It was the ‘Obama Moment’ for India’s young and restless dreamers. Barack Obama knows the power of oratory as he spoke in crisp, luminous sentences infecting the overwhelmingly young audience with his mantra of ‘The Audacity of Hope’ which made him the first black president of the US in a country which only a few decades ago discriminated on the basis of the colour of the skin.
Song of India
In his parting shot before he wrapped up a three-day historic trip to India, Obama sang a full-throated song of India and spoke about the intertwining of the Indian and American dreams, and what the world’s oldest and largest democracies can do to make the world a safe and secure place in which women are respected, diversity is the way of life and religious tolerance is the clean air you breathe in. India and America can be best partners, he said with utter conviction as he outlined how the two countries can collaborate over a range of issues spanning from climate change to crafting an inclusive Asia-Pacific architecture.
He spoke from the heart, but had interspersed his final speech in India with carefully prepared Bollywood one-liners (‘Senorita, bade bade deshon mein… you know what I mean”) and American-accented Hindi phrases that plunged the audience in raptures.
At the town hall-style meeting at Siri Fort Auditorium in New Delhi on a wintry morning, he spoke warmly and eloquently about the promise of India, cited Swami Vikekananda’s famous invocation in his hometown Chicago a century ago as he addressed his audience as “sisters and borthers of India” and injected some robust common sense into what he has called many a time “the defining partnership of the 21st century.”
His tribute to the power of women and their centrality in the narrative of a nation’s success also elicited a lot of loud cheering. “I am married to a very strong and talented woman. Michelle is not afraid to speak her mind to me.” He added that he is proud of his two young daughters and spoke about the urgent need to ensure that women can walk the streets with safety and security.
The American Dream
But what struck a powerful chord with the young audience was his paean to the power of youth and the limitless possibilities of human achievement as embodied in the American dream. “If the grandson of a cook can become president, and the tea seller can become the prime minister, so can young people from the humblest of origins dare to dream big and realise their aspirations,” he said to rigning applause.
In his second visit to India that was marked by a breakthrough in the landmark nuclear deal and the coming together of the two strategic partners in a closer defence partnership, it was Obama’s human-all—too-human message of compassion and empathy for the underdog and the marginalised that resonated powerfully. Alluding to the son of a labourer working at the Humayun’s Tomb he had met during his trip to India in 2010, he underlined that the dreams of Vishal and Malia and Sasha (his daughters) are equally important and deserve to blossom. “We must work for a society where everybody has a chance, everybody who can work, and that includes our women,” he said to thunderous applause from the audience.
At the end of the speech, one got a glimpse of Obama the charmer. As he and First Lady Michelle circulated among the audience, the Obama hysteria had gripped everyone, with a veritable frenzy of fans and admirers hustling for selfies with the man who has come to epitomise self-fashioning and the essence of the American dream.
- Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.
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