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Manmohan-Obama connect: That special chemistry

Three decades may divide them, but no two world leaders share that special chemistry and intellectual delight of being in each other's company as Barack Obama and Manmohan Singh do.

delhi Updated: Nov 09, 2010 16:19 IST

Three decades may divide them, but no two world leaders share that special chemistry and intellectual delight of being in each other's company as Barack Obama and Manmohan Singh do. And it is this personal equation the two sides are banking on for a breakthrough as negotiations go down to the wire on complex issues between the two countries.

On the face of it, no one will suspect them of having much in common, one an Afro-American born to a white American mother and Kenyan father, and another a Sikh Indian born in what is now Pakistani Punjab.

But what they share is something deeper: What Obama has called the audacity to dream, and to entwine the surging hopes of their countrymen around that dream.

Both are intellectuals with impeccable pedigreed education: Obama is a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School. Manmohan Singh studied economics at Panjab University before heading for the Economics Tripos at Cambridge and D.Phil at Oxford University.

Both had humble origins, and rose to become the leaders of their countries.

Both are introverts, self-fashioners and love ideas, say officials and aides who have seen them up close.

"They get along wonderfully. Both are cerebral leaders who love discussing ideas and have enormous respect for each other," a senior prime ministerial aide told IANS.

The 78-year-old Manmohan Singh and 49-year-old Obama, an admirer of Mahatma Gandhi, got along famously since they met first at the G20 summit in London in April last year.

"He's somebody who has had a close intellectual connection with the president on a range of issues surrounding economic growth and development," said Ben Rhodes, Obama's speech writer and US Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communication.

And they both have not shied away from their open admiration for each other, prompting some critics to call them a "mutual admiration society".

Manmohan Singh has called him an "icon" and "an inspiration for millions of Indians" many a time since he was elected the first African-American president of the US in November 2008. At the G20 summit in Montreal in June, Obama said: "Whenever the Indian Prime Minister speaks, the whole world listens to him."

In barely 20 months, the two leaders have met four times on the sidelines of multilateral summits and once for full-scale bilateral talks when Obama hosted the first state dinner of his presidency for Manmohan Singh in Washington Nov 24 last year.

One year later, Manmohan Singh will be hosting Obama and his wife Michelle for a private dinner at his residence Sunday night before they sit down for wide-ranging talks the next day.

Officials of the two sides are banking on this personal rapport between the two for a breakthrough on complex issues like high-tech exports and India's membership of the UN Security Council.

The two leaders will try to resolve some of these differences when they hold a one-on-one meeting before joining other guests at the private dinner at the prime ministerial residence at 7, Race Course Road Sunday, said well informed sources.

They will have another opportunity to break the deadlock over some issues when they meet for restricted talks for over half an hour at Hyderabad House Monday. But in the end, what unites them and makes them click is sure to outweigh differences, if any, as they propel their nations to forge the 21st century friendship that Obama described as a "defining and indispensable partnership".