When in India, do as the Indians do. Cause traffic jams (roads were shut down to make for his convoy), eat local cuisine (unconfirmed reports on an upset tummy), talk of your Indian lineage (more below) and of course talk about the economy. This summed up US Vice President Joe Biden four-day India tour where he shared pleasantries with PMOI Manmohan Singh and more pertinently flew to Mumbai to discuss monies with Indian business leaders.
That’s where I found a place at the BSE International Convention Centre in Mumbai to deliver an address on opening up bilateral trade with India and to urge the nation to improve investment conditions. We’ll get to that later, but first lets take you through the few hours I spent in an audience of a few elite hundred from India’s financial sector, feeling both privileged and enamoured by Biden’s charming skills. Forget the dragon, Biden was out to entice the elephant to help boost Uncle Sam’s sinking economy.
Just the week before, I had received an invitation for the address. Inspite of the torrential rain warning by the MET, I decided to make the pilgrimage from the burbs to town. The entire area resembled a fortress what with numerous secret service agents, Biden’s US aides and the Mumbai police force surrounding the area. Passing through the numerous checks, I felt like a VIP.
Policy speeches do not really get my mojo on, but was quickly taken in, when Biden greeted us by cracking a joke to appeal to our fake sense of Indian pride. What is that you ask? Of course flattering us by saying that you are one of us. Biden hit a home run when he narrated a story of how after his election, he received a letter from an Indian named Biden. “‘We are both related,’ he wrote in the letter,” he smirked at us. And we had already fallen for his attempt at familiarity. The poetry lover in me was even more elated when he quoted William Yeats “Easter 1916,” most of which went over the top but more on that later.
The man knows to impress and had the crowd eating out of his hands when he launched into how India is one of the greatest nations in the world and how the half Irishman in him, “loved it when India thrashed the English cricket team recently.” The cricket-mad crowd was immediately won over before the speech meandered into the business end of things, most of which we have covered here (there’s only that much you can focus when you have attractive women around!)
INDO-AMERICAN MIDDLE CLASS:
Biden stressed on how India has made great strides in terms of a burgeoning middle class with an increasing spending power. The huge jumps India has made from 5 million mobile subscribers in the 1990’s to about 190 million today. He stressed on how both countries are facing similar challenges with the US looking at getting stable jobs, decent incomes and standard of living. While India is aiming at alleviating it’s population living under the poverty line to the middle class.
While talking on protecting industries, Biden observed that the better way to grow is to strengthen the US economy by making bold decisions and the powerful Indian economy can help the world. No really. Biden is expecting India and US to sign the Bilateral Investment Treaty and is optimistic that progress could be made on the modalities of the treaty by the time Manmohan Singh visits Washington DC in September this year.
Addressing the technological community on both countries, he mentioned that scientists both in the US ad India should work closely on issues concerning clean energy and climate change. “Sea levels are rising that is going to impact millions of people in India. There is a lot of work to be done and India too needs to take constructive action,” Biden said. He also hoped that India joins the Montreal protocol in its bid to reduce emissions of hydro fluoro carbons (HFC’s).
He stressed on increasing cooperation in defense matters, right from from sharing intelligence on terrorist groups to the C130 fighters that have played a crucial role in evacuating flood victims in Uttarakhand. He mentioned that India is an indispensable part of “Re-balance” in the Asia Pacific and strong ties between India and South East Asia are best for business. “It is important to balance relations with China and all three nations share significant common interests,” Biden said. When it came to Afghanistan, he mentioned they are clear about three things while “dealing with the Taliban: stop violence, recognise the Constitution and respect women.” His sympathetic view towards Pakistan unsettled a few, but Biden worked around it tactfully,”this is a tough nut to crack, but it is your nut to crack.” Perfectly diplomatic Mr Biden.
He concluded by saying that this would be a defining partnership for the century ahead and closed his address with “A nation without a vision of where it wants to go will be buffeted by the winds of change…”