Modi-Obama radio waltz: How US, India are making a lot of history


obama-modi-radioPersonal chemistry, humble beginnings, endless possibilities, optimism about the future of India-US relations. In their first joint radio address, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Barack Obama explored an entire spectrum of issues, ranging from education, innovation, gender issues and health to their personal inspiration and how the world’s largest democracies are “making a lot of history in a short time.”

In the special edition of “Mann Ki Baat,” a monthly radio address to the nation started by Mr Modi nearly four months ago, Mr Modi addressed the US president by his first name Barack at least 17 times, indicating an emerging personal bonding between the two leaders. The show was aired on January 27, the last day of the three-day trip by Mr Obama, his first to India as the guest of honour at the Republic Day celebrations.

The 30-minute radio talk provided a glimpse into the life stories of the two leaders, outsiders to the system, who managed to reach top positions in their countries despite their humble beginnings.

“I think both of us have been blessed with extraordinary opportunity, coming from relatively humble beginnings,” Mr Obama, the first black president of the US, said. “When I think about what’s best in America and what’s best in India, the notion that a tea seller or somebody who is born to a single mother, like me, could end up leading our countries is an extraordinary example of the opportunities that exist within our countries.”

Mr Modi, a former tea seller who shepherded India’s western state Gujarat as the chief minister for over a decade before becoming the prime minister of the world’s largest democracy, said he had never imagined holding the country’s top office “because, as Barack said, I came from a very humble background.”

Mr Modi also aired his views on the shared heritage of humanity by underlining similarity between the African ideal of Ubuntu and the ancient Indian ethos of  Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.

“African countries have lived by the ancient idea of ‘Ubuntu’, which alludes to the oneness in humanity; they say – “I am, because we are”. Despite the gap in centuries and borders, there is the same spirit of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”. Mr Modi also discussed American philosopher-poet Henry Thoreau, from whom Mahatma Gandhi learnt the technique of civil disobedience.

Mr Obama began his oration by expressing his gratitude for “the incredible hospitality” Modi has shown him and his wife Michelle during their visit to India. “India and the United States are natural partners because we have so much in common. We are two great democracies, two innovative economies, two diverse societies dedicated to empowering individuals. We are linked together by millions of proud Indian Americans who still have family and carry on traditions from India,” said the US president.

Mr. Obama also acknowledged the energy with which Prime Minister Modi is trying to reduce extreme poverty and lift people up, to empower women, to provide access to electricity, and clean energy and invest in infrastructure, and the education system. He underlined that on all these issues the U.S. wants to partner India.

In an interactive session, Mr Obama responded to the question about his wife’s contribution to tackle modern health challenges like obesity and diabetes. He stressed on how the two countries can do a better job in dealing with issues like pandemic and making sure that we have good alert systems. “So that if a disease like Ebola, a deadly flu virus or Polio appears, it is detected quickly and then treated quickly before it spreads.”

Mr Obama’s three-day trip to India saw a reinvigoration of the India-US relations across the spectrum and a breakthrough in resolving the liability issue, paving the way for the fruition of the landmark nuclear deal.