Saturday 11 June 2016

A Guide to Future Indian PMs for Getting Applause and Standing Ovations from Joint Sessions of the US Congress

A Guide to Future Indian PMs for Getting Applause and Standing Ovations from Joint Sessions of the US Congress

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 11 June, 2016

Copyright © Dr. Seshadri Kumar.  All Rights Reserved.

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Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of Dr. Seshadri Kumar alone and should not be construed to mean the opinions of any other person or organization, unless explicitly stated otherwise in the article.


On June 9, 2016, Mr. Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India, addressed the Joint Session of the US Congress. According to those busy counting, he received as many as 9 standing ovations and 40 rounds of applause. The full text of his speech can be found here.

Wow. Very impressive, eh? Those Yanks must have really liked what Narendrabhai told them. Absolutely. No question.

So what exactly did he say that made them applaud his speech like that? Did he speak about, say, the most famous and popular Indian dish abroad, Chicken Tikka Masala? Sorry, cross that out. Narendrabhai is a pucca Gujju vegetarian. Ok. Khakhra? Thepla? Khandvi? No. Besides, if that were the case, I wouldn’t be writing this article, as there is no guarantee that future PMs from India will be from Gujarat. Unless Anandiben Patel succeeds Modi as PM.

But not to worry, there is a method to the madness. In this article, which is written for the benefit of future Indian PMs who might have the good fortune of addressing Joint Sessions of the US Congress in the future, and who might need applause from the Congressmen and Senators to tell their constituencies back home how amazing and well-liked they are, I give a fool-proof set of tips on what topics to cover to virtually guarantee applause and standing ovations if you happen to give an address to the American Congress. If you play it right, you may even be able to beat Narendrabhai’s numbers of 40 and 9. It is a simple matter of psychology and understanding the needs of the Americans.

Sounds good? Get your pen and paper and start taking notes!

Topic 1: America the Great, the Just, the Kind, and the Brave

Americans always think their country is the nicest place on earth, the “double greatest” (to use one of the late Muhammad Ali’s over-the-top self-descriptions), and believe their leaders to be the most benevolent, who would never do things like overthrow democratically elected leaders and replace them with military dictatorships that oppress their own people and kill thousands, if not millions, with American guns.

This belief is part of the general doctrine of American Exceptionalism. It is important for visiting leaders to emphasize aspects of American benevolence and self-sacrifice if they wish to get repeated rounds of applause, whatever the reality of the situation may be in the world today, be it American intelligence forces helping foreign dictators perfect their torture procedures, invading sovereign nations under false pretexts like weapons of mass destruction, or unmanned drones killing innocent civilians. For example:

·       It was also the seventy-second anniversary of D-Day. On that day, thousands from this great country fought to protect the torch of liberty on the remote shores of a land that they did not know. They sacrificed their lives so that the world lives in freedom.
·       I applaud…India applauds – the great sacrifices from the men and women of the “The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave” in the service of mankind.

The latter is a particularly nice touch as it alludes to the American national anthem. This should guarantee a standing ovation. Which patriot would not give a standing ovation when his national anthem is being praised?

It is also important to use World War II examples to highlight American bravery and heroism, as this was the last war in which Americans could credibly say they fought on the “right” (in the moral sense) side. The lack of moral ambiguity means that reminding Americans of their glory during World War II is guaranteed to get you a standing ovation.

And lies (for example, “in the service of mankind”) are perfectly okay. It is the feel-good atmosphere that is important, not facts. Remember, your objective is not to win a debate, but to get maximum applause. Also, if you lie in their service, they won't mind so much when you lie for your own benefit (more on that later.)

Topic 2: Democracy, Equality, Freedom of Speech

Americans are also very proud of their freedom of speech and democracy, and so visitors would do well to remind them and tell them how great they are. For example,

·       This temple of democracy has encouraged and empowered other democracies the world over.
·       It manifests the spirit of this great nation which, in Abraham Lincoln’s words, “was conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
·       The idea that all citizens are created equal is a central pillar of the American constitution.

The second example absolutely demands a standing ovation. These words are from Lincoln’s immortal Gettysburg Address, which every American school child knows by heart. It would be unacceptably unpatriotic for an American to not stand at attention when a visiting dignitary quotes this sacred verse of their history, and to not applaud as loudly as possible. It would be the equivalent of an American using the words “Tryst with Destiny” while addressing the Indian Parliament. (Well, what should be the equivalent response. These days Nehru is not that fashionable in India.)

