By T S Sudhir
Ever since President Barack Obama stepped on Mumbai soil, the P-word has been hogging the headlines.
No, not Pakistan to begin with, but Protocol. Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan, already accused of not being an adarsh leader, broke protocol and instead of minister-in-waiting Salman Khursheed, shook hands with Obama first. But look him in the eye, Chavan did not, choosing to flash his latest Raybans on the tarmac.
Waiting in the wings was Rajiv Pratap Rudy, the angry young man of the BJP, lambasting Obama for not uttering the P-word, Pakistan in this case. For the Pak-obsessed BJP, scold thy neighbour is what they would have liked to hear from the world’s second most important person (the Chinese premier being the first now). That Rudy expected the US president to do this within an hour of landing in India and that too at the 26/11 memorial at the Taj, shocked most people.
One of the commentators on TV dismissed it as “graceless”. Another dubbed it an Indian tendency to indulge in cheap thrills, as if sending a message to Pakistan would solve all of India’s problems. Yes, the Americans do indulge in well-rehearsed public statements but surely Mumbai and a memorial wasn’t the place for it. The saffron leadership, left red in the face because of that crude Rudy statement, first considered finetuning it a bit, then decided to ignore it altogether.
Even as Obama’s managers expressed outrage at the BJP’s remarks, calling it “beneath India” to say such stuff, the first couple was not a step out of place. Especially Michelle Obama, who danced to Oscar winner A R Rahman’s tune in `Rang de basanti‘ and on day two, the Obamas joined school children to do the traditional koli dance. The gen-next of India sure had a P-arty !
But Obama did come to Pakistan almost at the end of the Mumbai leg when a student buttonholed him into coming clean on the US position on India’s troublesome neighbour. “It could do much more” was Obama’s response, and if you noticed the sigh of relief in newsrooms, it would seem as if Obama had agreed to bomb terror camps in Pakistan by this evening.
Obama now is on his way to New Delhi, where prime minister Manmohan Singh will do a Chavan. He too will break protocol, by receiving “Obama, my friend” at the Delhi airport.
Till a couple of years ago, George W Bush was among the Indian PM’s best friends and in fact, Dr Singh had broken protocol to receive Bush at the airport.
Clearly, even after the Democrats drubbing in the mid-terms, one Obama in power is better than Republicans in the bush.