US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi warmed up a cold Delhi morning with their crackling chemistry on Sunday as the leaders of the world’s two largest democracies hugged tightly, minutes after Air Force One landed in Palam.
The personal equation was evident hours later when Modi and Obama hugged again after a joint press conference. Their interaction was marked by this informal touch, be it the PM serving tea to Obama or their ‘walk and talk’ on the lawns of Hyderabad House.
Both leaders acknowledged the chemistry, with Modi calling it part of his broader approach to diplomacy.
“I’m fairly new in this area but relations between countries depend less on full stops, commas, and more on the personal chemistry between leaders. I think this is very important and will only grow,” said Modi at the press conference.
Obama concurred. “In addition to our personal friendship, we are reflecting the warmth between the people of India and the US,” he said.
Their bond hinged on mutual admiration and respect. At the state banquet in Rashtrapati Bhavan in the evening, Obama hailed the political success achieved by Modi, who stormed into power less than a year ago.
“Your father sold tea and your mother worked in houses and today you greeted me as India’s PM. People said my life’s story can only happen in America. I say, Mr. Prime Minister, your life’s story can only happen in India,” Obama said.
This chemistry was the common thread through the day. At the airport, their handshake continued for a long time. At Hyderabad House, a formal pose of the two leaders was broken by the US President as he kept his hand on the PM’s shoulder.
After their working lunch, Modi and Obama went for a ‘walk and talk’, and were seen in deep discussion. As they sat down for further conversation, Modi—who had coined Chai pe Charcha as a successful campaign tool, served tea to Obama.
The US President, known for his communication skills, complimented the PM later. “Your reputation preceded you. At Madison Square Garden, you were greeted like a Bollywood star. Thank you for Chai pe Charcha,” Obama told Modi.
Bilateral relations took a hit only a year ago after Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade’s arrest but have been on the upswing since Modi’s September meeting with Obama in Washington.
“Barack and I have forged a friendship. There is openness when we talk on the phone and we also crack jokes,” Modi revealed at the press meet, his first-name reference of Obama another indication of the level of comfort between them. Leaders rarely address each other by their first name in public, especially at high-level summits.
“This chemistry has brought Barack closer to me but also brought the people of India and America closer” the PM said.