Continuing the famous 'bromance', former US president Barack Obama
and Prime Minister Narendra Modi
met on Friday. Obama was in New Delhi to attend a few events that are part of a three-country tour he is undertaking in one of his first global outings as a private citizen.
At a leadership summit organised by Hindustan Times, on being asked about his friendship with Modi, Obama said: “I like him…I think he has a vision for the country. He is modernising elements of bureaucracy.”
He, however, praised former prime minister Manmohan Singh
in the same breath. “I was also great friends with Dr (Manmohan) Singh… Both of them are sound leaders. The unifying thing (between Modi and Singh) was that (they advocated) strong US-India relations were important," Obama said, adding that both had the same mission to take India towards a more modern economy. "I found both of them to be honest, direct with me and both of them took tough decisions." He said that Singh was the primary partner while they were working during the financial meltdown, and Modi was the primary partner during the making of Paris accord. “When you look at the steps Dr Singh took to modernising the economy; it was the foundation for modernising Indian economy,” Obama said.
In a lighter vein, Obama said he might be the only US president
to have the recipe for dal and found making chapatis too hard.
The former US president
said he had “privately” told Modi that a country should not be divided on sectarian lines and emphasised how Indian society needed to cherish that Muslims in the country identify themselves as Indians, which is not common for minorities in many other countries.
"A country shouldn't be divided on sectarian lines and that is something I have told Prime Minister Modi in person as well as to people in America...People see the differences between each other much too vividly and miss the commonalities. Commonalities are always based on gender and we need to focus on that," Obama said. Asked how Modi responded to his private message on religious tolerance, Obama dodged a straight reply, saying his goal was not to disclose his private conversations.
After the meeting, Modi tweeted: "It was a pleasure to meet, once again, former president @BarackObama, and learn about the new initiatives being taken forward under his leadership at the @ObamaFoundation and his perspectives on further strengthening India-US strategic partnership.”
Obama also spoke at length on terrorism. When terror struck Mumbai in November 2008, "the US was as obsessed as India" to dismantle the terror network and US intelligence personnel were deployed to help India, he said.
On whether the Pakistani government was aware of Osama bin Laden hiding in Abbottabad, Obama said, "We had no evidence that Pakistani government was aware of Osama bin Laden's presence there but that is something obviously we looked at. I will leave it you to characterise beyond what I just said."
Though he did not name the current US President, Obama did make some veiled references. "(Michelle said) never tweet the first thing that comes to mind. Never tweet from bed. Always edit and spell-check. Who do you think she had in mind?" He also refrained from answering the question on who represented the real America: Donald Duck or Donald Trump.
Obama also addressed young leaders from across India at a town hall organised by the Obama Foundation.
At the town hall, he said the India-US relationship could be a "defining partnership of the 21st century" and that charting the course for the future will also depend on the young people of the two countries.
Obama was the first US president
to visit India twice during his time in office. He had earlier visited in 2010 when Manmohan Singh
was the prime minister and in January 2015.
He was also the first US president
to take part as chief guest in Republic Day celebrations.