will make together, progress that will be treasured not just by this generation but by generations to come."
President Obama has, indeed, eloquently explained in nutshell the need for Presidential Passage To India!