New Orleans President Obama has now touched down in Mumbai. Reportedly he is being accompanied by over a hundred American business folks. The noon time arrival of Air Force One and all of these corporate jets from General Electric, Pepsico, and others, must have just about darkened the sky.
I hope his staff lets him know that all of the local celebrations are for Diwali, rather than his arrival. The Diwali tradition is one of gift giving, including to the poor. It would have been nice if Obama’s visit to India had not been so blatantly about “what’s in it for us,” and more subtly where we stand and how we are prepared to lead – yes, lead! – in poverty reduction. But, that’s just me, I’m sure. This trip is about business.
Some of that is fine, I’m sure, but there has to be a limit.
The Indian press has been filled with speculation that Prime Minister Singh may offer an olive branch to Obama by offering to accelerate modifications to foreign direct investment in finance, insurance, and multi-brand retail (see: www.indiafdiwatch.org to keep up with this longstanding coalition and campaign). Surely, Obama is not going to limp out of the US to India and come calling for Wal-Mart and Wall Street?
Larry “Punch Me in the Face” Summers was in Mumbai several weeks ahead at the Embassy as an advance man touting India as a “new economic model” for the future, but “punch me in the face,” Larry, if any of us understand exactly your argument yet, except with pom-poms and a cheerleading skirt. Vinod Shetty of ACORN India reports that in a meeting about 6 weeks ago a US trade representative met us extensively about our issues with FDI modification, but seemed to both be nodding his head in agreement and clueless about the entire process.
Dharmendra Kumar, ACORN International’s director in Delhi and the campaign director for the India FDI Watch Campaign, reports that traders and others are joining together to rally outside of the Parliament in Delhi on Monday for Obama’s speech so he understands that there are still places the US should not go when it impacts citizen wealth and livelihood so clearing in India. Allowing big box retail in without regulations, community, and labor protections puts the livelihood of 20,000,000 workers at risk who are currently employed in this work.
No matter what Singh whispers in Obama’s ears, it will literally be “sweet nothings” because the process to modify FDI is parliamentary and lengthy. There are stirrings in Parliament now for future hearings and more study, but neither the votes, nor the wisdom, have come together to win full modification given the fragility of the Congress governing coalition.
Obama had best stick to dealing with the nuke problems and trying to sell military surplus. Most Indians understand right now that Wall Street and the big bankers there are not the model that Summers is talking about given the Great Recession, and that multi-brand retail is a no-fly zone as well.
Come back to India ready to be a partner with sleeves rolled up, Mr. President, not with hands out wide and trying to stuff pockets like this trip.