Obama not insulting but cheering India: WSJ

Washington: Observing that the "truth- telling" of US President Barack Obama "evidently pricked the thin skin of India`s politicians", a leading American financial daily has said he is in fact "cheering" the Indian elite and not insulting them.

"It is no wonder foreign investors are appealing to their leaders for help against Delhi`s protectionism. Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong alluded to how these policies created a poor business climate during a Delhi visit last week, which follows concerns more openly voiced by the UK`s George Osborne and US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.

"If Mr Geithner`s boss is now joining the chorus, it`s because previous warnings have gone unheeded," The Wall Street Journal said in its editorial on Obama`s remarks in an exclusive interview to PTI recently. In the interview, Obama had said that India needs "another wave of reforms" to make it "more competitive." The US President went on to say that "in too many sectors, such as retail, India limits foreign investment."

Such views are hardly controversial among educated Indians, so one might expect the comments would be taken in the spirit of constructive criticism in New Delhi, the daily said. "Wrong. Mr Obama`s truth-telling evidently pricked the thin skin of India`s politicians. Right-wingers, centrists and Communists united in attacking him for meddling in Indian affairs," the daily said.

"Too bad the political class isn`t as united in recognising that India`s lack of reforms is souring its ties with friends abroad. Mr Obama noted that he was relaying the complaints of American business organisations that are usually one of the great champions of the US-India partnership," the paper said.

"These businesses not only find decreasing opportunities to invest in India, but also detect an undercurrent of resentment against them. It was bad enough when Delhi`s backtracked on opening retail to foreign investment, but new plans such as retroactively taxing cross-border deals have inspired alarm," the daily said.

The paper said some Indians may find it hard to accept Obama preaching liberalisation abroad when he campaigns against outsourcing jobs back home, and it`s true that this President often appears cynical. Washington dents its credibility every time it betrays free-market principles.

"Such hypocrisy doesn`t mean that Delhi can ignore the truth in Mr. Obama`s message, that India`s standing in the world will fade without an open economic system. America doesn`t want that to happen. "The West has every interest in seeing this liberal democracy grow into a partner for wealth-creating trade and a bulwark against authoritarianism in Asia. India`s elite think Mr Obama is insulting them, but in fact he`s cheering them on," The Wall Street Journal said.