World

From Gandhi to Manmohan Singh, Obama’s affection and concern for India shines through his book

WASHINGTON: From recalling “childhood years spent in Indonesia listening to the epic Hindu tales of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata,” to musing about Mahatma Gandhi and his capacious philosophy and vision, to expressing respect for former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, US President Barack Obama‘s memoir A Promised Land, the first of two volumes of which is being released this week, voices unbridled affection and concern for India.
“I had never been to India before. But the country had always held a special place in my imagination…. Maybe it was because I’d spent part of my childhood in Indonesia listening to the epic Hindu tales of Ramayana and the Mahabharata, or because of my interest in Eastern religions, or because of a group of Pakistani Pakistani and Indian College friends who had taught me to cook dahl (sic) and keema and turned me on to Bollywood movies,” Obama says in an introductory passage describing his 2010 visit to India.
But more than anything else, he writes, his fascination with India had to do with Mahatma Gandhi, who along with Lincoln, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela, had profoundly influenced his thinking. “As a young man I studied his writings and found him giving voice to some of my deepest instinct, his notion of Satyagraha, or devotion to truth, and the power of nonviolent resistance to stir the conscience, his insistence on our common humanity,” he says, regretting that India has not realized the Mahatma’s vision of nation and society.
Obama also expresses admiration and respect for former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, describing him as the “chief architect of India’s economic transformation” and “a self effacing technocrat who had won people’s trust, not by appealing to the passions, but by bringing about higher living standards and maintaining a well earned reputation for not being corrupt.”
Both while reflecting about Gandhi and his engagement with Dr Singh, the former US President wonders about not just the future of India, but also of the US, at a time the liberal order across the world is under siege from illiberal hypernationalism.
“In uncertain times, Mr. President, the call of the religious and ethnic solidarity can be intoxicating. And it’s not hard for politicians to exploit that in India or anywhere else,” he quotes Singh as saying, while wondering if globalisation and historic economic crises were fueling these trends in wealthy countries, including giving rise to the Tea Party in the US., how could India be immune. Obama has since suggested in interviews promoting the book that the Tea Party illiberalism led to the subsequent rise of Donald Trump.
Rueful concern about India’s future courses through this segment as Obama worries about the communal and sectarian divide and violence despite the country’s economic progress achieved during Singh’s time as PM. Following his visit to India, he says he found himself asking if “those impulses — of violence, greed, corruption, nationalism, racism, and religious intolerance, the all-too-to-human desire to beat back our own uncertainty and mortality and sense of insignificance by subordinating others — was too strong for any democracy to permanently contain. For they seem to lie in weight everywhere ready to resurface whenever growth rate stalled or demographics change or a charismatic leader chose to ride the waves of people’s fears and resentments.”
There is no reference to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the book and little about Donald Trump since the book ends with the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. A second companion volume is expected to follow.

You may also like

More in:World

Comments are closed.