Obama, Michelle and 'The Beast' limousine hit red carpet in New Delhi
But before Obama got his welcoming squeeze from Modi, a bit of chaos ensued over the issue of Obama’s armored limousine, ‘The Beast’, which was seen double-parked next to Air Force One smack on top of the airport’s ceremonial red carpet.
Before Obama and the First Lady had made their way down the aircraft’s steps, video footage shows Modi gesticulating to one of his officials, in an apparent effort to have Obama’s armored vehicle move from the previously clean carpet. After a bit of hand waving, frenzied chatter and not encouraging headshakes, ‘The Beast’ didn’t budge. Nope, didn't reverse an inch, not even for the Indian prime minister.
I couldn’t help thinking that this comical prelude to Obama’s three-day visit to India provided a perfect metaphor for the way the United States tends to manhandle friends and enemies alike: No matter how you try to placate it, the US superpower is going to park itself wherever the hell it pleases, even if you greet it at the airport with a hug.
The US leader’s visit to India has made a big splash among political pundits, who can’t stop reminding everybody that the trip marks the first time a US leader has set foot in India twice while in office. Modi even broke from protocol Sunday morning in order to personally welcome Obama at the gate of his aircraft.
This is all rather significant considering that just last year Modi, who is trying hard to live up to his campaign pledge for bringing new development to India, was considered persona non grata in the US over the deadly 2002 Gujarat riots.
In fact, less than one year into his first term, Modi is showing such enthusiasm for the US leader that it brings back memories of those early days of Obama’s presidency when the entire world, exhausted from the Bush administration’s ‘war on terror,’ had gambled everything on Obama’s bold promise of “hope and change.”
While it is doubtful that early-morning greetings at the airport alone can mend US-India relations, it seems Washington and New Delhi negotiators have already hammered out ways for US suppliers of nuclear equipment to avoid liability in the event of a nuclear accident, Indian TV channels reported on Sunday.
This will come as good news for US companies, which have lost billions of dollars over the years because of India's refusal to enact legislation protecting suppliers of nuclear technologies from legal responsibility.
It is worth noting that Obama’s visit comes as India and France are having some difficulty putting ink to a contract that could see New Delhi buying (or not buying) $20 billion dollars worth of Rafale fighter jets. If the talks fall through, India may opt for the Russian designed Su-30. Whether Barack Obama will attempt to play ‘The Donald’ and tempt India with American-made fighter jets is anybody’s guess.
#AskObamaModi & be a part of this memorable 'Mann Ki Baat' programme, illustrating a special bond between India & USA.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) January 22, 2015
The two sides will also attempt to reach consensus on a number of other sticky issues, including climate change, copyright legislation between Indian and American tech firms and defense cooperation. Although little has been publicly said about it, the issue of global security will also rank high in the talks.
First, it must be noted that India and the United States do not see eye-to-eye on a number of critical global issues. For example, while Washington was quick to blame Russia over the escalation of hostilities in Ukraine - even as US diplomats were on the ground in Kiev, inflaming the situation - New Delhi showed a more sober and balanced approach to the situation, and does not support US-led sanctions against Russia.
At the same time India belongs to the up-and-coming economic organization known as BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), which offers the world an alternative to the US-dominated system. Former World Bank economist Peter Koenig, in an interview with Asam Ismi of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, described it as a “predatory casino scheme.”
Last year, BRICS announced the creation of a bold new challenger to the traditional Western financial and advisory institutions, like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which it calls the Development Bank that currently has $100 billion in resources to provide as funds to developing countries. Such developments have not gone unnoticed by the United States, which has no desire to lose its place as headquarters of the world’s reserve currency, or, as in the case of Greece and now Ukraine, the high-interest lender of last resort.
However, as it is with every organization, there are some weak links in the BRICS suit of armor. For example, relations between China and India have historically been strained, and Washington, with its new military doctrine that calls for a “pivot to Asia,” would only see advantages if the India-China element in BRICS went awry.
However, as things stand, China-India relations are presently on relatively stable ground. In September, Chinese president Xi Jinping paid a visit to New Delhi, where he pledged to invest billions of dollars over the next five years in railroads, industrial parks and nuclear power in India.
Meanwhile, in the shadow of the perennial threat of global terrorism, highlighted by the recent events in Paris, border skirmishes have been flaring up between India and Pakistan killing dozens of civilians.
In any case, Obama’s visit to New Delhi has certainly spurred some growth in India, which has employed thousands of security employees and installed over 10,000 security cameras to watch Barack and Michelle Obama as they enjoy the rarely decongested streets and highways of New Delhi from inside the belly of ‘The Beast.’
Robert Bridge is author of the book, Midnight in the American Empire, which examines the dangerous consequences of extreme corporate power in the United States.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.