Indian prime minister Narendra Modi broke from protocol Sunday morning as he drove in to welcome Obama at the gate of his aircraft, the personal gesture elevating the already high profile of the presidential visit.
Attired in a kurta with a saffron shawl draped on one shoulder, Modi greeted Obama with a spontaneous hug. Of course, this is not the first time an Indian prime minister has broken protocol for an American president. Obama is unique in that in 2010, it was Manmohan Singh and Gursharan Kaur who received Barack Obama and his wife Michelle at the airport by breaking protocol.
In fact, despite being more reserved and quiet, Manmohan Singh was not above taking those personal steps beyond protocol, certainly in foreign policy. In March 2006, Singh received former US president George Bush at the airport as well, a visit that sealed the nuclear deal. For Republic Day in 2006, Manmohan Singh again stood at the airport to welcome Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah who was India’s chief guest that year. The late king made the first royal visit to India after 50 years, again a visit that transformed the nature of ties between Saudi Arabia and India.
It’s a reminder that the growth of India-US ties actually dates back several years. Obama is the only US president to have seen two Indian governments from different ends of the political spectrum approaching India-US relations from the same strategic understanding.
US watchers say the invite to Obama for the 2015 Republic Day exploits possibly the best window to get the US president to be India’s chief guest. By 2016, Obama will be truly a lame duck president, and America will be in the throes of its own presidential campaign. In fact later this year, Obama’s presidential limits will become more evident. In 2017, no US president will be able to come for India’s Republic Day because a new US president will only take oath on January 21 of that year-(Times of India).