Indo-US -Relations–Nehru-Kennedy Spirit to Namobama Mantra
The genesis of India’s relationship with the United States took place soon after the founding of the country in 1794 when the first American President George Washington sent Benjamin Joy, his Consul-designate to Calcutta. But Washington’s move was ill timed as the then Governor General of India Lord Charles Cornwallis, smarting from the ignominy of having surrendered to Washington at the battle of Yorktown, simply refused to accept Joy’s credentials.
Indo-American business relations began literally with ice! By the 1830s, ice had become a very profitable American export. The most famous ice maker was Frederic Tudor, who was known as Boston’s “Ice King”, and who was the founder of the Tudor Ice Company. The first consignment of ice arrived in Calcutta aboard the American ship SS Tuscany in 1833. J.Stocqueler, a colourful journalist and editor of The Englishman, the forerunner of The Statesman, was rudely awakened by his Man Friday who could not wait to give him the news that “burruf” (ice) had arrived from America.”There it lay” wrote Stocqueler later,”in a square mass of purest crystal, packed in felt and fragrant pine dust. A quantity of rosy American Baldwin apples reposed upon the surface of this glacier.” Back in his office, Stocqueler continued to write,” How many Calcutta tables glittered that morning with lumps of ice. The butter dishes were filled; the goblets of water were converted into miniature arctic seas with icebergs floating on the surface. All business was suspended till noon, so that people might rush about to pay each other congratulatory visits and devise means of perpetuating the supply. Everybody invited everybody to dinner to taste claret and beer cooled by the American importation.” The American captain of the Tuscany was presented with a gold cup by the Governor General Lord William Bentinck and the romance of American ice was hailed as an achievement of his government. A subscription was raised for the erection of an Ice House. And anyone who could afford an icebox invested in one of those zinc lined wooden contraptions. Calcutta’s banqueting tables took on an arctic character with peaks of solid ice and delicately sculptured swans bearing mousses,galantines, caviarre and cold soufflés were washed down with gallons of “Lal Sharab” (red wines). When a letter with a 90 cent Lincoln stamp was mailed in 1873 by an ice exporter in Boston to his office in Calcutta, Mahatma Gandhi was a toddler of four, Swami Vivekananda was a stripling of ten, and Ulysses Grant, who also visited Calcutta, was the President of the United States.
Like the United States, India achieved freedom from British rule through a revolution ‑ though in India it was a peaceful, non‑violent revolution under the leadership of the great apostle of peace and non‑violence Mahatma Gandhi, who influenced Martin Luther King and President Barrack Obama. The American people gave their active support in the struggle for our own freedom. In October, 1949, our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, visited the United States for the first time. In the course of that visit, which President Harry S.Truman described as “the voyage of discovery of America”, Nehru, in an address to the East West Association and the Institute of Pacific Relations, New York, said, “May I also say that all of us in India know very well, although it might not be so known in public, what great interest President Roosevelt had in our country’s freedom and how he exercised his great influence to that end”. Nehru was an indefatigable admirer of President Lincoln about whom Lord Lothian (one time British Ambassador to the United States), in a letter to Nehru written on New Year’s Eve, 1935, wrote, “I think that the greatest political figure that the democratic world has thrown up is Abraham Lincoln”. In 1951, the well known American professor Arthur Ernest Morgan presented Nehru with a brass mould of Lincoln’s right hand that had been cast by the legendary American sculptor Leonard Volk in 1860. When Nehru visited the United States for the second time in December, 1956, he told the American people in a television and radio address, “It has been kept ever since on my study table and I look at it every day and it gives me great strength…..after all, we believe in liberty, the dignity of the individual and the freedom of the human spirit. Because of this, we are firmly wedded to the democratic way of life and in our loyalty to this cause, we will not falter…..Our two republics share a common faith in democratic institutions and the democratic way of life and are dedicated to the cause of peace and freedom”. In the Nehru museum in Delhi, one will still find the brass mould of Abraham Lincoln resting proudly on his study table and a framed picture of Lincoln on the wall of his study where he used to study late into the night.
During President Kennedy’s tenure, Indo‑American relations reached their zenith. In an article published in the Foreign Affairs, New York, seven months before President Kennedy’s brutal assassination, Nehru wrote, “Indo‑American relations have seldom been as close and cordial as they are now. The deep sympathy and practical support received from the United States in meeting the Chinese aggression has created a wealth of good feeling and apart from that there is much in common between us on essentials. President Kennedy’s vision of a world of free and independent nations, freely co‑operating so as to bring about a world wide system of inter‑dependence, is entirely in accord with our own ideas.” Shortly before his death on 27th May, 1964, Nehru penned on a scrap of paper the immortal words of the great American poet Robert Frost, “And miles to go before I sleep.”
