President Obama attended India’s Republic Day parade Monday, a stunning display of military might, including lavish floats, dance performances, and daredevil feats on motorcycles. Helicopters and fighter jets flew overhead. Military equipment rolled down Rajpath, complete with tanks, rocket launchers and regiments of Indian armed forces marching in formation.
Yet there’s a hidden side to the India political landscape. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a savvy politician, with more than 6 million Twitter followers and ranked by Forbes as the 15th most powerful person.
In the real world, Modi would be labeled as a “dick.” During his political ascent, he kept his marriage a secret for decades, admitting only last year that his wife existed. Jashodaben Chimanlal Modi is a retired teacher living in a small town in Modi’s Gujarat home state. And although she’s not heard from Modi in years, she still hopes to join him one day in the capital as his spouse. After their marriage, Modi never returned. He never divorced either, even after becoming the high-profile chief minister of Gujarat and then Prime Minister.
Modi seems too self-absorbed. From afar, the suit Modi wore to meet President Obama appears to be navy blue with wide gold stripes. Yet the stripes were actually embroidered letters that spelling out Modi’s name. I don’t know, maybe he forgets who he is and requires such constant reminder.
Still, with all the pomp and circumstance, one would figure India could display something more than modern day weaponry. How about living wages, jobs and women’s rights? In the backdrop of Obama’s visit, there is no easy explanation of a woman’s life in modern day India. Depending upon where you live, whether you are rich or poor, almost every Indian woman has one thing in common: they have most certainly experienced some form of sexual harassment.
As traditional values dissolve, modern values are not widely accepted.
As the New York Times reported, “… in a pointed message, President Obama said India needed to combat human trafficking and slavery, elevate the status of girls and women in society, promote religious and racial tolerance and empower young people. He also argued that India had an obligation to curb greenhouse gases despite its economic challenges.”
“Every girl’s life matters,” he said, as his wife, Michelle Obama, watched from the audience. “Every daughter deserves the same chance as our sons. Every woman should be able to go about her day, to walk the street or ride the bus, and be safe and be treated with respect and dignity. She deserves that.”
Just before the speech, Obama met with Kailash Satyarthi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who has long fought child slavery in India. Mr. Satyarthi told him there were still five million children living as slaves worldwide.
What if Pranab and Modi dedicated Obama’s entire visit to the referendum of social reform required for modernizing India. By focusing on education, social justice for women, healthcare, quality living away from slums, they could start dealing a severe blow to the prevalent caste system. Instead of a military procession, what if Pranab and Modi opened a chain of schools, hospitals, orphanages and libraries throughout the country? What if India provided relief during famines, earthquakes and epidemics?
That would be very Buddhist, very Christian. What if Pranab and Modi created positive karma for others and not for themselves? Should they have done so, they could transform the law of cause and effect by helping others create their own destiny.
Maybe all of us should do as much.