‘America can be India’s best partner’

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Dynamism has resulted in a stunning achievement in India…. Strongest when we empower youth, says Obama

The following are the excerpts from US President Barack Obama’s address to a select gathering at Siri Fort in New Delhi on the concluding day of his three-day visit on January 27:

Namaste! Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, to all the students and young people who are here today, to the people of India watching and listening across this vast nation – I bring the friendship and the greetings of the American people. On behalf of myself and Michelle, thank you so much for welcoming us back to India.  Bahoot dhanyavad….


It has been a great honour to be the first American President to join you for Republic Day.  With the tricolour waving above us, we celebrated the strength of your constitution.  

We paid tribute to India’s fallen heroes.  In the parade, we saw the pride and the diversity of this nation – including the Dare Devils on their Royal Enfields, which was very impressive.  Secret Service does not let me ride motorcycles….   

My commitment to a new chapter between our countries flows from the deep friendship between our people. I recognised India with the first state visit of my presidency – where we also danced to some pretty good Bhangra.    For the first time, we brought Diwali to the White House.    

On our last celebration here, we celebrated the Festival of Lights in Mumbai.  We danced with some children.  Unfortunately, we were not able to schedule any dancing this visit.  Senorita, bade-bade deshon mein, you know what I mean.    And there is another link that binds us.  

More than 100 years ago, America welcomed a son of India – Swami Vivekananda. And Swami Vivekananda, he helped bring Hinduism and yoga to our country.  And he came to my hometown of Chicago.  

And there, at a great gathering of religious leaders, he spoke of his faith and the divinity in every soul, and the purity of love.  And he began his speech with a simple greeting:  “Sisters and brothers of America.” So today, let me say:  Sisters and brothers of India – my confidence in what our nations can achieve together is rooted in the values we share….  

Having thrown off colonialism, we created constitutions that began with the same three words – “we the people.”  As societies that celebrate knowledge and innovation, we transformed ourselves into high-tech hubs of the global economy.

Together, we unlock new discoveries – from the particles of creation to outer space – two nations to have gone to both the Moon and to Mars. And here in India, this dynamism has resulted in a stunning achievement.  

You’ve lifted countless millions from poverty and built one of the world’s largest middle classes.

And nobody embodies this progress and this sense of possibility more than our young people.  Empowered by technology, you are connecting and collaborating like never before – on Facebook and WhatsApp and Twitter.  And chances are, you’re talking to someone in America – your friends, your cousins.  

The United States has the largest Indian diaspora in the world, including some three million proud Indian-Americans.    And they make America stronger, and they tie us together – bonds of family and friendship that allow us to share in each other’s success.

For all these reasons, India and the United States are not just natural partners.  I believe America can be India’s best partner. Of course, only Indians can decide India’s role in the world.  

But I’m here because I’m absolutely convinced that both our peoples will have more jobs and opportunity, and our nations will be more secure, and the world will be a safer and a more just place when our two democracies – the world’s largest democracy and the world’s oldest democracy – stand together.

America wants to be your partner in igniting the next wave of Indian growth.  As India pursues more trade and investment, we want to be first in line.  We’re ready to join you in building new infrastructure – the roads and the airports, the ports, the bullet trains to propel India into the future.  

We’re ready to help design “smart cities” that serve citizens better, and we want to develop more advanced technologies with India, as we do with our closest allies…

Greater role for India

The United States welcomes a greater role for India in the Asia Pacific, where the freedom of navigation must be upheld and disputes must be resolved peacefully….  To ensure international security and peace, multilateral institutions created in the 20th century have to be updated for the 21st.  And that’s why I support a reformed United Nations Security Council that includes India as a permanent member.     

Of course, as I’ve said before, with power comes responsibility.  In this region, India can play a positive role in helping countries forge a better future, from Burma to Sri Lanka, where today there’s new hope for democracy.  With your experience in elections, you can help other countries with theirs.  With your expertise in science and medicine, India can do more around the world to fight disease and develop new vaccines, and help us end the moral outrage of even a single child dying from a preventable disease.…  

We are strongest when we see the inherent dignity in every human being.  Look at our countries – the incredible diversity even here in this hall.  India is defined by countless languages and dialects, and every colour and caste and creed, gender and orientations.  And likewise, in America, we’re black and white, and Latino and Asian, and Indian-American, and Native American.  Your constitution begins with the pledge to uphold “the dignity of the individual.”  And our Declaration of Independence proclaims that “all men are created equal.”

In both our countries, generations have worked to live up to these ideals.  When he came to India, Martin Luther King, Jr was introduced to some schoolchildren as a “fellow untouchable.”  My grandfather was a cook for the British army in Kenya.  The distant branches of Michelle’s family tree include both slaves and slave owners.  When we were born, people who looked like us still couldn’t vote in some parts of the country.  Even as America has blessed us with extraordinary opportunities, there were moments in my life where I’ve been treated differently because of the colour of my skin. 

