Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Atithi Devo Bhava: Welcoming Obama

Indian culture has always been a very warm, welcoming culture, with a special emphasis on hospitality – just look at the current furore surrounding the visit of the United States President, Barack Obama. News channels and media outlets have been obsessing about everything Obama round the clock for the past few days – his BlackBerry, his car, his planes, his security arrangement, there is nothing that has not been covered, uncovered and recovered during the past few days.

It has been reported that fifteen thousand CCTV cameras have been installed specifically for Obama’s visit, and that a seven layer security has been placed around Rajpath; nearby slums have been vacated and cleared away, traffic is being diverted, automobiles are stopped for frequent checks, and a massive cleanliness drive has been undertaken to clear the key areas of any rubbish or garbage heap (Swachh Bharat mark II). It is even mentioned that the US First Lady, Michelle Obama, will be gifted one hundred Banarasi Silk Saris. In short, no expense is being spared in order to make Delhi safer, cleaner and better-looking for Obama. Athithi Devo Bhava indeed.

A few questions have been raised, however – why this preferential approach? The United States of America have been notorious big bullies on the world stage, used to privileged treatment, shaming other countries with impunity and getting away with it. How else do you account for their incessant meddling with the functioning of every country, from Europe to Asia, Americas, Africa and Middle East? They have been on one end or the other in many theatres of conflict – Korean peninsula, Vietnam, the Gulf, Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan – trying to cover their own vested interests by using humanitarian aid, peacekeeping and regional stability as excuses. Following “We do it because we can” ideology, not only do NSA and the FBI spy on the US citizens, but the sleuths at CIA are also adept at monitoring other countries under the pretext of intelligence gathering and security – including the nations allied to them. Coming back to the Indian context, the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, was denied visa in 2005 when he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat on the pretext of the Godhra massacre, while dictators like General Parvez Musharraf were welcomed with open arms, despite Pakistan’s known involvement in sheltering terrorist cells and leaders (including US enemy number one, Osama bin Laden, trained by CIA. The irony is heavy). US diplomats in India were accorded diplomatic immunity and highest security, whereas an Indian deputy consul general, Devyani Khobragade, was hand-cuffed and strip-searched like a drug dealer on alleged counts of visa fraud and underpayment. And now we’re watching our government bending over backwards on television prime time for Obama’s visit to India. 

Do not get me wrong – I do not hate the United States of America (I just don't like it very much. Never really have liked bullies). I merely question the timing of these measures – why are all these steps being taken; why now? True, Delhi is due a major revamp; type Delhi news on Google and you will find news of murders, rapes, accidents, thefts shading every other news article on Delhi, but one cannot help but wonder if the same efforts that are aimed at making our privileged guests ease up a little (they would never be truly content, no matter what is done) could not have been implemented earlier. Could not have those fifteen thousand cameras help prevent the rape and death of many a Nirbhayas? Could not have these stringent security check of vehicles and service providers prevented many cases like the Uber incident and rape of foreign tourists? Could not have the police patrolling prevent many thefts and murders? The list of what could have been done before Delhi’s name was tarnished for good could go on and on.

The questions are endless; the answers nowhere to be found. The money used to buy those one hundred silk saris Michelle Obama would never wear could have been easily used for to uplift the same slums which are even now being uprooted; those cameras installed along a narrow corridor could have helped the law enforcement officials to prevent many crimes and bring many perpetrators to justice, if spread out throughout the city. Is the safety of one Barack Obama that much more important than that of a common girl? Is flattering one Michelle Obama much more important than improving the living conditions of hundreds, even thousands of slum-dwellers? The answer, it would seem, is a yes; it is clear we value our guests much more than we value the residents of this country. Long live the spirit of genial hospitality!

Still, the changes are welcome – it is high time solid measures were implemented in lieu of endless hollow promises. One can only hope that this much-needed overhaul is not temporary. Special accommodations have been made to make our special guest feel very special indeed; let us hope the show of goodwill rubs off on the city as well.


  1. The (.....) Say it all. Very well written (as always) ;)

  2. these are the words that hang in the void... that between the lips of the ruled and the ears of the ruler... these are the words that strip this disabled democracy... words that one can avoid, but can't deny !!!