Obama is genuinely committed to India: US historian (Interview)

By Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS
Saturday, November 13, 2010

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM - US President Barack Obama is keen to reinvent ties between America and India, but at the same time he cannot afford to make Pakistan a failed state, says eminent historian, political analyst and writer Simon Schama.

“It is a tricky situation. Obama is walking a tightrope. What he is trying is to reinvent America’s relationship without jeopardizing the American-Pakistan relationship. It is a task a bit impossible, but he cannot afford to abandon Pakistan since the al-Qaeda and the Taliban have such a powerful presence in that country. He has to find a way to sustain ties with both the countries,” Schama told IANS in an interview at the Hay Festival in the Kerala capital.

The professor of history and art history at Columbia University, whose award-winning books on history, politics and art have been translated into 15 languages, said “Obama was genuinely committed to India”.

“He was here to express his support to the Indian democracy. As Obama belongs to a particular kind of racial culture and spent his childhood in Djkarta, he has an affinity to this part of the world. He is interested in Asia,” Schama said.

During his recent visit to India, Obama was very conscious that George Bush had “established a sympathetic relationship with India and India was important to the future of democracy,” Schama said.

The analyst has written and presented 40 films for BBC on subjects as diverse as Tolstoy, American politics and John Donne. Schama’s documentary “The Power of Art” won an Emmy award in 2007.

According to Schama, “Obama has to renew ties with India on the strength of two issues - the economic ties with India and the proposal of a permanent place for India on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC)”.

“A permanent seat for India on UNSC may not happen any time soon, but Obama’s stand has earned him instant appreciation in India, coming out at the moment of American politics - laced with the 2009 attacks against him (Obama) that he was trying to turn US into a Marxist nation by stealth and the recent opinion poll indication that the Democrats might suffer electoral setbacks. Obama needs the support of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, one of the most thoughtful leaders in the world,” Schama said.

“India is very much his kind of place,” Schama said.

The challenges are stacked high for Obama at home.

The president has to “make Americans (companies) believe in his reforms but he is too afraid to speak out lest he is branded a Socialist. He is a man of lofty intellect,” Schama said.

“The American people, who are still battling recession, are looking for someone to get angry,” Schama said.

The analyst attributes the “crisis in the US to a failure of government regulation”.

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