Obamas' Charm Offensive In India!
Almost as soon as the Obamas arrived in Mumbai on Saturday, US First Lady Michelle Obama was an undisputed hit in India after winning hearts with a Bollywood boogie and displaying a common touch. Michelle Obama was winning compliments for her moves while dancing with disadvantaged children to a popular Bollywood tune. On Sunday, Obama won accolades among Indians for at least trying out his moves with folk dance performers at a Mumbai high school, though it was First Lady Michelle Obama that did most of the charming by sticking with the dance until the song was over. The clip of Barack and Michelle Obama’s dancing dominated India’s airwaves, replayed over and over again, to the seeming delight of Indian viewers. India was, indeed, captivated. The Times of India hailed her as a “dancing queen” after she took to the floor twice during her visit to Mumbai, shaking a leg to Bollywood hits on Saturday and joining in a local folk dance with schoolchildren. Videos of the First Lady dancing have been getting constant play on Indian news channels, with NDTV, describing it as “the defining image of the Obamas’ maiden visit to India”. India Today magazine drew attention to her “emotional appeal” with a headline which reads: “Michelle steals Barack thunder.”
As she chatted with the group of children – all between eight and 13 years old – one little girl told the First Lady that seeing her was a “dream come true”.
“No, you are my dream come true,” Michelle responded to the delight of her young fan.
“Obama appeals to the head, Michelle touches the heart, despite her formidable intelligence,” Sunaina Kumar noted in the magazine, praising her “inordinate warmth” and calling the couple “a perfect team at work”.
Indian author and commentator Shobhaa De described the visit as “a charm offensive”. When Obama’s three-day visit to India is now said and done, people are going to remember the dance for a long time, as they continue to do of Clinton's dance with the village women in a tiny village of Rajasthan.
President Obama’s freeflowing event at St Xavier’s College in Mumbai was another feather in his hat that struck a sharp contrast with a more controversial town hall meeting in Shanghai last year, in which it became clear the audience had been handpicked by the Shanghai Communist party. Handling tough questions about Pakistan, Mahatma Gandhi, the US midterm elections and spiritualism, Mr Obama’s answers returned repeatedly to his desire for deepening ties with India. President Obama faced some tough questions from a group of 300 students . The invigorating interaction, which was watched by young people all over India, was spellbinding. Not only did the students ask some intelligent and tough questions, Obama handled them nicely as well.
“There is a strong bipartisan belief that India will be a critical partner for the US,” he said when asked whether last week’s Republican congressional victory would affect his India push. “The US has an enormous fondness for India.”
The US President made a strong statement by staying in Taj Mumbai and addressed businessmen at Hotel Trident. Both these hotels were targets of terror attacks on 26/11 in 2008. He charmed the India Inc by punctuating his 25-minute speech with some well known Hindi expressions and warm handshakes with a few leading lights sitting in front rows. There was a lot of rhetoric, "Namaste...Saal Mubarak...Diyas (Dipawali lights)... Diwali... Mumbaikars and Dharavi" were some of the expressions and words that Obama used in his interaction with a select group of leading industrialists. On the first-day of Obama's three-day visit to the country, deals worth $10 billion (about Rs 45,000 crore) were signed and much more are in the pipeline. His 25-minute speech to the CEOs was applauded several times as he talked about creating trade opportunities between the two nations -- for large businessmen to small shop owners in the bylanes of Dharavi (Asia's largest slum colony in Mumbai).
“A lot of people talk about India rising,” he said. “But, in our view, India has already risen. We see India’s emergence as good for the US and good for the world.”
In his address to the Joint House of Parliament, Obama uttered every word that the distinguished gathering present at the House wanted to hear. From Indian contribution of zero to Panchatantra and Gandhiji to Ambedkar, Obama spun his argument to drive home "the promise of India" and why India will have to shoulder greater responsibility with greater power. Beginning with bahut dhanyavad in Hindi for the warm hospitality he and Michelle Obama received, Obama struck a warm chord with his tone of humility.
"I am mindful that I might not be standing before you, as President of the United States, had it not been for Gandhiji and the message he shared with America and the world," said Obama as he traced Mahatma's influence on civil rights leader Martin Luther King.
Surely, there were no scenes of MPs climbing over benches in Parliament's Central Hall to shake hands with the world's most powerful leader, as they did for Bill Clinton, but, by the time he uttered Jai Hind to wrap up his 35-minute address, US President Barack Obama had sold his vision of India and must have created a record of sorts: several rounds of applause — almost one every minute — and a standing ovation that showed the success of Obamas' charm offensive in India.