Topic 3: Re-Emphasize The Greatness Of American Ideals By Reflection and Commonality

This is similar to the previous topic, but with an added twist. In the previous topic, American ideals were praised in isolation. In this topic, you should glorify American ideals by saying that they were so great that India also adopted them. Imitation is the best form of flattery, and nothing warms the cockles of an American’s heart than to hear that a country that became independent almost 200 years after it did took inspiration from American ideals to create its code of living:

·       As a representative of the world’s largest democracy, it is indeed a privilege to speak to the leaders of its oldest.
·       The genius of Dr. BR Ambedkar was nurtured in the years he spent at Columbia University a century ago. The impact of the US constitution on him was reflected in his drafting of the Indian constitution some three decades later.
·       Our independence was ignited by the same idealism that fuelled your struggle for freedom.
·       Our founders created a modern nation with freedom, democracy, and equality as the essence of its soul.
·       Our founding fathers too shared the same belief and sought individual liberty for every citizen of India.
·       No wonder that the shared ideals and common philosophy of freedom shaped the bedrock of our ties. No wonder, then, that President Obama has called our ties the defining partnership of the 21st century.

What a nice guy. Aren’t we Americans great? We helped and are helping a nation of a billion people live a good, civilized, and moral life, based on our ideals. Give that guy another round of applause. Better still, a standing ovation!

Topic 4: Gandhi

Gandhi (the Mahatma, not Sonia) is unarguably the most famous Indian in the world. He is probably the most revered Indian abroad. It would be foolish not to milk him to the hilt, regardless of what you or your party or the “cultural organization” you originally come from actually thinks of him. Gandhi is so revered globally that simply taking his name guarantees a standing ovation. India has the monopoly on Gandhi. Absolutely stupid not to use your trump (no pun intended) card.

And, of course, Gandhi was influenced by America’s Thoreau, and Gandhi influenced America’s greatest civil rights activist, Dr. Martin Luther King (MLK). MLK’s name also guarantees a standing ovation on its own. He was a great man, of course, but fear operates here in addition to veneration: you don’t stand up when someone respectfully mentions MLK, and people in the US, especially blacks, could think you were racist. And that might hurt you in the next election. So here goes:

·       Thoreau’s idea of civil disobedience influenced our political thoughts.
·       Gandhi’s non-violence inspired the heroism of Martin Luther King.
·       Today, a mere distance of 3 miles separates the Martin Luther King memorial at Tidal Basin from the statue of Gandhi at Massachusetts Avenue. This proximity of their memorials in Washington mirrors the closeness of ideals and values they believed in.

Topic 5: India’s Ideals Which Mirror Universal Ideals

It is always a good idea to talk about universal values, because everyone starts to feel warm and fuzzy: truth, honesty, respect for all faiths, harmony, unity in diversity, freedom of thought, expression, religion, and belief in the Constitution. Who can disagree? (Again, considerations of truth are not important here. This is not a press conference. People are not going to ask you awkward questions about how much “freedom from fear” Muslims or Dalits actually have in India. Nobody here is going to challenge your equal treatment of all faiths given that your politicians tell Muslims in India or even your critics to go to Pakistan.)

Go for it. Give it your best oratorical flourish:

·       And, in doing so, our founding fathers ensured that we continued to celebrate our age-old diversity.
·       Today, across its streets and institutions, in its villages and cities, anchored in equal respect for all faiths; and in the melody of hundreds of its languages and dialects.
·       India lives as one; India grows as one; India celebrates as one.
·       For my government, the Constitution is its real holy book. And in that book, freedom of faith, speech and franchise, and equality of all citizens, regardless of background, are enshrined as fundamental rights. 800 million of my countrymen may exercise the freedom of franchise once every five years.
·       But all the 1.25 billion of our citizens have freedom from fear, a freedom they exercise every moment of their lives.

As I have already emphasized, it is more important to entertain than be truthful. You are here to garner applause. People applaud what they are entertained by, not by what is truthful (except in rare circumstances.) They will not ask you about your lip service to the Indian Constitution and how it contrasts with your actual behaviour.

Topic 6: How America Has Helped India

Go read any book on how to become a better conversationalist and it will tell you that the best way to do this is to talk about the other person. The most favourite topic for any person is himself or herself. People love hearing positives about themselves, and think very highly of those showering praise. This is standard psychology.

But you can do better. The only thing better than praising someone is to show gratitude to that person. You are telling the other person that not only is he great, but that he is also kind and generous enough to help you in your hour of need. He is noble. And being noble beats being super-competent any day of the week.

Is he so miserly that he will not reward you with a standing ovation when you have done so much for him? Some samples here for your future reference:

·       The genius of Norman Borlaug brought the Green Revolution and food security to India.
·       The excellence of the American Universities nurtured institutes of technology and management in India.
·       You helped us turn barriers into bridges of partnership. In the fall of 2008, when Congress passed the India-US Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, it changed the very colours of the leaves of our relationship.
·       We thank you for being there when the partnership needed you the most.
·       You have also stood by us in times of sorrow. India will never forget the solidarity shown by the US Congress when terrorists from across our border attacked Mumbai in November of 2008.

The last point, again, absolutely demands a standing ovation, because only an uncivilized and unfeeling brute and emotionally-bankrupt monster would not grant one when reminded of the hundreds of innocent Indians who lost their lives to terrorism. Are their lives not even worth a round of applause and a standing ovation? Especially when the man says you helped them cope with that tragedy?

Topic 7: Povertarianism

Repeat after me: India is a poor country. Now say it another 20-30 times so you don’t forget this. Because this is extremely important when talking to Americans.

Especially to members of the American Congress. Some of these people have two or three mansions, a car for every member of the house, including one for the family dog; and most of them, especially senators, are millionaires. You cannot, in practice, run for the senate if you are not a millionaire.

So telling them about the poor wretches in India who have next to nothing – and telling them that you are going to lift these wretches out of the hovels they live in, that are not even fit to be called homes – helps alleviate a deep sense of guilt. The average American has 20 times the carbon footprint of the average Indian. If you made them feel that much better today – and by being around you on this day, listening to your promises to lift these people from the bottom of the barrel, they feel they too have done their bit – surely you deserve some applause! 

Further, when someone who is as privileged as an American confronts evidence of such abysmal poverty and misery, it is almost impossible for him or her not to think, “There, but the grace of God, go I.” Birth, after all, is an accident of fate, and so, at least for a fleeting moment, the American will thank his stars that he was born in the land of plenty that is the United States and not in a dreadful hellhole like India into a poor, miserable family. And so, hearing descriptions of miserable people in the Third World is very therapeutic for an American, for it reminds him that his life is not so bad after all, and that he has much to be happy about. Surely someone who has made you feel so much better about yourself deserves some applause?

Learn from these gems and understand how to talk up poverty:

·       A roof over each head and electricity to all households.
·       Have broadband for a billion, and connect our villages to the digital world.
·       And create a twenty-first century rail, road, and port infrastructure.
·       And, to be achieved with a light carbon footprint, with greater emphasis on renewables.

It doesn’t matter if you are actually going to do this or not. The person who is living in relative grandeur and luxury has to applaud when someone says miserable people should get the basics of life. Otherwise what does that say about him?

The statement on renewables is a nice touch because it again ignites the guilt of the Americans, who even today only produce about 13% of their total energy through renewables. So a third world country talking about renewables must be applauded – at the very least, to assuage their own guilt.

Topic 8: NRIs and PIOs

Remember that the objective of an address to the Joint Session is to get the maximum number of standing ovations and grand bouts of applause and interruptions. Don’t forget that your target audience is not America; it is India, including NRI and PIO Indians living in the USA. It is absolutely imperative to talk about NRIs and PIOs. And it guarantees applause because Indians are an important minority in the US. As with blacks, any reference to any American minority absolutely must be applauded effusively if, as an American politician, you are not to be accused of racial prejudice. It is important to praise the contributions of NRIs and PIOs:

·       Connecting our two nations is also a unique and dynamic bridge of three million Indian Americans.
·       Today, they are among your best CEOs, academics, astronauts, scientists, economists, doctors, and even spelling bee champions.
·       They are your strength. They are also the pride of India. They symbolize the best of both our societies.

With those statements, you have swelled the chests of all the NRIs and PIOs who, after these kinds of statements, will not brook one cross word against you by any critical writers such as me (especially after you even bother to mention spelling bee champions – and everyone knows all the PIOs in the US put their kids through spelling bee camps). This is an absolute winner, given your objective.

