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Modi, Obama open hearts in 'Mann Ki Baat', share values

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Barack Obama bonded over their humble beginnings on a radio show aired on Tuesday, just after the American leader ended his New Delhi visit.

india Updated: Jan 28, 2015 07:45 IST
HT Correspondent and Agencies
HT Correspondent and Agencies
Obama's India visit,Obama in India,Narendra Modi

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Barack Obama bonded over their humble beginnings on a radio show— the first joint radio address by and Indian PM and US President— aired on Tuesday, just after the American leader ended his New Delhi visit. The show “Mann ki Baat” is Modi's monthly address to the nation.

Replete with rich personal anecdotes, the 30-minute radio talk had the two leaders say they never imagined reaching high positions.

"I think both of us have been blessed with extraordinary opportunity, coming from relatively humble beginnings," Obama said in answer to a question. "When I think about what's best in America and what's best in India, the notion that a tea seller or somebody who is born to a single mother, like me, could end up leading our countries is an extraordinary example of the opportunities that exist within our countries."

Modi added that he had never imagined holding the country's top office "because, as Barack said, I came from a very humble background".

As the son of a lower-caste tea vendor, Modi's backstory is often compared to Obama's inspirational rise to become America's first black president.

Public Health

Obama also said he hoped to work towards improving healthcare in India after demitting office. Talking about obesity, he said, "This is an issue that we would like to work on internationally, including here in India. And it is a part of a broader set of issues around global health that we need to address."

He revealed that he had discussed with Modi on dealing with issues like a pandemic and ensuring good alert systems so that if a disease like Ebola, or a deadly flu virus, or Polio appears, it is detected quickly and then treated quickly without spreading.

Obama congratulated Modi for "doing a great job in focusing on these issues here in India".

Gender Bias

Modi praised the way Obama is raising his two daughters calling it an "inspiration" for India where preferences to have sons has resulted in a wide gender gap.

Modi said the sex ratio in India is a concern. He rued that the number of girls when compared to boys is low.

"The main reason for this is that, there is a defect in our attitudes towards boys and girls," he said. "To save the girl child and to educate the girl child is our social duty, cultural duty, and humanitarian responsibility. We should honour it."

Modi-Obama relationship

A newfound bonhomie between the two leaders was fully evident in Obama's latest visit, which saw bear hugs, first-name references, a new "friendship" pact, and even compliments on Modi's sense of fashion.

Modi repeatedly addressed Obama by his first name, 19 times in all. This excludes instances of Modi references to the word “Barack” in his introductory talk, where he dwelt upon the etymological meaning of the US President’s first name that comes from Swahili. However, Obama stuck to “Mr Prime Minister” every time he addressed Modi.

For the pre-recorded programme, many took the opportunity to use an open forum created by the government at and the hashtag #AskObamaModi to ask questions for the two leaders.

Modi said he was “touched” when Obama gifted him a book on Swami Vivekananda during his US visit last year.

Read the full transcript of Modi, Obama's joint radio programme 'Mann ki Baat' here.

First Published: Jan 27, 2015 18:38 IST