New Delhi:Recalling the historic address of Swami Vivekananda, US President Barack Obama Tuesday won over his audience by referring to them as “sisters and brothers of India” and said he firmly believes America can be India’s “best partner” and together the two nations can bring more prosperity to their people.
In his final engagement in India, before flying to Riyadh and then home, the US president addressed a town hall-style meeting in Siri Fort auditorium, where he said: “India and the US are not just natural partners, I believe that America can be India’s best partner, I believe that.”
Addressing an invited gathering of young people, civil society and diplomats, the US president reached out to the audience with many Hindi words like “Namastey”, “Dhanyavad” and even some references to Bollywood films, which had the crowd ecstatic.
He said he was “absolutely convinced” that when both the democracies stand together they can produce more jobs, opportunities and prosperity for their people. “I believe that,” he said.
Recalling the historic address of Swami Vivekananda, Obama began his town hall meeting with the invocation “sisters and brothers of India” and talked about how the philosopher-sage introduced Hinduism and yoga to America in a city that was his hometown.
He recalled Swami Vivekananda and his famous speech in Chicago, exactly 100 years ago, where he addressed the gathering as “sisters and brothers of America” and said he was going to address the audience likewise.
Obama struck a personal chord with the mainly youthful crowd, saying he was very impressed with the daredevilry of the motorcycle contingent riding Royal Enfield bikes and wished he could ride a bike too.
“But the Secret Service does not let me ride motor cycles,” he said, and also remarked that he cannot dance as well as his wife Michelle.
In a speech where he touched on the need for India and the US to work together on climate change, on how the US can partner India in its growth story, in defence cooperation and becoming partners in the security of the Asia-Pacific region, the American president also stressed on the need for the government to uphold the freedom of religion written in the constitution of both the countries.
He also spoke of the civil nuclear deal that both countries are pushing ahead with, saying it would help bring electricity to homes in India and more clean energy.
He said the US wants to partner India in its infrastructure push, building ports, bullet trains, smart cities and “develop technology that we do with closest allies” and also touched on cooperation in tackling terrorism.
In the beginning, Neha Buch, a young representative of Indian NGO Prabha, introduced Obama to the audience as a man who is known for his empathy with common people.
He connected with the audience by talking about his own humble roots which he said were in many ways similar to the roots of the Indian prime minister.
“If the grandson of a cook can become president, and the tea seller can become the prime minister, so can young people from the humblest of origins dare to dream big and realise their aspirations,” he said to loud cheers and applause.
He also talked about the importance of women in society and said a “nation is successful when its women are successful”, a remark which again drew strong applause.
He talked about how impressed he was with the “incredible women in (India’s) armed forces” that he witnessed at the Republic Day parade Monday and also mentioned about the women officer – Wing Commander Pooja Thakur of the Indian Air Force – who led the guard of honour at Rashtrapati Bhavan at his official welcoming ceremony Jan 25.
He also stressed the right to freedom of individuals to profess, practice and propagate religion and said it was important for India with its multiplicity of faith to uphold this fundamental right.
Obama said for India it will be more important to uphold the fundamental freedom of religion as, with its diversity, it was an example for the rest of the world.
“Nowhere is it more important than in India… nowhere is it going to be more necessary that the foundational value be upheld. India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along lines of religious faith, splinter along any lines and it is unified as one nation; and all Indians whatever their faith go to the movies and applaud actors like Shah Rukh Khan or athletes like Milkha Singh and Mary Kom,” he said.
Obama recounted how in his last visit in 2010 he had visited Humayun’s Tomb and met the families of some labourers working there.
The little son of one of them, Vishal, is today a 16-year old, he said, and added he was happy to note that Vishal today studies and dreams of joining the armed forces “an example of the talent that is here”.
The teenager and his family were in the auditorium at the special invitation of the US president.
Ahead of his speech, Obama and his wife met Nobel Peace prize winner Kailash Satyarthi at the auditorium as well as some of the NGOs.