Even before he became the President of the United States, Barrack Obama wrote in an article,” The world’s oldest democracy and the world’s largest democracy are natural partners, sharing important interests and fundamental democratic values.” President Obama’s maiden visit to India took place in November,2010 and happily coincided with Diwali,India’s spectacular festival of lights. In his 40 minute mesmeric address to the joint session of the Indian Parliament on 8th November,2010, President Obama said, “India is not simply emerging; India has already emerged. And it is my firm belief that the relationship between the United States and India-bound by our shared interests and values-will be one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century. This is the partnership I have come here to build. This is the vision that our nations can realize together…And let me say it as clearly as I can: the United States not only welcomes India as a rising global power, we fervently support it, and we have worked to help make it a reality…I want every Indian citizen to know: the United States of America will not simply be cheering you on from the sidelines. We will be right there with you, shoulder to shoulder. Because we believe in the promise of India.”
At the virtual end of September,2014,Prime Minister Modi went on a whirlwind 5 day trip to the United States,visiting New York and Washington, D.C. The enthusiasm, coverage and above all the hype that the trip generated was simply stupendous.During that visit, Obama hosted a special private dinner for Modi at the Blue Room of the White House and welcomed Modi with a “Kem Cho” greeting in Gujrati at the doorstep of the White House. On that occasion,Modi presented Obama with a special edition of the Gita by Mahatma Gandhi bound in a Khadi cover and audio-video clips from Martin Luther King’s India visit in 1959.Obama also took Modi on a personal tour of the Martin Luther King Memorial on the National Mall in Washington.The highpoint of Modi’s visit was his Bollywood style appearance at the famed Madison Square Garden in New York where he delivered a truly awesome speech to over 18,000 thunderously cheering members of the Indian diaspora from a rotating stage.
Obama visited India for the second time in January,2015 and was the Chief Guest at our last Republic Day parade on 26th January,2015. In his joint press conference with Obama on 25th January,2015 at Hyderabad House, Modi welcomed Obama with the following words,“The promise and potential of this relationship has never been in doubt. This is a natural global partnership. It has become even more relevant in the digital age. It is needed even more in our world of far-reaching changes and widespread turmoil.The success of this partnership is important for our progress and for advancing peace, stability and prosperity around the world.” And Obama aptly replied,“As two great democracies, two innovative economies, two societies dedicated to the empowerment of our people — including millions of Indian-Americans — we are natural partners. This new partnership will not happen overnight. It’s going to take time to build and some patience. But it’s clear from this visit that we have a new and perhaps unprecedented opportunity, and deepening our ties with India is going to remain a top foreign policy priority for my administration.So let me just say Chalein Saath Saath.”On 26th January,2015, Modi at the Indo-USA CEO Forum’s Summit at the Taj Palace Hotel said, “As the two largest democracies, we have a fundamental stake in each other’s success – for the sake of our values and our shared interests. Working by ourselves, we can still advance our common interests. But, if we work together, we can achieve greater success. Our partnership will be vital for prosperity at home and our economic leadership abroad. It will help address global challenges of our times…And, our relationship will be indispensable in shaping its course. In the strength of our partnership, I see a greater chance for a world united in shared pursuits and common purpose.Quite simply, the joined hands of India and the United States will make this world a better place for all.” Obama warmly reciprocated Modi’s sentiments and asserted in ringing tones, “ We’re advancing the vision that I laid out on my last visit — India and the United States as true global partners. And a core element of this vision is greater trade, investment and economic partnership. Our two business communities — all of you — have been some of the strongest champions for a closer relationship, and I want to thank you for your commitment. You understand better than anybody that in our globalized world, the fortunes of the United States and the fortunes of India are inextricably linked. We can grow and we can prosper together, and establish a set of global norms in terms of how business is done that will benefit not just our two countries, but people around the world.” Significantly,during Obama’s second visit to India,the civil nuclear deal between the two great democracies finally saw the light of day and is now being steadily implemented by both nations in a spirit of rare camaraderie.
It is not given to us to peer into the mysteries of the future. But I avow my hope and faith, sure and inviolable, that in the days to come Indian and American people will, for their own sake and for the good of all keep the flame of the Nehru‑Kennedy spirit burning bright and forge an unwritten alliance, far closer in fact than many which exist in writing. I need hardly add that I am extremely optimistic that US India ties would be further consolidated and strengthened now that Obama has visited India for the second time and has helped to set in motion the Namobama mantra in close unision with Modi.
Advocate,Supreme Court of India
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