Barack Obama Visits Mumbai...on Diwali!

Diwali is the most important celebration in India: it begins today and continues through November 9th. It is the equivalent of Christmas for the Christians or Yom Kippur for the Jews.

This is the day that the President of the United States has chosen to visit Mumbai. While the Indian authorities have obviously agreed with the decision to pick this time for the President's trip, much of the Indian press and public percieve the timing as a lack of sensitivity on the part of the U.S.

However, this was not an oversight, and the President lit the traditional "diya" or oil lamp for Diwali at the White House yesterday before embarking on this trip. While observing Diwali was a tradition initiated by George W. Bush, Obama is the first U.S. President to attend events associated with the Indian holiday. "To those celebrating Diwali in India, I look forward to visiting you over the next few days. And to all those who will celebrate this joyous occasion on Friday, I wish you, your families and loved ones Happy Diwali and Saal Mubarak," said the President.

He will pay homage to the victims of the heinous Mumbai attack of November 26, 2008, by Pakistani terrorists. He even decided to stay at the Taj Mahal Hotel Palace in Mumbai, the iconic landmark that remained under the control of terrorists for four days.

Was it, however, necessary to send home 90% of the 1,400 employees of the hotel, in order to replace them with US staff sent from thousands of miles away? Was it necessary to have a party of 3,000 people accompany the President? And what about the 43 warships around Mumbai? Was it really important to remove the coconuts from the trees surrounding Mumbai's Gandhi museum? Was it necessary to prohibit Diwali celebrations in the whole District of Colaba in Southern Mumbai?

At a time when we are looking for public saving opportunities, shouldn't we rethink such escalations in security? The United States protects itself by constantly building higher walls. It reminds us of it the illusion of the Babel Tower: we cannot protect ourselves against the sky, let alone reach it. We human beings, are not able to protect ourselves against every risk. Our denial is very expensive.

It is interesting to note that he will visit Holy Name High School, run by the Archdiocese of Mumbai, a very exclusive school but not exactly representative of Indian education.

What matters, however, is that Mumbaites and Indians in general, are thrilled to receive the U.S. President who enjoys a hugely positive reputation in India. He and the First Lady are extremely popular, and the pride of welcoming them will supersede the rather strange aspects of the trip.

The most delicate economic issue that will be addressed by business leaders from India is the attitude of the United States towards outsourcing. Generally demonized and sometimes considered the source of unemployment in the United States, outsourcing has massively improved the competitiveness of US companies and created hundreds of thousands of jobs in the United States. Outsourcing is for India what the value of the Yuan is for China: the target of considerable misconceptions as well as blunt attacks by U.S. officials. Ultimately, the fact of the matter is that the United States could not satisfy its IT needs with the insufficient number of engineers produced by the country's Universities.

At the end of the day, India and the United States have more fundamental issues to discuss, such as the situations in Pakistan and Iran. And it is true: the countries are natural partners. If the U.S. could realize the immensity of its power and influence in India, perhaps any feelings of being threatened by the country would subside.

As to the question of a permanent seat for India at the United Nations Security Council, President Obama acknowledges the difficulty of the issue. There is no doubt that President Sarkozy (who favors India's entrance) will relinquish the French seat to India!

Happy Diwali, the Festival of Lights.