New Delhi: Why has President Barack Obama decided to make a second visit to India on his watch which is rather unprecedented for the American presidency? There are, obviously, the usual explanations, commencing from Prime Minister Narendra Modi inviting him and he accepting, and reaching far into the whole gamut of relations between the world’s oldest and largest democracies on opposite sides of Earth. But there is something more which has to do with the personality of Narendra Modi and his dazzling success in the general election this year and since.

Regardless of whether a politician belongs to the West, East, the First World or the Third, they learn from others of their flock. The dictators watch each other, sometimes watchfully and antagonistically, and try on other occasions to learn from one another’s successes and mistakes. The Chinese leadership, for example, was determined not to commit Mikhail Gorbachev’s blunder of encouraging political freedom in the old Soviet Union which brought it down faster. Leaders of democracies also take mutual lessons and sometimes form a mutual admiration society. As the newest mass leader on the world stage, there is much interest about Narendra Modi, and this was evident in the East Asia and G-20 Summits.

Narendra Modi’s rise comes at a particularly fraught time for leaders of Western democracies. Barack Obama is perhaps the most unpopular United States president in recent memory. According to some analysis, his low poll of around 40 per cent suggests that his own Democratic Party constituents are disenchanted with him; the party’s mid-term losses makes it more conclusive. The situation is not happy either for the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, who is already warning of future recession to insulate his government from criticism in the coming polls being strongly contested by the opposition Labour Party. The French presidency is a disgrace for a great nation like France. Only Angela Merkel of Germany holds up amidst the decay and general hopelessness of European democracies but that is more due to the hardworking and industrious qualities of the German people than any exceptionality displayed by the chancellor.

In all this, Barack Obama’s sorry situation is particularly noteworthy. As a scholarly thinking president, Obama beats most of his recent predecessors except perhaps Bill Clinton, whose remarkable intellectuality includes the entire memorization of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. In the first years of Barack Obama’s presidency, this writer heard neutral Americans say that he had expended himself in winning the election. His personal ambition was limited to electoral triumph and he had no vision for his presidency. Not all of Obama’s failures are his fault. He inherited a tottering capitalistic economy in which the state had to bail out big companies and banks. And he had to pull out the United States from foreign interventions that did not advance America’s national security while bleeding its military and economy.

But you can only curse your inheritance so much. Politics is a creative enterprise. You have to make the best of a bad deal; Obama’s presidential heroes, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt, did it. In his own way, Narendra Modi is doing it in India, trying to turn the base metal of 10-year United Progressive Alliance rule into gold, and very likely to succeed where the alchemists failed. To use a sporting phrase, Barack Obama choked up in his presidency. He got daunted by his responsibilities. He knew so much (like poor Manmohan Singh) that he was afraid to do anything new; it happens to a majority of academics. His supreme moment was the score-settling with Osama Bin Laden when he showed presidential cool, courage and steel. Before and since, it has been a wasted presidency; his latest initiative for illegal immigrants smells of bad odour.

It is his inability to get anything right that is probably driving Obama to learn from Narendra Modi by close association. When Modi went to the US as prime minister in September, this writer wrote that Obama and he would hit it off, and that the US president had a lot to learn from Modi. It has turned out so. Narendra Modi is a political genius. His ability to devise the simplest political solution to complex problems is without parallel in the democratic world today. His sway over the masses is unbelievable. A friend of this writer calls him a magician. It is the Modi magic which has drawn President Obama to India again.

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