Then-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had resisted calls to retaliate against Pakistan after the 26/11 attacks, “but his restraint had cost him politically,” and Singh had expressed fears to US President Barack Obama the rising anti-Muslim sentiment had strengthened the BJP.
Obama has said this in his memoir while recalling his conversation with Singh during his visit to India in December 2010. The first volume of the much-anticipated book, ‘A Promised Land,’ hits the bookstores on Tuesday.
“He feared that rising anti-Muslim sentiment had strengthened the influence of India’s main opposition party, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In uncertain times, Mr President,” the prime minister said, “the call of religious and ethnic solidarity can be intoxicating. And it’s not so hard for politicians to exploit that, in India or anywhere else,” Obama wrote about the conversation.
Obama said he found Singh to be “wise, thoughtful, and scrupulously honest. Singh and I had developed a warm and productive relationship. While he could be cautious in foreign policy, unwilling to get out too far ahead of an Indian bureaucracy that was historically suspicious of US intentions, our time together confirmed my initial impression of him as a man of uncommon wisdom and decency…. What I couldn’t tell was whether Singh’s rise to power represented the future of India’s democracy or merely an aberration.”
The former US President wrote, “In fact, he owed his position to Sonia Gandhi…more than one political observer believed that she’d chosen Singh precisely because as an elderly Sikh with no national political base, he posed no threat to her forty-year-old son, Rahul, whom she was grooming to take over the Congress Party.”
Obama described Sonia Gandhi as a “striking woman in her sixties, dressed in a traditional sari, with dark, probing eyes and a quiet, regal presence.”
“At dinner that night, Sonia Gandhi listened more than she spoke, careful to defer to Singh when policy matters came up and often steered the conversation toward her son. It became clear to me, though, that her power was attributable to a shrewd and forceful intelligence. As for Rahul, he seemed smart and earnest; his good looks were resembling his mother’s.
“He offered up his thoughts on the future of progressive politics, occasionally pausing to probe me on the details of my 2008 campaign. But there was a nervous, unformed quality about him as if he were a student who’d done the coursework and was eager to impress the teacher but deep down lacked either the aptitude or the passion for mastering the subject.”
Obama wrote, “As it was getting late, I noticed Singh fighting off sleep, lifting his glass every so often to wake himself up with a sip of water. I signaled to Michelle that it was time to say our goodbyes.”