Pages from the President’s visit

Pages from the President’s visit

Mr. Barack Obama’s recent visit to India can at best be termed as ambiguous and politically correct. He definitely said the right things when prompted (more like confronted) and even the other issues proactively addressed lacked specificity and raised questions on execution.

Take for instance, the several billion dollar orders placed with U.S. companies Boeing and GE, by SpiceJet and Reliance. Those deals would have happened regardless of Mr. Obama’s visit to India. It was not like he pushed those deals to happen or really had anything to do with it. It was purely a timing issue that both Governments wanted to take advantage of and publicise. I think Mr. Obama wanted to publicise more the fact that the U.S.$10 billion worth of deals that were announced during his visit would create somewhere around 56,000 jobs back home. Again, this was a message that clearly had little meaning to the Indian people, but, was meant to convey to the American public that the President was out touring and trying to create jobs for them. Politically correct? Absolutely. The ironic part is this message got very little publicity in the U.S. press, where the unemployment continues to rage at 9.6 per cent and purportedly increasing to reach double digits. Interestingly enough, Mrs. Obama’s “Indian dancing” skills seemed to have got more notoriety in the press everywhere.

Diplomatic act

It was very interesting that the American President conveniently avoided proactively mentioning or discussing during meetings for almost a whole day the whole issue of financial support to Pakistan and the blatant open cheque book’ approach of the US towards Pakistan. And the only time Mr. Obama addressed the issue was when confronted by a student who already publicly announced a day earlier that this was the question that was going to be asked. All that Mr. Obama could say was that without U.S. involvement and support of Pakistan, peace would be in jeopardy in the region and that their unabashed support of Pakistan was a big benefit to India. I am not at all saying that the U.S. should not support Pakistan financially, but, when they do, it is only fair to expect some strong monitoring of how their support is used for intended purposes and not to promote the dreaded “T” word. It is almost like the current U.S. Government is providing continuous aid to Pakistan under the pretext of maintaining peace when their sole intent appears to be that this is the only logical entry point into Afghanistan where they believe most of the plans are hatched and their problems arise from.

“In my view, we should have organised for Mr. Obama to visit the operations of an Indian information technology and business process outsourcing company and get a first hand view of what goes on in these environments and the depth of talent that is being used to ultimately benefit the U.S. companies and their economy, as well”

The next big issue for India was the U.S. position on backing us for a permanent seat in the U.N. Security Council. Most of the press reports preceding Mr. Obama’s visit indicated that the U.S. would stay clear of this issue and it would not be addressed during his visit. However, the publicity in India during Mr. Obama’s visited must have prompted his speech planners to address it proactively rather than face bad press afterward. Mr. Obama smartly waited to touch upon the issue during his address to the Indian Parliament, when he said that the U.S. would back India’s desire to get a seat on the U.N. Security Council. And exactly what ‘backing’ means is totally left to one’s interpretation. Interestingly, Japan received a similar backing and promise to get a permanent seat on the same council and is still waiting.

Outsourcing woe

Overall, Mr. Obama’s visit was probably a needed one from the U.S. perspective, as India is one of the fastest growing economies in the world and will continue to grow in the next 10-15 years, and it behooves the U.S. to pay attention to what is going on here and try and leverage it as much as possible to their benefit. To that degree, the whole issue of outsourcing U.S. work to India and the political backlash in the U.S. pertaining to it should have been addressed by Mr. Obama directly. Instead, the issue was never raised by anyone in a big way. The only acknowledgment was that globalisation was a real phenomenon, the rules of engagement were changing fast and India was going to be a critical player in the world economy going forward – again, known fact that was simply being recognised. We should have organised for Mr. Obama to visit the operations of an Indian information technology and business process outsourcing company and get a first hand view of what goes on in these environments and the depth of talent that is being used to ultimately benefit the U.S. companies and their economy, as well. The whole issue of outsourcing to India and the perceived notion of India taking away American jobs gains so much press most of the time, but yet, we missed a golden opportunity to make it a mainstay issue during Mr. Obama’s visit and educate him on the ground realities. One can only hope the private meetings the U.S. President had with some of the business leaders was more educational and informative about the true Indian value add!