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PM & Obama: 'Endearing prof and diligent student'

By Aziz Haniffa
Last updated on: April 12, 2010 12:37 IST
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The 50-minute-long Dr Singh-Obama meeting seemed like an interaction between a diligent student and an endearing professor. Aziz Haniffa captures the mood vividly.

Senior American administration and diplomatic sources who sat in on the 50-minute mini-bilateral summit between President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, spoke animatedly how the "atmospherics were excellent," and what "a delight it was to watch the substantive interactions between these two extremely cerebral individuals".

They said the chemistry and the rapprochement between the two leaders were palpable and as one source noted, "The interaction was way beyond simple pleasantries and courtesies. It was such a cerebral discussion."

Another source spoke of how the meeting between the 77-year-old prime minister and the 47-year-old president seemed as if it were an exchange between "an endearing professor and a diligent student" and noted that while when former President George W Bush and Obama predecessor was "awestruck" by Dr. Singh's intellect and wisdom, in Obama's case while he evidently shared the same sentiments, including immense respect for Dr Singh, particularly when the latter held forth on economic matters, "he listened intently making sure he caught every word".

Sources said during the discussion, Dr Singh, especially when he was speaking on economic issues, would make these lengthy interventions as if he were delivering a lecture, but that Obama seemed to engrossed that he listened "so intently," with nary a word for fear of interrupting an interesting trend of economic brilliance.

This was manifest when Singh spoke of the integral role the United States could still play in strengthening the growth impulses in the world economy, particularly in developing countries in a post-war world, evidently harking back to the Marshall Plan of the United States in the wake of World War II.

It was an experience that could be repeated, Singh told Obama and in this context spoke of how imperative it was that countries like India needed an international environment "that does not allow protectionist forces to gain ascendancy".

Obama was all ears, sources said, when Dr Singh called for an emerging global economic power like India joining hands with the likes of the US to "rewrite the architecture of the global economic system".

He spoke of how in the current contest and the economic malaise that has engulfed the US and much of the industrialized world, the G-20 "could play an important role in ensuring that the global economic recovery is sustainable."

Dr Singh strongly believed that "the United States was uniquely placed to work out a plan for sustainable recovery in a globally integrated financial system," and referred to the "synergy of interests between India and the United States in this regard."

Obama was so taken with this economics lesson and panacea offered by Singh that he had urged that India submit suggestions as preparations for the next G-20 summit get underway.

In this regard, both Obama and Singh had agreed the importance of a successful and early conclusion of the currently stalled Doha Round of the World Trade Organization.

Singh had also shrewdly segued in incorporating counter-terrorism in this context, arguing that "in ensuring this (rewrite of the) architecture of high economic growth for countries like India," which also was in the US's vested interested, what happens in India's neighborhood was "of crucial importance."

And, hence, in this regard, "the terrorist onslaught in our region, if it persists, could affect our growth prospects," and thus the need that "this terrorist menace should be tackled" and was an issue "in which India and the United States stood on the same side."

Image; Obama and Dr Singh share a jovial moment

Photograph: Paresh Gandhi

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC