Obama – candidate of change offers continuity to India

By Arun Kumar, IANS,

Washington : Barack Obama, the first black American to win the historic presidential nomination of a major political party, hopes to make it to the White House on a platform of change, but promises continuity to India.

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Formally nominated the Democratic candidate at the party’s National Convention in Denver, Colorado, Wednesday, Obama will seek votes in the November presidential election with a mandate to build a still closer partnership with America’s “natural strategic ally” India.

“With India, we will build on the close partnership developed over the past decade,” says the party platform reflecting Obama’s worldview proclaiming his intention to go on with what Democrat Bill Clinton started in the last years of his presidency and followed by his Republican successor George W. Bush.

“As two of the world’s great, multi-ethnic democracies, the US and India are natural strategic allies, and we must work together to advance our common interests and to combat the common threats of the 21st century,” the party manifesto says.

The new flag bearer of the Democratic party would be reluctant to even seek changes in the India-US civilian nuclear deal about which he initially had some reservations, but has since come round to the view that it would “enhance our (India-US) partnership and deepen our cooperation.”

Obama is now convinced that the nuclear agreement as concluded by the outgoing Bush administration balanced America’s strategic relationship with India and its non-proliferation concerns.

“I am therefore reluctant to seek changes,” he said in a recent interview with Outlook magazine about the agreement the outgoing Bush administration is trying hard to push through the Nuclear Suppliers Group and then the US Congress.

If elected, Obama also plans to continue with the tradition established by George W. Bush and Bill Clinton of visiting India during their tenure as presidents.

Obama, who keeps a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi in his senate office for inspiration, says: “Throughout my life, I have always looked to Mahatma Gandhi as an inspiration, because he embodies the kind of transformational change that can be made when ordinary people come together to do extraordinary things.

“That is why his portrait hangs in my Senate office: to remind me that real results will come not just from Washington – they will come from the people,” says the Hawaii-born son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas.

“Change is always tough, and electing me is change … and it means that people are going to hesitate a little bit,” he told a crowd of supporters at a reception for rich South Asian and Pacific Islander supporters in San Francisco recently.

Obama has also slowly warmed up to the Indian community in the US during the long tough battle of the primaries with former first lady Hillary Clinton, whom his campaign last year described as the Democratic senator from Punjab attacking what it called her “personal financial and political ties to India”.

Though it was only a take on a joke that Clinton herself had made at a fundraiser hosted by an Indian American, Obama quickly apologised, branding his “Punjab jab” as “stupid” and “caustic”, claiming he had not seen the offending memo before it was released.

With the primary battle won, Obama not so long ago described himself as a “desi” who can cook dal and other ethnic dishes, though he isn’t that good at making naan, the Indian bread.

“Not only do I think I’m a desi, but I’m a desi,” he said speaking of his long association with South Asian immigrants at the San Francisco fundraiser.

When he went to Occidental College, his first roommate was Pakistani. And in his dorm, he recalled with a laugh, “Indians and Pakistanis came together under one roof … to cause havoc in the university”.

“Those are friendships which have lasted … for years, and continue until this day,” he was quoted as saying. “I have an enormous personal affection for the people of South Asia.

“I’ve also had an orientation toward Asia and a recognition … that over time we are going to see … more economic growth and an economic partnership with the United States that is strategic.”