Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Why Obama and why not Putin?

Obama is here in India for republic day celebrations. That is headline news in BBC too. Many countries including neighbors (or rivals?) are taking note and responding as well. And you cannot miss to notice the attention Narendra Modi is getting in the international politics. All this is good news for us Indians. Ours is no more a country of snake charmers and beggars. Our Prime Minister can manage the opposite power poles of this world – Obama and Putin, quite effortlessly because India is no more a country the big brothers can afford to ignore. Also take a look at the show Indian Air force had put up at parade – they combined the aircraft's bought from USA and Russia to make a formation, a rare sight indeed.

The question I was asking myself was, why Obama and why not Putin as chief guest for Republic day celebrations? From business perspective, Obama would come first in the pecking order as we need USA to buy our IT, Pharma and other goods and services. In 2013-14, we exported $39B worth goods and services to USA while our import figures from USA stood at $22.5B. (Link: In net, they are the biggest customer to India. With Russia, we have negative trade balance of $1.7B (we import more from Russia than we export). Russia needs us to sell their arms and petroleum products. We are customer to them. But USA is our biggest customer. We need them to buy more from us to improve our trade balance. In business, customers come first, so there is no wonder Obama would get the first invite under Modi's regime.

Politics is more than business. Politics tries to manipulate business (less effectively vice versa). Politics is more about power, power to stimulate, power to control and power to destroy. When it comes to power to destroy, Russia is second to none. (Remember the missile that brought down a passenger airplane in Ukraine – argument here is not about who launched it but to say it was built in Russia). They are the biggest arm supplier to those countries who cannot produce themselves. India too proudly displays the tankers acquired from Russia. Russian fighter jets are superior so we (Indian defense) have been one of the biggest customers to Russia. History says they won the Second World War. If there is going to be another world war they know how to save themselves and kill others. With two difficult neighbors, Putin too would have made sense as our chief guest on Republic Day.

The recent setbacks for Putin and China becoming closer to Russia would have made Modi to send the invite to Obama. Though business would be a priority for him now, I hope he had a talk with Putin like his guest did. (Obama called Sharif before coming to India). If and when there is trouble with neighbors, I think Modi is smart enough not to let Putin take the other side. Hitler did not read his Tolstoy and paid a heavy price. If cautious, Modi need not read ‘War and Peace’. He has proved himself as a good Chief Minister but state governments do not manage national defense, it is a new responsibility for him. Till now he has played his cards well. India needs more of Obama than Putin, unless our neighbors have a different plan.