At his erudite best, US President Barack Obama on Sunday enthralled the generation next of India with his views on a host of issues related to India-US relationship, Pakistan, Islam and his Gandhi ‘connect’.
In a freewheeling interaction with Mumbai university students in typical US town-hall style at the St Xavier’s College, Obama answered some tough questions from the young minds, questions which even seasoned journalist would find it difficult to put forth.
Starting with a ‘Namaste’, Obama once again reiterated the extraordinary amount of respect for the rich civilization that he and Michelle have for India and went on to stress the limitless possibility of the Indo-US relationship.
The US President said he wanted to take ties with India to another level and asserted that the South Asian nation has already “risen” as a power.
“The common thread that runs is my determination to take partnership (between the two countries) to an entirely new level,” Obama said, adding that the US did not consider India only as an emerging power. “We believe that India has already risen,” said Obama.
Obama, who has chosen to stay at the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel as a tribute to victims of the 26/11 terror attack, said he was struck by the resilience of the Indian people.
Obama later invited questions from the students.
The first question: What is your take on jihad?
Obama answered: “Jehad has lot of meanings… but it is subject to lot of interpretations. More than a billion people in the world practice Islam. It is a great religion and symbolises peace, justice, fairness and tolerance.”
“The notion that violence is the way to mediate differences needs to be rejected. Overwhelming majority of people following Islam wants peace,” he added.
“We recognise this great religion…This great religion, in the hands of a few extremeists, has been distorted….One of the challenges we face is how we isolate those who have distorted its vision,” he said at the St Xavier`s College.
“It is a major challenge in India and around the world…” Obama said.
How can governments wean away their citizens from being materialistic and encourage them to adopt human values?
Obama said: “I don`t want any young person to be dismissive. A health materialism is good. But if all you are thinking about is material wealth then that is poverty of ambition”.
“I think this is something that the US and India share, that is a healthy scepticism about electoral politics. In some cases in India the private sector is moving faster than public sector. I hope some of you will get involved in public service which can be frustrating and slow,” he said.
“But India will need you not just as businessmen but also as leaders who will make government more responsible and is as important. Otherwise there will be an imbalance,” he added.
Obama also gave the example of Mahatma Gandhi in the context of materialistic wealth.
“When I was at Gandhi`s room (Mani Bhavan) it was telling that the only objects in the room were a mat, a spinning wheel, sandals, a few papers and this man changed the history like no one else did in the 20th century in terms of the number of lives he effected,” the President said.