Dispatch from Chicago: Is US media covering Obama’s India visit?

President Barack Obama has already landed in India and will be attending the Republic Day parade in New Delhi as a part of 3 days official visit. He will also co-host radio talk Man ki baat with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 

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US President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama has already landed in Delhi and will be attending the Republic Day parade  as a part of 3 days official visit. He will also co-host radio talk Man ki baat with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 

There are many firsts to Obama’s visit. It is indeed very rare for an American President to visit a country twice during his tenure. Secondly, Obama will be the first ever American head to attend a Republic Day function in India.The fact that an American President is visiting India within less than 6 months of an Indian Prime Minister’s US visit carries a lot of symbolic significance.

There is a visible excitement in Indian media about Obama’s trip. Prominent TV channels and newspapers are doing policy analysis and debating possible outcome of this visit. However, more coverage is being devoted to juicy stuff and mundane things that do not necessarily determine the outcome of the official visit. The Indian media is taking pains to describe at length, even with graphical details, about Air Force One looking no less than a flying White House, official vehicle of President called ‘the Beast’, his dog soldiers, what is plan B for Agra and how sanitary work is in full progress in the cities that he will be visiting. 

Looking at all this, the question arises: Is this a mere hype or is there any substance in Obama’s visit? 

While, there is a great symbolism in Obama’s visit to India, at the same time, realistic evaluation must be done. Having conceded the ground to Republicans in the mid-term elections held in November, 2014, Obama now faces a Congress whose both chambers are controlled by Republicans. Before departing for India, President Obama in his State of Union address laid down his agenda for the remaining term.

His resolve to go for immigration reforms, Obamacare and setting a tone for free education in community colleges (where poor and mainly black and Hispanic population will benefit) is already being scoffed at by Republicans. Historically, a lame duck President- as Obama is now- typically spends his remaining term in foreign jaunts and foreign policy. Obama is doing the same. His googly, last month, opening the windows to Cuba is one such example.

Given this context, I am not surprised when Obama says ‘stars are right for India and USA to become global partners. Here we have an American President who has already made his place in history and an Indian Prime Minister who is actively working to attain an international stature. Thus, Obama finds a willing partner in Modi and, in typical Indian way, gives credit to ‘stars’ for this chemistry. However, how is USA media responding to Obama’s visit to India?

Largely self-consuming, US media has thus far cold shouldered the Indian trip by its President. TV channels here are known for broadcasting crime news as the breaking news and where weather report is presented in a very celebrated manner hour after hour. Even the TV channels that pledge politics as their dharma (the famous phrase “Politics = CNN”), their weekends are mainly spent showing crime serials. Given this morphology of TV media and a political milieu studded with Republicans, it is not surprising that Obama’s visit to India remains largely uncovered so far. USA media as usual continues to ‘indulge’ in Middle East, ISIS, terrorism and related latest news (Yemen falls, Saudi King dies). 

In print media too, there is scant coverage of Obama’s visit to India. Time magazine has come out with a nice article describing ‘5 things you need to know about Obama’s visit to India’, and adds that ‘the symbolism may be backed by some substance’. The Wall Street Journal says that Obama’s trip to India signals stronger ties (in background of assertive China). 

FOX TV channel was quick to point out that President would be inhaling one of the most polluted airs in the world. Some newspapers and portals have focused on sanitary measures and monkey removal exercises being undertaken in Delhi, trying to recapture the image of India that they believe in.

Indian diaspora in USA has not shown that kind of enthusiasm on Obama’s visit to India as it did when Modi visited USA a few months back. It is possible that they are measuring up to a realistic expectation this time. Talking about Americans in general, they have a poor understanding of global geopolitics, more so in a country where domestic baseball tournaments are labelled as “World Series” implying, for them the World exists unto USA only.

All in all, it will be interesting to see how much can President Obama achieve on this diplomatic mission to India. Revival of nuclear deal, the issue of carbon emission, securing more business and persuading India to further open its market will be high on Obama’s agenda. 

The author is a Chicago-based independent political commentator. Email ID:  Twitter @drMunishRaizada

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