Obama saw a Hindu Republic Day and said it

Vikram Kilpady
Vikram KilpadyJan 28, 2015 | 12:04

Obama saw a Hindu Republic Day and said it

US President Barack Obama did what a clear-headed head of state usually does, call a spade a spade and not a spoon to be polite. A day after universal Twitter outrage over his chewing gum while the 66th Republic Day parade was on, Obama spelt out to PM Narendra Modi that despite the mandate he and his party - which is not exactly sickular in its views – got, religious freedom will continue to be the gold standard to measure ties between the world's oldest and the largest democracies.

Here are some reasons why Obama said what he did.

1.) When the floats sank in: While he was bantering with Modi, Obama must have cast an eye on the state floats that were going by. Here's a brief recap of the themes of the floats: Maharashtra, the key state victory the BJP should be partying over for the next five years, had the splendid Pandharpur Yatra that ends with the darshan of Lord Vithoba, a deity who escapes conventional Sanskrit eulogising and is an important Bhakti movement godhead of the warkari tradition. Uttarakhand had the Kedarnath temple, Jharkhand the Maluti temple, debutant Telangana with its Bonaalu highlight, Chhattisgarh its Dussehra festivities surrounding Goddess Danteshwari, Andhra Pradesh the Makara Sankranti, Jammu and Kashmir its folk dances with a temple and a kutir on it, Madhya Pradesh its Bhagoria festival of the Bhils and Bhilalas, Assam the Majauli island, the world's largest inhabited riverine island and a seat of riverine culture. Uttar Pradesh was the lone state to showcase its secularism referring to Avadh monarch Wajid Ali Shah. The only other visible Muslim was one of three motorcycle riders of the BSF, tweeted as Amar, Akbar and Anthony, with a skullcap. Sikkim had cardamom cultivation, Arunachal Pradesh had the Igu dance of the Idu Mishmi tribe, Haryana had the Sultanpur bird sanctuary and Goa had a gigantic crab and the fishermen jigging about in kerchiefs like Prem Nath in Bobby. Karnataka had the first float on the Channapatna toys.

 The Goa tableaux (float) at the Republic Day parade.

Eight of the 14 state floats could have showcased their industry or their handicraft but they chose to tick on their Hindu motifs. Nothing wrong with that, but for Obama, the lack of the diverse people and cultural traditions on display would have surely reminded him of the briefing he would have got from the State Department. The BJP is a right-wing Hindu party, they would have read to him.

2.) The US State Department takes extensive notes: Once a presidential visit is announced, the State Department keeps an eagle eye on developments in that country. It doesn't help to have riots in Trilokpuri on the outskirts of Delhi just after Diwali. It doesn't help to have vandals ransack and gut churches in the capital. No talk can cover up the strident Ghar Wapsi campaign for communally polarising states before elections, no magic pill of diplomacy can get the loony from calling for Hindu women to have four children, to have ten etc. The State Department took note of these utterances and lo, Obama mentioned it on the last day of his visit.

3.) The mosaic matters: Though Bollywood, unfortunately or fortunately, has become the India template, the US President's pointed reference to Shahrukh Khan, Milkha Singh, Mary Kom is a clear pointer that don't mess with the minorities. But will the Sangh Parivar outfits heed such a pointed jibe from a visiting head of state, they don't even heed people in their own country. Will they allow the PM to run his government without adding masala mirch to the curry? Shahrukh Khan immediately gloated after Obama's reference fair enough, it took him some weeks to sheepishly venture that he should not be getting nominations for the cinematically elegant Happy New Year. Khan won, forget getting nominated.

4.) What did all this mean for Obama: The US President must have been touched by the fact that India agreed to pay for its own casualties in the event of a nuclear accident when the megawatts start rolling under the civil nuclear deal. US companies were freed from the clause. After the Republic Day floats and their overwhelming Hinduness, Obama must have wondered that India is happy being the land of the faithful who revere rishis and Ayurveda despite the undisclosed metals in its preparations due to which the US FDA frowns at it. Progress had the Make in India float of the lion with a thousand revolving screws/gears set to some weird techno. Then he must have thought: Let's leave a message, which US Presidents usually do in India like Carter left for Morarji, like Nixon left for Indira Gandhi. Obama's message should not be lost in the humiliation being expressed in Twitterverse. The BJP should ask itself why it is able to put off visiting dignitaries with its insistence on One Culture, One People. Pity, the Obamas didn't get to catch a caparisoned elephant. Remember the blind men and the elephant?

PS: The United States hasn't forgotten the Gujarat 2002 riots, even if India has "moved on".

Last updated: January 28, 2015 | 12:04
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