It is not necessary to run after world capitals and ask them what they think about India. We know full well about ourselves that we are a “great democracy” with a rich civilisation

Not too long ago many of us lost sleep over what U.S. President Barack Obama said — India needs a second wave of reforms and certain sectors have to be opened up further. That many in India are also saying the same thing is a different matter. The fact that a foreigner — and that too an American—was saying this was what bent us out of shape.

That Obama is patently hypocritical is for all to see. He talks of free markets and yet he corners his Republican challenger Mitt Romney, saying Bain Capital is shipping all American jobs to India and China. Worse, Obama stresses the need for a second wave of reforms in India but the Indian banking sector will argue that Washington has not even made the first wave of reforms in this sector.

The Indian political establishment was perhaps relieved that Obama took centre stage for a day or two in the media when it should have actually taken the opportunity, rather forcefully, to call on Washington for a level playing field in all areas of trade including services. That is certainly not about to come from the Obama administration, especially in an election year when the goodies have to be handed out.

But this is not the first time President Obama gave some of us sleepless nights. In November 2008, after winning the Presidential election it took him nearly a week to place a call to the Indian Prime Minister. Forget that few understand the complexities of two world leaders getting on a telephone, what irked many at that time was that President Obama called the Pakistani leader earlier — that was a clear “no no” to many in this country. The explanation was simple from an American standpoint — the President-elect was focussing on “problem areas,” as one official told this writer.

What Obama did in his recent interview to PTI was actually two-fold: he sent a message to India as well as conveyed to the American businesses that the message had been delivered. And knowing the Indian media setting, the White House would have long been convinced that the message would indeed receive wide publicity. The net result was that Obama and his re-election team have actually set the stage for the big businesses in America to take out their cheque books one more time!

The problem here is that at times we pay too much attention to what others say, instead of minding our own business. For that matter, why could we have not highlighted all the positive things that the American leader had said in that interview — that is because positivism and good news are not news; negativism and criticism make headlines.

In fact, many in this country cannot even take a compliment in the proper spirit. Obama’s predecessor George W. Bush commented at one time that fuel and food prices were on the rise because people in India and China were going up the ladder and, therefore, demanding a bigger share in the system. Some accused Mr. Bush of saying that Indians were eating too much!

The former Prime Minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao, once told this writer in Singapore during his visit: “Do you know what the problem is? When I visit a foreign country, I am expected to ask what I can go home with; and when a foreign leader visits India I should ask him, what you have brought for me.” He was most certainly referring to the media which goes about asking precisely the same thing. Or worse, we appear as a nation that wants to be “reassured” forgetting for a minute why some third party would have to reassure us for our concerns!

Take the case of India and the issue of permanent membership at the United Nations Security Council. Not a foreign leader who comes to India escapes being asked whether he supports India becoming a permanent member. That none will say ‘no’ does not seem to matter at all. We just want to hear that so and so country will “support” us and it hardly matters how India will be getting through this tortuous road, given the realities in the neighbourhood and Asia-Pacific.

It is really time we grew up. It is not necessary to run after world capitals and ask them what they think about India. We know full well about ourselves without anyone having to tell us that we are a “great democracy” with a rich civilisation. We need not run after the State Department and the White House to ask for a reaction to a national tragedy, be it a natural one or brought about by a terror attack. What do we expect Washington to say?

Forget the internal political mess. The only way out is staying focussed on economic growth that can rescue the country from poverty; and staying focussed means not getting distracted by what others say. Our national interest should guide our economic and foreign policies. And others should be made to realise this as well.

(A former Washington correspondent of The Hindu, the writer is currently Head, School of Media Studies of the Faculty of Science and Humanities at SRM University in Chennai and can be contacted at sridhar54k@gmail.com)

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