Obama supports India’s rise, declares $15 bn deals
Mumbai, Nov 6 (IANS) US President Barack Obama began his maiden visit to India Saturday by describing ties between the two countries as a ‘defining and indispensable partnership of the 21st century’ while declaring deals worth $15-billion that would support some 54,000 American jobs and seek to answer critics back home.
Arriving shortly after noon on Air Force One with First Lady Michelle and senior cabinet colleagues like secretaries of treasury and commerce, Obama said all the right things that would please Indians even as he told his audience back home to shed old stereotypes about the country as growing ties with India would benefit both nations.
‘We not only welcome India’s rise, but we ardently support it,’ the president told a business summit at Oberoi’s Trident Hotel – one of the targets of the 26/11 attackers that struck Mumbai – on the first day of his four-day visit to India, the first halt in a four-nation Asian tour.
Earlier, Obama – standing before the iconic Taj Hotel that was also ravaged by the terrorists that left over 160 people dead – pledged to deepen counter-terror cooperation with New Delhi, saluted Mumbai for its resilience and paid homage to Mahatma Gandhi whom he called the ‘hero to the world’.
His India visit, Obama said, would be the longest he had undertaken to any country in his 22-month presidency. ‘I believe the relationship between United States and India will be one of the defining and Indispensable partnerships of the 21st century,’ he said, as some 400 top executives from the two sides watched in rapt attention.
‘Americans have helped build India and India has helped to build America,’ he said in a speech, that received at wide applause at least five times, ending with a standing ovation after his 25-minute address.
‘And (yet) there still exists a caricature of India as a land of call centres and back-offices that cost American jobs. That’s a real perception,’ the president added in reference to critics who say outsourcing to countries like India has caused thousands of job losses in the US.
Nudging India to open up key sectors like retail and agriculture, which hold a huge potential for American companies, Obama said: ‘Here in India, I know many still see perceive the arrival of American companies and products to small shop keepers and to India’s ancient and proud culture.’
‘But these old stereotypes, these old concerns ignore today’s reality. In 2010, trade between our countries is not just a one-way street of American jobs and companies moving to India,’ said Obama.
‘It is a dynamic two way relationship which is creating jobs, growth and higher living standards in both our countries and that is the truth. As we look to India today, the United States see the opportunity to sell exports to one of the fastest growing markets in the world.’
Obama, who made passing reference to the Congressional election where the Democrats lost control in the House of Representatives to rival Republicans, told his audience back home that Americans stood to ‘benefit from strengthening ties with India’.
Among the corporate leaders invited for the event included Honeywell’s David Cote who co-chairs the India-US CEO Forum with Tata Sons chairman Ratan Tata, PepsiCo chairperson Indra Nooyi, Boeing Co’s Jim McNerney and General Electric Co’s Jeffrey Immelt.
Ahead of Obama’s speech, the White House announced commercial deals worth over $15 billion that will also address the domestic constituency by supporting nearly 54,000 jobs in the US – a key issue in a recession-hit America.
The deals include the purchase of as many as 33 Boeing-737 aircraft by the Indian budget carrier SpiceJet and an order on General Electric to supply 414 engines to power India’s indigenous light combat aircraft.
Obama, who flies to New Delhi Sunday afternoon for two days of intense talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with whom he has developed a close relationship, made a stirring impression on his hosts when he mixed freely with survivors and kin of the Mumbai attack victims that included six Americans.
But walking a tight diplomatic rope, Obama refrained from naming or alluding to Pakistan, a US ally New Delhi blames for the Mumbai terror attack.
From the Taj, Obama and Michelle reached Mani Bhavan, where his ‘hero’ Mahatma Gandhi used to stay and which is now a museum, to pay tribute to the apostle of non-violence who has wielded enormous influence on African Americans.
After the 30-minute tour, a visibly moved president wrote: ‘I am filled with hope and inspiration as I have the privilege to view this testament to Gandhi’s life. He is a hero not just to India but to the world.’
Michelle wrote: ‘This visit will be one I will always treasure.’
Obama leaves for Indonesia Tuesday and later visit South Korea and Japan. He will meet Manmohan Singh again in Seoul – for the seventh time in two years – at the G20 summit that both are attending.