Identity and inequality

Many countries, including the United States, grapple with questions of identity and inequality, and how we treat each other, people who are different than us, how we deal with diversity of beliefs and of faiths.  Right now, in crowded neighbourhoods not far from here, a man is driving an auto-rickshaw, or washing somebody else’s clothes, or doing the hard work no one else will do.  And a woman is cleaning somebody else’s house.  And a young man is on a bicycle delivering lunch. 

A little girl is hauling a heavy bucket of water.  And I believe their dreams, their hopes, are just as important, just as beautiful, just as worthy as ours.  And so even as we live in a world of terrible inequality, we’re also proud to live in countries where even the grandson of a cook can become President, or even a Dalit can help write a constitution, and even a tea seller can become Prime Minister.…   

Our nations are strongest when we see that we are all God’s children – all equal in His eyes and worthy of His love.  Across our two great countries we have Hindus and Muslims, Christians and Sikhs, and Jews and Buddhists and Jains and so many faiths.  And we remember the wisdom of Gandhiji, who said, “for me, the different religions are beautiful flowers from the same garden, or they are branches of the same majestic tree.”  

Our freedom of religion is written into our founding documents.  It’s part of America’s very first amendment.  Your Article 25 says that all people are “equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion.”  In both our countries – in all countries – upholding this fundamental freedom is the responsibility of government, but it’s also the responsibility of every person.

In our lives, Michelle and I have been strengthened by our Christian faith.  But there have been times where my faith has been questioned – by people who don’t know me – or they’ve said that I adhere to a different religion, as if that were somehow a bad thing.  

Around the world, we’ve seen intolerance and violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to be standing up for their faith, but, in fact, are betraying it.  No society is immune from the darkest impulses of man.  And too often religion has been used to tap into those darker impulses as opposed to the light of God.

Three years ago in our state of Wisconsin, back in the United States, a man went to a Sikh temple and, in a terrible act of violence, killed six innocent people – Americans and Indians. And in that moment of shared grief, our two countries reaffirmed a basic truth, as we must again today – that every person has the right to practice their faith how they choose, or to practice no faith at all, and to do so free of persecution and fear and discrimination.   

The peace we seek in the world begins in human hearts.  And it finds its glorious expression when we look beyond any differences in religion or tribe, and rejoice in the beauty of every soul.  And nowhere is that more important than India.

Nowhere is it going to be more necessary for that foundational value to be upheld.  India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along the lines of religious faith – so long as it’s not splintered along any lines – and is unified as one nation.

And it’s when all Indians, whatever your faith, go to the movies and applaud actors like Shah Rukh Khan.  And when you celebrate athletes like Milkha Singh or Mary Kom.  And every Indian can take pride in the courage of a humanitarian who liberates boys and girls from forced labour and exploitation – who is here today – Kailash Satyarthi, our most recent winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace.  

Diversity is our strength

So that’s what unifies us:  Do we act with compassion and empathy?  Are we measured by our efforts – by what Dr King called “the content of our character” rather than the colour of our skin or the manner in which we worship our God?  In both our countries, in India and in America, our diversity is our strength.  And we have to guard against any efforts to divide ourselves along sectarian lines or any other lines.  

And, finally, our nations are strongest when we empower our young people – because ultimately, you’re the one who has to break down these old stereotypes and these old barriers, these old ways of thinking.  Prejudices and stereotypes and assumptions – those are what happens to old minds like mine. I’m getting grey hair now.  I was more youthful when I first started this office.  And that’s why young people are so important in these efforts.

Here in India, most people are under 35 years old.  And India is on track to become the world’s most populous country. So young Indians like you aren’t just going to define the future of this nation, you’re going to shape the world. Like young people everywhere, you want to get an education, and find a good job, and make your mark.  And it’s not easy, but in our two countries, it’s possible.

Remember, Michelle and I don’t come from wealthy backgrounds or famous families. Our families didn’t have a lot of money.  We did have parents and teachers and communities that cared about us. And with the help of scholarships and student loans, we were able to attend some of best schools of the world.

Without that education, we wouldn’t be here today.  So, whether it’s in America, or here in India, or around the world, we believe young people like you ought to have every chance to pursue your dreams, as well. 

We are all “beautiful flowers from the same garden…branches of the same majestic tree.”  And I’m the first American President to come to your country twice, but I predict I will not be the last. Because, as Americans, we believe in the promise of India. We believe in the people of India.  We are proud to be your friend. We are proud to be your partner as you build the country of your dreams.
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