He came, he saw, he conquered. Every bit of India that US president Barack Obama mentioned in his 35-minute speech was received with thunderous applause in the Central Hall of parliament.
The immediate chord he stuck with the dignitaries, including MPs and chief ministers, probably made Obama’s day as he carried out a perfect public relations exercise to capture the Indian mind.
The charged atmosphere in Central Hall became evident as soon as Obama entered. He was greeted by a standing ovation!
Obama’s speech constantly referred to Indian themes, all of which were applauded by the audience. He began by pointing out that his India visit was his longest overseas trip, spoke about how Panchatantra has guided Indians for centuries, and referred to the fields of Pujab, bylanes of Chandni Chowk, modern highways of Bangalore or localities of Kolkata when he said that everyone deserved a chance to prosper.
The US president said he felt honoured to visit Gandhi’s residence, where decades later Martin Luther King had stayed, and the memorial at Rajghat, adding, “I am mindful that I might not be standing before you today, as president of the United States, had it not been for Gandhi and the message he shared with America and the world.
“Throughout my life, including my work as a young man on behalf of the urban poor, I have always found inspiration in the life of Gandhiji and in his simple and profound lesson to be the change we seek in the world."
And just as he summoned Indians to seek their destiny, he influenced champions of equality in my own country, including a young Martin Luther King.
Obama also quoted Nobel laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore when he spoke about recalled India’s contribution to world civilisations and the message Swami Vivekananda delivered in 1893 at the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago, his hometown.
He referred to Ambedkar when he spoke about his belief that “every person can fulfill their god-given potential” no matter where he comes from “…just as a Dalit like Dr Ambedkar could lift himself up and pen the words of the Constitution that protects the rights of all Indians...”
While talking of India’s discoveries, he did not forget to credit Indian with having discovered ‘zero’.
In his speech, while thanking Indians for their hospitality, he spoke in Hindu, saying, Bahut dhanyavaad (Many thanks) and ended his speech with the triumphant Jai Hind! (Victory to India).
Later, as he came out of Central Hall, he wrote in the newly introduced Golden Book, “As a representative of the world’s oldest democracy, it is a true privilege and honour to address the world’s largest democracy. May the friendship between the two countries continue to grow in the years to come.”