Former President Barrack Obama has given a special place to India, Mahatma Gandhi, and his relationship with former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the first part of his political memoir, The Promised Land. Describing his interactions with the former PM Manmohan Singh, he claims he had developed a warm, and constructive relationship with him when he visited India for the first time in November 2010.
“ A gentle, soft-spoken economist in his seventies, with a white beard and a turban that were the marks of his Sikh faith but to the Western eye lent him the air of a holy man, he had been India’s finance minister in the 1990s, managing to lift millions of people from poverty. For the duration of his tenure as Prime Minister, I would find Singh to be wise, thoughtful, and scrupulously honest,” he writes in his memoir.
“While he [Mr. Singh] could be cautious in foreign policy, unwilling to get out too far ahead of an Indian bureaucracy that was historically suspicious of U.S. intentions, our time together confirmed my initial impression of him as a man of uncommon wisdom and decency; and during my visit to the capital city of New Delhi, we reached agreements to strengthen U.S. cooperation on counterterrorism, global health, nuclear security, and trade,” he says.
He says that India as a place had occupied a place in his imagination long before he actually visited it for the first time in 2010. Thinking about the possible reason behind the special status given to India by him, he talks about the size of the world population living here, the number of different ethnic groups, the number of languages being spoken in the country, and the stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata.
He admires Mahatma Gandhi and the influence of his philosophy on the US Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. He explains about a visit with former First Lady Michelle Obama to Mani Bhavana, where Mahatma used to stay. While he counts the qualities that distinguish India from other countries, he also raises concerns about the increasing inequality among rich and poor in India.
“violence, both public and private” continued to be “an all-too pervasive part of Indian life,” he says. “What I couldn’t tell was whether [Manmohan] Singh’s rise to power represented the future of India’s democracy or merely an aberration,” he says.
Mr. Singh’s “restraint” against Pakistan after the November 2011 attacks in Mumbai had cost him politically, he writes. “He [Mr. Singh] feared that rising anti-Muslim sentiment had strengthened the influence of India’s main opposition party, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP),” Mr. Obama writes, going on to quote Mr. Singh: “‘In uncertain times, Mr. President,’ the Prime Minister said, ‘the call of religious and ethnic solidarity can be intoxicating. And it’s not so hard for politicians to exploit that, in India or anywhere else.’”
He also talks about the rise of liberalism in the economically strong countries. “…If I was seeing it even in the United States with the Tea Party — how could India be immune?” In his memoir, Obama can often be found describing the physical personality, which includes both men and women. He also describes his meeting with Congress leader Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi.
“Both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi sat at our dinner table that night. She was a striking woman in her sixties, dressed in a traditional sari, with dark, probing eyes and a quiet, regal presence,” he writes. He says that Congress leader Sonia Gandhi prefers to listen more than speaking. It is the reason behind her forceful intelligence and the ability to take sharp judgments.
However, Rahul Gandhi does not look so impressive in Obama’s memoir. “As for Rahul, he seemed smart and earnest, his good looks resembling his mother’s. He offered up his thoughts on the future of progressive politics, occasionally pausing to probe me on the details of my 2008 campaign,” Mr. Obama says. “But there was a nervous, unformed quality about him, as if he were a student who’d done the coursework and was eager to impress the teacher but deep down lacked either the aptitude or the passion to master the subject.”
The book revisits 2011, the year when the first term of the former President was ended. Perhaps, for this reason, Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not get a place in the discussions running throughout the book. The second edition, though expected, is not announced for the publication.