The official agenda for bilateral talks between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Barack Obama covers typical big power issues: energy and climate policies, counter-terrorism, economic cooperation and nuclear power cooperation. But the visit of the proverbial leader of the free world also means a tremendous amount of attention on India and some of its more suspect policies.

Several organisations, from human rights ones to advocacy groups, have decided to take advantage of the spotlight on India to flag what they would like Obama to bring up during his talks with Modi. Although there is little likelihood of this happening – the agenda for a visit like this is carefully pored over by aides and decided well in advance – a smart campaign could still end up breaking through the clutter.

Bhopal victims

Amnesty International took to the front pages of Indian newspapers to remind Obama about the Bhopal gas tragedy that took place three decades ago, even as he arrives with plans to talk about furthering American business connections with India. The memory of the Bhopal gas leak, considered the worst industrial tragedy ever, has always been bound to the feeling that the American company responsible for it, Union Carbide, was never sufficiently punished. Ironically, one of the “deliverables” expected from Obama’s visit is an agreement taking away liability from American companies that are cooperating with India on civil nuclear energy.

Gay rights


A gaffe from his vice-president might have forced Barack Obama to openly support gay marriage in America, but his administration has become known for lending a hand to the LGBT cause. This has prompted those who would like to see India read down section 377 of its penal code, which criminalises gay sex, to appeal to the US president for support. The campaign #ObamaforQueerIndia calls on the US president to “voice our concerns to our government that has turned a deaf ear to our grievances”.

Modern slavery
The Devyani Khobragade episode, where an Indian diplomat accused by American prosecutors of visa fraud was mistreated, plunged Indo-US relations into a crisis but also shone a light on the plight of domestic workers in the US. Specifically, human rights organisations have complained to the Obama administration that Indians have essentially been trafficking domestic workers and violating their rights in India. This issue is the one least likely to come up, because of the touchiness over the Khobragade incident and the belief in India’s foreign service corps that a “human rights lobby” in the US’ state department is deliberately out to derail Indo-US ties.

Medicines for all
India’s stance on intellectual property rights, particularly in the healthcare department, has always irked America. The US believes India has a weak IPR regime, especially when medicines are concerned, and would like to see New Delhi act tougher on what it sees as patent violations. India and much of the developing world, however, believe that India’s patent regime is strong enough while also ensuring that the poor have access to medicines. Unlike the earlier two campaigns, which are calling on Obama to press Modi on certain issues, several campaigns are asking Modi not to budge in the face of “US bullying and protect access to life-saving medicines for millions across the world”.