New Delhi | A special radio programme featuring US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi was aired tonight, devoid of any hard issues like politics and foreign affairs but focussed on social issues and personal matters related to the two leaders. The 35-minute special broadcast of ‘Mann Ki Baat’, which marked the bonhomine between Modi and Obama, touched on issues like girl child, public health and personal experiences of the two leaders, both of whom have risen from humble backgrounds to assume to top positions of the respective countries.
The programme, recorded yesterday, was virtually conducted by Modi, who read out the questions received from various parts of the country and both the leaders answered them. At the outset, Modi said most of the questions posed by people were connected to politics, foreign policy, economic policy. However, some questions touch the heart. And I believe if we touch those questions today, we shall be able to reach out to the common man in different parts of the country.
Obama, before answering the questions, said ‘namaste’ to the listeners and talked about his discussions with Modi and how his country wants to be a partner in India’s endeavour to lift its billions of people from poverty. He expressed keenness to partner India in development of infrastructure and in provision of facilities like clean energy and electricity.
Obama was asked whether he, after the end of his Presidency, will work in the field of health care, particularly addressing the problems of diabetes and obesity, like Bill Gates and his wife Melinda. To this, the US President said he was looking forward to partnering with organizations, and the government and non-governmental organizations here in India, around broader public health issues including the issue of obesity.
He said his wife Michelle has already done a lot on this issue. 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 said he had discussed with Modi how a better job can be done in dealing with issues like pandemic and making sure that there are 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.
The public health infrastructure around the world needs to be improved, the US President said and patted the back of Modi for doing a great job in focusing on these issues here in India. He said India has a lot to teach many other countries who may not be advancing as rapidly in improving this public health sector. …we think that there is a lot of progress to be made here and I am very excited about the possibilities of considering this work even after I leave office.
To a question on girl child, Modi said there is a lot of worry because of the sex ratio in India as for every 1000 boys, the number of girls is less. The main reason for this is that, there is a defect in our attitudes towards boys and girls, he said. In this respect, the Prime Minister said, the life of the US President is an inspiration, considering the way he has brought up his two daughters, the way he is proud of his two daughters. He underlined that to save the girl child and to educate the girl child is our social duty, cultural duty, and humanitarian responsibility. We should honour it.
Noting that they come from very humble backgrounds, both Obama and Modi said they had never imagined that they would occupy the top positions in their respective countries. They said this in response to a question to Modi in which the questioner said that there was an old photograph of his clicked outside the White House and whether he had ever thought that one day he would go inside to meet the President.
At that time, I had never thought that sometime in my life, I would get a chance to visit the White House, said Modi who met Obama there in Washington last September. Obama added: The same is true for me. When I first went to the White House, I stood outside that same fence, and looked in, and I certainly did not imagine that I would ever be visiting there, much less living there. In this context, he said, I think both of us have been blessed with an extraordinary opportunity, coming from relatively humble beginnings.
And when I think about whats best in America and whats best in India, the notion that a tea seller or somebody whos 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. He said 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.
So a part of our job, a part of governments job is that young people who have talent, and who have drive and are willing to work for, are able to succeed. And thats why we are emphasizing 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 of 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 United States. They might not always look the part right off the bat. And they might just surprise you if you give them the chance.
Talking about the technology, Obama said the governments should 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 that we are both open societies.
And we have confidence and faith that when citizens have information, and there is 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, he said.
Describing technology as a facilitator, he said I have much greater faith in India and the United States, countries that are open information societies, in being able to succeed and thrive in this New Information Age; than closed societies that try to control the information that citizens receive. Because ultimately thats no longer possible. Information will flow inevitably, one way or the other, and we want to make sure we are fostering a healthy debate and a good conversation between all peoples. Modi talked about youth power and said, I believe, looking at the strength and reach of today’s youth, I would say, Youth, Unite the world.
I believe they have the strength and they can do it. One questioner asked: As leaders of two major economies, what inspires you and makes you smile at the end of a bad day at work? To this, Obama said, …the only problems that come to my desk are the ones that nobody else solves…. So there are days when its tough and frustrating. And thats true in Foreign Affairs. That is 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’. …But it is 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.
…I think everybody knows what it is like to have a bad day at work. You just have to keep on working through it. Eventually you make a difference.
A questioner asked Obama what experience will he share with his two daughters about his India visit when he returns home. Responding, the President said they very much wanted to come to India with him but unfortunately each time that I have taken a trip here, they had school and they couldnt leave school. He said Malia, his elder daughter, had exams just recently.
They are fascinated by the culture, and the history of India, in part because of my influence I think, they are deeply moved by Indias movement to Independence, and the role that Gandhi played, in not only the non-violent strategies here in India, but how those ended up influencing the non-violent Civil Rights Movement in the United States. So when I go back I am going to tell them that India is as magnificent as they imagined.
And I am quite sure that they are going to insist that I bring them back the next time I visit. It may not be during my Presidency, but afterwards they will definitely want to come and visit. Modi added to this by extending an invitation to Obama. Whether you come as President, or thereafter, India looks forward to welcoming you and your daughters.
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