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Thursday, March 4, 2021

Obama and Modi: Joint radio address

Reading Time: 10 minutesHighlights of remarks made by US President Obama and Prime Minister Modi of the Republic of India on ‘Mann ki Baat’

Obama on his visit to India:
President Obama: Let me say to the people of India how honoured I am to be the first American President to join you for Republic Day.  I’m told this is also the first-ever radio address by an Indian Prime Minister and an American President together, so we’re making a lot of history in a short time.
We just came from discussions in which we affirmed that India and the United States are natural partners, because we have so much in common.  We’re two great democracies, two innovative economies, two diverse societies dedicated to empowering individuals.  We are linked together by millions of proud Indian Americans who still have family and carry on traditions from India.
People are very excited in the United States about the energy that Prime Minister Modi is bringing to efforts in this country to reduce extreme poverty and lift people up, to empower women, to provide access to electricity and clean energy, and invest in infrastructure and the education system.
And I think there’s a common theme in these issues.  It gives us a chance to reaffirm what Gandhiji reminded us should be a central aim of our lives, and that is we should endeavour to see God through service of humanity because God is in everyone. So these shared values, these convictions are a large part of why I’m so committed to this relationship. I believe that if the United States and India join together on the world stage around these values, then not only will our peoples be better off, but I think the world will be more prosperous and more peaceful and more secure for the future.

On the Educate the Girl Child mission:
PM Modi: The poor sex ratio in India is a cause of great concern.  We have a sex ratio of a thousand boys, and in comparison to that the number of girls is very low.  And even our way of looking at, or our perspective of viewing women and men, girls and boys, is something that needs to be rectified.
I think when we look at President Obama and the way in which he has brought up his two daughters, I think this is an inspiration for us. In our country, we have so many people, and we have so many families where there are no sons and they only have daughters, and they do bring up their daughters very proudly.  And I think that is an inspiration.  And I think this kind of inspiration can be a strength for us.
Save the Girl Child, Educate the Girl Child is a social responsibility that we have.  It’s a responsibility that we have towards our culture, it’s a responsibility towards humanity.

On Michelle Obama and her work against obesity and diabetes
President Obama:  We very much look forward to partnering with organisations and the government and non-governmental organizations here in India around broader public health issues, including the issue of obesity.
I’m very proud of the work that Michelle has done on this issue.  We’re seeing a worldwide epidemic of obesity, in many cases starting at a very young age.  Part of it has to do with the increase in processed foods not naturally prepared.  Part of it is the lack of activity for too many children.  And once they’re on this path, it can lead to a lifetime of health challenges.
And so this is an issue that we’d like to work on internationally, including here in India.  And it is part of a broader set of issues around global health that we need to address.  The Prime Minister and I have discussed, for example, how we can do a better job in dealing with issues like pandemic, and making sure that we have good alert systems so that if a disease like Ebola, or a deadly flu virus, or Polio appears, that it’s detected quickly and then treated quickly so that it doesn’t spread.
And the public health infrastructure around the world needs to be improved.  I think the Prime Minister is doing a great job in focusing on these issues here in India, and India has a lot to teach many other countries who may not be advancing as rapidly in improving this public health sector.

On Modi’s first visit to the White House as a tourist
PM Modi: When I went to America for the first time I couldn’t actually get into the White House, of course.  There was a big iron fence outside the White House.  And we had a photograph of ourselves clicked standing in front of that fence. And when I became Prime Minister, of course, that photograph has also become quite popular.
But at that time, of course, I never thought that I would have the opportunity of actually going into the White House. But one thing really did touch my heart and I can never forget it.  Barack gifted me a book, and I think he took a lot of trouble to actually find that book.  In 1894, that book became famous.  It had to do with Swami Vivekananda who is one of the people I really deeply regard.  There was a world religion conference in Chicago in 1894, and this was a compilation of the proceedings of that conference.
And his gifting me that book was something that really deeply touched me.  And it wasn’t just that.  He had actually opened that book, read through that book, and actually put notes on the pages for me.  And very proudly, he said that, I am from Chicago, and that is a city to which Swami Vivekananda had gone to. And as I said, that deeply touched me, and I do consider that is something that is my heritage.  I never did think that standing in front of the White House, having a photograph taken, and actually going into the White House and being gifted a book of somebody I deeply respect – I mean, you can imagine how deeply that must have touched me.

Narendra Modi (second from left) in front of the White House in the early 1990s

 
On whether they thought they would reach the positions they hold today
President Obama: I think both of us have been blessed with extraordinary opportunity, coming from relatively humble beginnings. And 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.
Now, I think part of what motivates both you and I (sic) is the belief that there are millions of children out there who have the same potential but may not have the same education, may not be getting exposed to opportunities in the same way.  And so part of our job, part of government’s job, is that young people who have talent and who have drive and are willing to work for it are able to succeed.
And that’s why emphasising school, higher education, making sure that children are healthy, and making sure those opportunities are available to children of all backgrounds, girls and boys, people of all religious faiths and all races in the United States is so important, because you never know who might be the next prime minister of India or who might be the next president of the United States.  They might not always look the part right off the bat, and they might just surprise you if you give them a chance.