Topic 9: Benefits to American Business

The American is the global Marwari/Gujju and, just like the Marwaris and Gujjus, Americans love to hear about business benefits, and will happily give you as many standing ovations as you wish if you tell them how they can make a profit. So, no address to an American audience should leave out the important topic of how this is beneficial to them. And if you have any examples of Indians starting businesses in the US and providing jobs to Americans, don’t ever miss mentioning them. They are getting jobs from Indian business – they have to applaud! Some examples:

·       We trade more with the US than with any other nation.
·       Defence purchases have moved from almost zero to ten billion dollars in less than a decade.
·       As the US businesses search for new areas of economic growth, markets for their goods, a pool of skilled resources, and global locations to produce and manufacture, India could be their ideal partner.
·       Transformative American technologies in India and growing investment by Indian companies in the United States both have a positive impact on the lives of our citizens.

Topic 10: Promises to Help America Strategically

America is feeling the heat internationally. The two wars that little Bush pushed the US into, Iraq and Afghanistan, are taking a big toll on American resources. They need a partner who can share the load. No country has been foolish enough to take the bait so far, except NATO countries, which were forced into the American embrace because of the Cold War. But if you offer stuff like this, an ovation is the least they can do for you:

·       India is already assuming her responsibilities in the Indian Ocean.
·       A strong India-US partnership can anchor peace, prosperity, and stability from Asia to Africa and from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific.
·       It can also help ensure the security of the sea lanes of commerce and freedom of navigation on seas.

Topic 11: Terrorism

This is the last topic on my list, but certainly not the least. In today’s climate, it is one of the most important topics if you want applause in Washington. The US government has been under fire from civil liberties advocates in the US for all the wiretapping, monitoring of emails, etc. of its own citizens, and under fire internationally for its illegal actions that are in stark violation of all international norms, like drone attacks in Pakistan, not to mention the blatant attacks of its key middle east ally, Israel, on the Palestinians.

Americans are being subjected to more and more intrusive surveillance at home, and giant facilities with monster data servers to store all possible information on all citizens of the US have been constructed. Boarding a flight in the US today is a nightmare, with security checks even for domestic flights taking up to two hours as you remove your belt, your shoes, your keys, your wallet, your phone, and maybe even your pants.

The government’s response to why all of this intrusion is necessary, and why the needless killing of civilians abroad is essential “collateral damage” and is unavoidable is the threat of terror, the axis of evil, and enemies all around us.

What better, then, than for a visiting Indian Prime Minister to echo exactly what the US President himself would like to say? There is no dearth of examples, which one has to reward with hearty applause and standing ovations:

·       Yes, distinguished members, not just in Afghanistan, but elsewhere in South Asia, and globally, terrorism remains the biggest threat.
·       Its philosophy is common: of hate, murder, and violence.
·       I commend the members of US Congress for sending a clear message to those who preach and practice terrorism for political gains.
·       Refusing to reward them is the first step towards holding them accountable for their actions.
·       The fight against terrorism has to be fought at many levels. And the traditional tools of military, intelligence, or diplomacy alone would not be able to win this fight.
·       Isolate those who harbour, support, and sponsor terrorists.
·       Terrorism must be delegitimized.

Got that, peeps? See, it’s not just us saying this. The world is a scary place – see, even the Indian PM is saying so. So keep quiet and don’t make any noise as we continue to record your phone conversations, snoop on your email, and maybe even photograph you using secret drones that look like strange flying insects. Didn’t you hear Modiji say, “Terrorism remains the biggest threat?”

Give that man another standing ovation!!

Concluding Remarks

Forty interruptions and nine standing ovations may seem intimidating as targets. But don’t worry, dear future Indian PM, when your turn arrives, keep this document handy and give it to your speechwriters so they come up with the perfect speech that can get even more standing ovations than PM Modi! (I mean, you don’t have to create this speech anyway – there are professional speechwriters who are experts in this business – and even for delivering it, there are teleprompters to help you. You can do it.)

There is certainly room for improvement, if you did not know – Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu got 26 standing ovations when he addressed the Joint Session of the US Congress in March 2015, irrespective of what people think about his genocidal tactics against the Palestinians. 

As I said before, it is not about whether you are morally right or wrong, or whether you are telling the truth – it is about whether you say the right things to make your hosts feel good. If you see that link on the Netanyahu speech that is in the link I have provided, you will be able to quickly see the instances where he got standing ovations. Worth learning from. And you can see from Netanyahu’s speech that Modi missed one important trick in his speech – he did not end it with “God Bless America.” That would have brought the house down. 

Of course, Netanyahu is a tall target, even for Modi, in many ways, but you get my drift – you can do it too, and do even better than PM Modi, if you only follow the principles in this guide!

Good luck, and Bharat Mata ki Jai! Vande Mataram! May you get more ovations than any previous world leader when you address the Joint Session of the US Congress!


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