Obama enthrals Gen Next with his oratory, spontaneity

The Obamas have left Mumbai for Delhi and would be received by PM Manmohan Singh and his wife at the airport at 3.35 pm.

Updated: Nov 08, 2010, 00:13 AM IST

Zeenews Bureau

Mumbai: At his erudite best, US President Barack Obama on Sunday enthralled the generation next of India with his views on a host of issues related to India-US relationship, Pakistan, Islam and his Gandhi ‘connect’.

In a freewheeling interaction with Mumbai university students in typical US town-hall style at the St Xavier’s College, Obama answered some tough questions from the young minds, questions which even seasoned journalist would find it difficult to put forth.

Starting with a ‘Namaste’, Obama once again reiterated the extraordinary amount of respect for the rich civilization that he and Michelle have for India and went on to stress the limitless possibility of the Indo-US relationship.

The US President said he wanted to take ties with India to another level and asserted that the South Asian nation has already "risen" as a power.

"The common thread that runs is my determination to take partnership (between the two countries) to an entirely new level," Obama said, adding that the US did not consider India only as an emerging power. "We believe that India has already risen," said Obama.

Obama, who has chosen to stay at the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel as a tribute to victims of the 26/11 terror attack, said he was struck by the resilience of the Indian people.

Obama later invited questions from the students.

The first question: What is your take on jihad?

Obama answered: "Jehad has lot of meanings... but it is subject to lot of interpretations. More than a billion people in the world practice Islam. It is a great religion and symbolises peace, justice, fairness and tolerance."

“The notion that violence is the way to mediate differences needs to be rejected. Overwhelming majority of people following Islam wants peace,” he added.

"We recognise this great religion...This great religion, in the hands of a few extremeists, has been distorted....One of the challenges we face is how we isolate those who have distorted its vision," he said at the St Xavier`s College.

"It is a major challenge in India and around the world..." Obama said.
How can governments wean away their citizens from being materialistic and encourage them to adopt human values?

Obama said: "I don`t want any young person to be dismissive. A health materialism is good. But if all you are thinking about is material wealth then that is poverty of ambition".

"I think this is something that the US and India share, that is a healthy scepticism about electoral politics. In some cases in India the private sector is moving faster than public sector. I hope some of you will get involved in public service which can be frustrating and slow," he said.

"But India will need you not just as businessmen but also as leaders who will make government more responsible and is as important. Otherwise there will be an imbalance," he added.

Obama also gave the example of Mahatma Gandhi in the context of materialistic wealth.

"When I was at Gandhi`s room (Mani Bhavan) it was telling that the only objects in the room were a mat, a spinning wheel, sandals, a few papers and this man changed the history like no one else did in the 20th century in terms of the number of lives he effected," the President said.

Are the mid-term results a vote against his “change” policy?

US President Barack Obama said mid-term corrections and adjustments for his government were on the cards as well as discussions with the Republican Party.

The President said it had been the "toughest two years economically since the 1930s".

There was a "profound financial crisis and economic shock", he said, adding that unemployment was very high and "people are frustrated".

Complimenting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government, he said that India weathered global financial crisis and economic
slowdown better than any country.

“I have been working with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at G20 to
ensure world financial system does not collapse and stabilise
the economy. The US has enormous fondness for India; India is
going to be a critical partner for the US in 21st century,” he said.

On the way forward for America, he said, “There was progress but not quickly enough. One of the wonderful things about democracy is when people are not happy it is their right, obligation and duty to express their unhappiness."

"My obligation is to make sure that I stick to principles, beliefs and ideals that will move America forward," Obama said, stressing on the need to invest in "strong infrastructure".

"It also acquires mid-term corrections and adjustments," the President said, adding that it would also involve discussions with the Republican Party and there would be areas where there would be disagreements and agreements.
Why is Pakistan so important an ally to America?

Starting out by saying that he expected the question, Obama cautiously, weighing every word, said the progress by Pakistan in fighting terrorism is not quick as "we would like" and asserted that they were working
with Islamabad to eradicate extremism which is a "cancer".

Noting that there are going to be some elements in
Pakistan that are affiliated with Taliban, al Qaeda and LeT,
he said they are "irreconcilable" and there needs to be a
military response to those who perpetrate violence like they
did in Mumbai and New York in a "significant, ongoing" way.

Obama also observed that it would surprise Indians
when he says this that it is in India`s interest that Pakistan
remains "peaceful, stable and prosperous" and that the US will
work with Islamabad to reject extremism which is a "cancer"
which threatens to engulf it.

He expressed
confidence that in time, trust develops between India and
Pakistan and dialogue begins perhaps from "less controversial
issues building upto more controversial issues".

"India and Pakistan can prosper and live side by side,
this will not happen tomorrow but needs to be the ultimate
goal. The US can be a partner but cannot impose this process.
India and Pakistan have their own understanding," he said.

Delhi calling

The US President’s entourage left Mumbai at around 1.30 pm and arrived in Delhi at 3.35 pm at the Palam Air Base side of Indira Gandhi International Airport.

In a special gesture, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur were present at the tarmac to receive Barack Obama and his wife Michelle.

Singh, 78, and Obama, 49, share a special chemistry and have praised each other on several occasions. Obama hosted the first state dinner of his presidency for Manmohan Singh in Washington on November 24 last year.

-Agencies inputs