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Modi, Obama cut through winter chill with bear hug, smiles

The leaders of the world's two biggest democracies clasped each other in a bear hug on a cold winter morning, setting the tone for the summit between them later in the day.

india Updated: Jan 26, 2015 03:18 IST
Chetan Chauhan
Chetan Chauhan
Hindustan Times
Barack Obama,Narendra Modi,Barack Obama visit

As US President Barack Obama emerged from Air Force One at the Palam airbase on Sunday morning, the warmth between the world's most powerful man and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was palpable.

The leaders of the world's two biggest democracies clasped each other in a bear hug on a cold winter morning, setting the tone for the summit between them later in the day.

It was not unusual for Obama to be received by the Indian Prime Minister on the tarmac. Manmohan Singh too had received him in 2010, but this time, an informal Modi showed India wanted more than just cordial relations with the US by building on the beginning made by the two leaders when they met in Washington in September 2014.

Relations between the two countries had dipped to an all-time low in 2014 after Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade was arrested and strip-searched in the US but Modi and Obama have been keen to resolve many pending issues, including operationalising the Indo-US civil nuclear deal, to put in place one of the "defining partnerships of the 21st century".

Not only has Modi refrained from voicing bitterness over irritants in bilateral relations, his first meeting with Obama at the White House in September went far better than many had hoped.

"I think they struck uop a very good chemistry," White House Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes was quoted as saying by AFP as he recalled how the pair had had a long discussion over dinner.

Modi personally invited Obama to be chief guest at the Republic Day Parade on Monday - the first time the signal honour has been accorded to a US president.

Obama sounded optimistic after the traditional welcome at the Rashtrapati Bhawan in the afternoon, saying it was "great to be back" in India for a second time. He is the only US president to visit India a second time while in office.

The US president was accorded a ceremonial reception at the decked up forecourt of the Rashtrapati Bhavan, with the grand ceremony followed by a guard of honour led by Wing Commander Pooja Thakur of the Indian Air Force.

Obama also received a 21-gun salute in the presence of President Pranab Mukherjee, Modi and his senior cabinet colleagues. The national anthems of both countries were played to welcome the visiting dignitary.

Looking visibly elated, Thakur later told the media that she was probably the first woman to lead a battalion for a ceremony for a visiting head of a state. Women's empowerment will also be a highlight of the Republic Day parade.

Away from the media frenzy, Obama and Modi - with their delegations - spent a couple of hours at Hyderabad House to overcome the sticky issues related to deals on the civil use of nuclear energy and climate change.

Amid the tough negotiations, Modi served tea to Obama during a "walk and talk session" on the lawns of Hyderabad House, which afforded the two leaders an opportunity to have a quiet chat on a range of issues away from their aides. Modi also took Obama for a round of Hyderabad House, the erstwhile residence of the Nizam of Hyderabad, and showed him some antiques reflecting India's rich culture and heritage.

First Published: Jan 25, 2015 16:35 IST