When Prime Minister Narendra Modi called U.S. President Barack Obama by his first name during the President’s recent trip to India, it was a familiarity that is unheard of even in India. Critics from both countries immediately condemned Modi for calling the President, “Barack,” during their joint press conference, especially since the President continued calling PM Modi “Mr. Prime Minister.”
But in a historic trip that has been applauded as opening new doors in Indo-U.S. relations, Modi sent a clear message to India and the world: India is a major player on the world stage. It refuses to be relegated to second-place. It is not subservient.
By protocol, heads of state may refer to each other in a less formal manner as President Obama is known to call British Prime Minister David Cameron, his “bro.” And former President George W. Bush would often say, “Yo, Blair, what are you doing?” to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Nevertheless, for PM Modi, his rapport with the American President started with the moment President Obama landed at Palam Airport in New Delhi. Unprecedented and breaking with protocol, PM Modi greeted the President and First Lady upon their arrival at the airport. PM Modi’s attire during this arrival was described by the media as “swaggeringly stylish,” a gesture that showed the thousands of international cameras that he would not defer the spotlight to President Obama. This confidence of equal par continued throughout the trip as PM Modi’s body language exuded affinity as the two men strolled along the Hyderabad House gardens.
Modi’s poised demeanor during the second visit by President Obama is significant. What is more commendable than the actual words, body language, or departure from protocols is the fact that his assertion that India is an equal global partner was done in a friendly, subtle manner. Modi did not spell it out or use any aggressive tactics. In the simple utterance of “Barack,” which means blessed, PM Modi showed the world that India is determined to assert its leverage as a global superpower.
Compared to previous U.S-India President-Prime Minster meetings, Modi’s dignified composure showed that India is not afraid to engage in bargaining and dealing.
While the issues discussed—defense, climate change, trade, intellectual property and the civil nuclear agreement—have previously been visited (during PM Modi’s U.S. visit in the Fall) and implementing the changes will require further negotiations between the two governments, the affinity gained during the trip will unleash progress that has been stalled in recent times.
In the past, India was often criticized for being timid, inflexible and not using its full might. But PM Modi demonstrated otherwise. For example, he voiced his support for the climate change treaty Montreal Protocol while not fully committing to making