Barack Obama  with Manmohan Singh
Barack Obama with Manmohan Singh

Former US President Barack Obama has showered praise on former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, describing him as a "self-effacing technocrat who’d won people’s trust not by appealing to their passions but by bringing about higher living standards and maintaining a well-earned reputation for not being corrupt."

In a few pages accessed by Free Press Journal, Obama narrates the evening when he had dinner with Manmohan Singh, his wife Gursharan Kaur, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi. The dinner was hosted by Singh and his wife during Obama's trip to India in 2010.

Calling Manmohan Singh "chief architect of India’s economic transformation", Obama said he had developed a warm and productive relationship with him.

"While he could be cautious in foreign policy, unwilling to get out too far ahead of an Indian bureaucracy that was historically suspicious of US intentions, our time together confirmed my initial impression of him as a man of uncommon wisdom and decency," Obama wrotes in his new memoir A Promised Land.

On Sonia Gandhi Obama writes, "Both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi sat at our dinner table that night. She was a striking woman in her sixties, dressed in a traditional sari, with dark, probing eyes and a quiet, regal presence."

"At dinner that night, Sonia Gandhi listened more than she spoke, careful to defer to Singh when policy matters came up, and often steered the conversation toward her son. It became clear to me, though, that her power was attributable to a shrewd and forceful intelligence," Obama writes.

On Rahul Gandhi, he describes him as "smart and earnest, his good looks resembling his mother’s."

"He offered up his thoughts on the future of progressive politics, occasionally pausing to probe me on the details of my 2008 campaign. But there was a nervous, unformed quality about him, as if he were a student who’d done the coursework and was eager to impress the teacher but deep down lacked either the aptitude or the passion to master the subject," the book adds.

At the end of the evening, Obama writes, as the prime minister and his wife walked him and Michelle Obama to our car, Manmohan "looked frail, older than his seventy-eight years" in dim light. ".. and as we drove off I wondered what would happen when he left office. Would the baton be successfully passed to Rahul, fulfilling the destiny laid out by his mother and preserving the Congress Party’s dominance over the divisive nationalism touted by the BJP?"

"Somehow, I was doubtful. It wasn’t Singh’s fault. He had done his part, following the playbook of liberal democracies across the post–Cold War world: upholding the constitutional order; attending to the quotidian, often technical work of boosting the GDP; and expanding the social safety net. Like me, he had come to believe that this was all any of us could expect from democracy, especially in big, multiethnic, multireligious societies like India and the United States," he writes.

"Except now I found myself asking whether those impulses—of violence, greed, corruption, nationalism, racism, and religious intolerance, the all-too human desire to beat back our own uncertainty and mortality and sense of insignificance by subordinating others—were too strong for any democracy to permanently contain. For they seemed to lie in wait everywhere, ready to resurface whenever growth rates stalled or demographics changed or a charismatic leader chose to ride the wave of people’s fears and resentments," he notes, adding, that "and as much as I might have wished otherwise, there was no Mahatma Gandhi around to tell me what I might do to hold such impulses back."

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Free Press Journal