President Obama’s visit to India was generally considered successful—perhaps a bit too successful in the eyes of Mayor Bharat Shah, who presides over Vadodara, a city that proved instrumental in electing current Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Shah accused the United States and Pakistan of creating “factories producing terrorists” while India was busy developing a productive economy. (Indian politicians do not mention you in the same breath as Pakistan when they’re pleased with you.) Shah also portrayed Obama as the puppet of the Prime Minister, who allegedly made Obama parrot Modi’s political slogans. This was apparently meant as a triumphal compliment to Modi.
Shah’s comments are related by the Indian Express, which portrays the Mayor as a chronic sufferer of foot-in-mouth disease:
We have been reaping the fruits of independence even after 66 years [sic] since India became free. It holds great importance. When India was created, so was Pakistan. But we took up the path of development while America and Pakistan set up factories producing terrorists in their countries…
Today, we are on the path of development and it is a proud moment that Narendra Modi has made Obama sing the Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas slogan like a parrot. They (US) have been speaking of it. It is a big moment for us that America that did not give us acceptance, is also singing the Sauno Saath Sauno Vikas and Made in India slogans. Narendra Modi’s development chronicles has taken up leaders of other states.
One can only guess at how such statements were supposed to be taken.
Perhaps the Indian Express is being hard on Mayor Shah. He ought to elaborate on where he thinks the U.S. terrorism factories are located—the ones in Pakistan can be easily circled on a map—but he is not entirely off-base about American officials parroting Modi’s slogan. Secretary of State John Kerry was selling it to a crowd at the Center for American Progress in Washington last July, as reported by India Today.
“The new Indian government’s plan, ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’, together with all, development for all – that’s a concept, a vision we want to support,” gushed Kerry.
We believe it’s a great vision, and our private sector is eager to be a catalyst in India’s economic revitalization… American companies lead in exactly the key sectors where India wants to grow: in high-end manufacturing, in infrastructure, in healthcare, information technology, all of them vital to sort of leapfrogging stages of development so you can provide more faster to more people.
While no direct references by President Obama to Modi’s slogan could be found at press time, Modi himself has been accused by his political opponents of swiping Obama’s “Yes We Can” slogan, so maybe Shah was trying to push back against that.
The most newsworthy event of Obama’s visit was his Republic Day speech, which was widely construed as “gently nudging India to fulfill its constitution’s pledge to uphold the ‘dignity of the individual,’ drawing on his own experience as a minority in the United States,” as the Detroit News put it. In other words, he was gingerly critical of religious and sexual discrimination in India, which not everyone in his Indian audience took well. It would not be surprising if the more excitable members of Modi’s party wanted to make it extra-clear that they don’t feel chastised.