Washington: US President Barack Obama has penned the profile of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Time magazine’s most recent issue on the world’s 100 most influential people. Modi was quick to respond with a thank you on Twitter.
Obama’s three paragraph sketch praises Modi in the language of a liberal-left president. He opens by noting Modi’s rise from the son of a tea-seller to the head of the world’s largest democracy and how this “reflects the dynamism and potential of India’s rise.”
Obama then picks out the bits of Modi’s agenda that an Afro-American Democratic Party leader would most appreciate: helping the poor, empowering women and “confronting climate change.” There is a mention of yoga and Digital India but nothing of Make in India or the Indian prime minister’s hard face towards Pakistan.
The issue of religious minorities is touched upon in the last paragraph. Obama notes how, when the two had been at the Martin Luther King Jr memorial, “Narendra and I” reflected on King and Mahatma Gandhi and “how the diversity of backgrounds and faiths in our countries is a strength we have to protect.” Modi, the US president writes, “recognizes” that a billion “Indians living and succeeding together can be an inspiring model for the world.”
Obama’s gentle reminders to Modi that as a prime minister he needs to sustain the pluralism and secularity of India has been a subtext of the recent revival of Indo-US relations. This was notably lacking in Obama’s statements when Manmohan Singh was in power, though the US president lost patience with Singh’s inability to fulfil any of his policy promises.
A member of Obama’s National Security Council, in the run up to the Republic Day summit, explained that while Indians “find it hard to believe” but “Obama genuinely sees India as the obvious candidate to be a future partner of the US.” The same liberal-left themes that colour Obama’s policies make him look naturally to democratic India.
The Time magazine sketch underlines that while India has focused on Modi’s putting aside the US visa ban, the other story is how Obama has concluded that Modi is not the narrow-minded rightwinger and religious nationalist that many US academicians had claimed he was. Just in case, however, the US president makes it a point to remind Modi what it means to head a democratic leader.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, China's leader Xi JinPing, Russia's President Vladimir Putin, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are the other world leaders who make the Time 100 cut. Others of Indian origin in the Time100 list include ICICI's Chanda Kochar, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, and psychiatrist and mental health champion Vikram Patel.