PM Modi: For a very long time, I remember that I told people that don’t ever imagine you’re going to become somebody, don’t ever dream of becoming somebody. If you have to dream something then dream of doing something. Because when you do something you also get satisfaction and you’re inspired to do more. If you only want to become something and then you don’t become what you wanted to become, you are disappointed. And that is why I never, ever dreamt of becoming someone.
And even today, I don’t dream of becoming somebody, but certainly I do dream of doing things. I do want to serve my country.  I want to serve the 1.25 billion people in my country. And I think that there can’t be anything more ambitious than that.

 
The youth of the new generation is a global citizen.  He’s not limited by time or boundaries.  In such a situation, what should be the approach by our leadership, governments, as well as societies at large? 
President Obama: When I look at this generation that’s coming up, they’re exposed to the world in ways that you and I could hardly imagine. They have the world at their fingertips, literally. They can, using their mobile phone, get information and images from all around the world.  And that’s extraordinarily powerful. And what that means I think is, is that governments and leaders cannot simply try to govern or rule by a top-down strategy, but rather have to reach out to people in an inclusive way and an open way and a transparent way, and engage in a dialogue with citizens about the direction of their country.
And one of the great things about India and the United States is we’re both open societies, and we have confidence and faith that when citizens have information and there’s a vigorous debate, that over time, even though sometimes democracy is frustrating, the best decisions and the most stable societies emerge, and the most prosperous societies emerge, and new ideas are constantly being exchanged.  And technology today I think facilitates that not just within countries but across countries.

On which American leader has inspired him

PM Modi: When we were small, we used to look at Kennedy’s photographs in the newspapers, and we thought his personality was really impressive.  But the question is, who inspired me?
I had a great interest for reading when I was young, and I did read Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography.  He lived to a ripe old age, and he never did become President of the United States.  But his life is really inspirational:  how one person can manage to change his life; how he can make those attempts intelligently; how he can deliberately seek to reduce the number of hours that he needs to sleep, how to reduce the amount of food – the kind of hunger that he feels; and how to influence people who are angry with him, how to find solutions to that.
I always tell everyone that we need to read about Benjamin Franklin’s life.  He’s an inspiration to me, even today.  He was a multifaceted personality.  He was a political scientist.  He was a thinker.  He was a social worker.  And he came from a very humble background.  He wasn’t able to complete his schooling, but he has had a profound influence on American life and thought, even today.  And I really found his life to be truly inspirational, and I would like to motivate you to read about his life.
Benjamin Franklin

On what inspires them
President Obama: I say sometimes that the only problems that come to my desk are the ones that nobody else solves.  If they were easy questions, then somebody else would have solved them before they reached me.  So there are days when it’s tough and frustrating.  And that’s true in foreign affairs, that’s true in domestic affairs.
But I tell you what inspires me…Almost every day I meet somebody who tells me, you made a difference in my life.  So they’ll say, the health care law that you passed saved my child who didn’t have health insurance, and they were able to get an examination from a physician, and they caught an early tumour and now he’s doing fine.  Or they’ll say, you helped me save my home during the economic crisis.  Or they’ll say, I couldn’t go to college, and the program you set has allowed me to go to the university.
And sometimes they’re thanking you for things that you did four or five years ago.  Sometimes they’re thanking you for things you don’t even remember or you’re not thinking about that day.  But it’s a reminder of what you said earlier, which is if you focus on getting things done as opposed to just occupying an office or maintaining power, then the satisfaction that you get is unmatched.
And the good thing about service is that anybody can do it.  If you’re helping somebody else, the satisfaction that you can get from that I think exceeds anything else that you can do.  And that’s usually what makes me inspired to do more, and helps get through the challenges and difficulties that we all have -because obviously we’re not the only people with bad days at work.  I think everybody knows what it’s like to have a bad day at work.  You just have to keep on working through it.  Eventually, you’ll make a difference.

PM Modi:  Barack has really spoken from the heart.  Because no matter what office we hold, we are all individuals, we are all human beings first.  And listening to this, I also feel like recounting an episode from my life.
For many years, I was working, I was single, and I was occupied with my work.  And a lot of people at that time used to give me food to eat.  And there was one family that used to invite me very often, but I never went to their house because I felt they were very poor, and I thought if I go to their house and have dinner, then it will be a burden on them.  But one day, because they were so affectionate and kept inviting me, I did bow to their wishes and visited them.
They had a very small hut. There was a very small place to sit there.  They gave me something to eat, which was a piece of bread and some milk.  And they had a small child who was looking at that milk, was just staring at it.  And it looked as if the child had never even seen milk.  So I quickly gave that glass of milk to the child, and immediately, within seconds, he just drank up that milk.  His own parents were quite angry with him because he had had my milk, but I experienced at that point that perhaps that child had never had any milk besides his mother’s milk.  And they had wanted to feed me well, and that’s why they had gone and got milk.
And it really touched me that somebody living in a poor hut, a poor family would go through that kind of trouble to feed me.  And you need to actually dedicate your life to serving these people, and that is something that inspires me.

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Kira Spucys-Tahar
Kira has a passion for politics, and enjoys puzzles, bad jokes and cuddles with her cat.

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