The Infotech and outsourcing segments of India Inc on Monday gave a qualified welcome to US President Barack Obama's call to deepen the ties between the "world's two great democracies" with an "enormous win-win potential".
Obama, who earlier faced criticism in India for what appeared to be a set of protectionist policies that discouraged Indian techies working in the US, tried to dispel that notion on his joint press meet with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. But he did so after some homework and backroom lobbying with Indian industrialists - and that work came after a dramatically opposite statement stressing saving US jobs just before leaving home.
Obama on Monday said that Americans were proud of some of their high-tech industries and products that they would like to sell to a growing Indian market. "Those same technologies are ones that will allow Indian entrepreneurs to grow jobs right here in India," he said. At the same time he indicated to the media that he sold this expensive trip back home by saying that the ($15 bn) bilateral deals that have been signed in India in the past few days could create over 50,000 jobs in the US.
Infosys CEO S. Gopalakrishnan, who met Obama at a business meet in New Delhi, gave the big picture behind this deft diplomacy. "President Obama's visit is historic and comes at a time when the world economy is still recovering from the worst economic crisis the world has seen in recent times."
In fact, the Infosys boss echoed what other business leaders have been saying all along, something that the Prime Minister himself acknowledged at the press meet - India has helped the US business thrive.
Gopalakrishnan can now see both countries coming closer together "economically and politically". "Increased trade between both our countries creates jobs in both countries. There is a business agenda, which both governments support and will be followed up," he said.
At his closed-door session with business heads in Mumbai Obama was paving the ground for his "win-win" narrative. "Synergies and cross pollination between both countries can increase jobs and improve profits for both countries," he was quoted as saying at the meet.
And Obama was at his charming best, as some of participants revealed. "What I hadn't anticipated was just how up close and personal the interaction would be," said Dr Sunita Maheshwari, chief dreamer at Teleradiology Solutions. "He came over to us, and shook hands and chatted." He did not forget to praise - in person - her firm's work that covered the nightshift of a 100 US hospitals as "truly incredible".
"He just wants the Indo-US partnership to be a two-way street," Maheshwari added. This is the line that independent observers and think tanks have been pushing - a complementary approach. "The world needs both Boston and Bangalore," said Prof S. Sadagopan, director, International Institute of Information Technology, Bangalore (IIIT-B). "Such a broad worldview makes good economic sense," commented Harish Bijoor, an observer and consultant for infotech and outsourcing firms in Bangalore. "Everything that we hear is public posturing. It is all clearly defined protocol, for his image. It is important for him to project a positive image and convey a positive message after suffering a debacle at the hustings," he said.
Observers like Bijoor find the question whether many Indian techies will still have their jobs in the US an open one.