US President Obama to return to India, this time as chief guest at Republic Day


November 21, 2014

Obama and Modi at the White House earlier this year.

November 21, 2014

Obama and Modi at the White House earlier this year.

WASHINGTON: Barack Obama will become the first American president to visit India twice while in office following his acceptance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's invitation to be the chief guest at India's Republic Day on January 26. It will also mark the first time that a US president will have the honor of attending Republic Day which commemorates the adoption of India's Constitution, the White House said, while confirming Obama's travel program.

The visit will involve more than the pomp and ceremony usually associated with Republic Day. Affirming the strong message of friendship that India's conveys with its choice of the chief guest, the White House announcement also said the ''President will meet with the Prime Minister and Indian officials to strengthen and expand the US-India strategic partnership.''

Prime Minister Modi first sprang the surprise by tweeting on Friday evening that "This Republic Day, we hope to have a friend over…invited President Obama to be the 1st US President to grace the occasion as Chief Guest." Within minutes, the White House confirmed the visit in a return tweet, affirming that Obama will indeed visit India to participate in the Republic Day.

The Twitter diplomacy came on a day the US president was rocked by a furious Republican response to his immigration reform proposals even as he headed out to Las Vegas to explain his actions to the American people.

It has always been on the cards that President Obama will visit India for a second time in his second term, after his first visit in 2010 during his first term when Manmohan Singh was the Prime Minister. Notwithstanding all the caterwauling from the punditocracy that US-India ties are cold/frozen/ moribund/doomed etc under Obama's watch, relations have been on a continued upswing (with the occasional wrinkle), not so much because of individuals, but because the two countries have many common ideals and goals, and the people-to-people links are strong.

There are more high-net worth (HNW) and academically and scholastically accomplished Indians in the US than in any other country in the world, and by some accounts, more people of Indian-origin in the U.S than in any other country. All this was very much in evidence during the immigration wrangle on Thursday when Obama repeatedly invoked the contribution of high-skilled immigrants, including Indian-American scholars and entrepreneurs.

Aside from the economic and commercial linkages premised on India being a large market for US goods, there is the small matter of Washington's Asia pivot, rebalancing, and China's growing assertiveness.

Prior to President Obama, there have been only five US presidential visits to India. Eisenhower was the first US president to visit India in 1959. President Nixon followed a decade later in 1969, making the shortest of all presidential visits to India (one day). Close to another decade followed before President Carter visited in January 1978. Then there was a 22-year hiatus (like Kennedy and Johnson, both Reagan and Bush Sr passed up on India) before President Clinton visited in 2000, followed by President George Bush in 2006.

Obama not only visited India during his first term, but is now following up in his second term. He has also hosted both Indian Prime Ministers – Singh and Modi – who have served concurrently in India during his two terms.

Courtesy: PTI