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Obama’s memoir causes stir in India with comments on Congress leader

US President Barack Obama and wife Michelle with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and wife Gursharan Kaur, Delhi, November 2010.
US President Barack Obama and wife Michelle with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and wife Gursharan Kaur, Delhi, November 2010. © Reuters

Former US President Barack Obama’s newly published memoir has ruffled feathers in India, in a mixed bag of observations on the country that reserves some blunt comments for opposition leader Rahul Gandhi.  

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In the first of his two-part memoir, A Promised Land, released on Tuesday, Obama reflects in some detail on his first visit to India in November 2010. 

He praises India’s pluralism, calling it a success story that "survived repeated changeovers in government, bitter feuds within political parties, various armed separatist movements, and all manner of corruption scandals".  

Obama writes at length about icon Mahatma Gandhi, whom he says was the primary reason behind his fascination with India, and "profoundly influenced my thinking".

He has warm words for ex-prime minister Manmohan Singh, “wise, thoughtful, and scrupulously honest”, while opposition Congress party president Sonia Gandhi is described as “shrewd and forceful intelligence”. 

However, there was no such flattery for opposition leader Rahul Gandhi, Sonia's son.

Obama describes him as seeming “smart and earnest, his good looks resembling his mother's”.

"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 to master the subject."

Supporters of the ruling Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had a field day.

“Nothing more to discuss on Rahul Gandhi’s intelligence when a big figure like Obama has said it all. Rahul Gandhi should know now that the respect he was getting in India has turned global,” said fisheries minister Giriraj Singh.

In a cryptic post on Twitter, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra took what seemed to be a veiled jibe at Gandhi, saying simply: “Nervous & Unformed!!” 

Expectedly, the Congress party came to Gandhi’s defence, hitting out at the media for running a "sponsored agenda" and refused to acknowledge such comments.

“May I humbly remind certain overzealous friends of the media running a sponsored agenda that we don’t comment on individual’s views in a book,” said Congress spokesman Randeep Surjewala.

“In the past, a leader has been called 'psychopath' and 'master divider' by people and agencies. We didn’t acknowledge such comments.

“A foreign politician can't give such opinions on Indian political leaders; subsequent domestic political discourse on it is distasteful. We won't say 'Trump is mad'. How much does Obama know about this nation?" said Shiv Sena leader, Sanjay Raut.

Of late the Congress party has come in for criticism especially from its own leaders for not giving it direction and focus in the face of recent performances in state elections.

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