My Bro Modi: President Obama’s Unlikely Friendship With a Right-Wing Hindu

The president is forging surprisingly close ties with a political extremist.

The rapidly budding friendship between the two leaders, catching many observers by surprise, stems from shared experiences with democratic organizing, a technological savvy, and deep personal ambition, U.S. officials say.

And it comes in spite of the fact that Modi is a right-wing Hindu extremist.

The views contrast sharply with Obama’s global advocacy for diverse multicultural societies where minority views and rights are protected and even openly celebrated.

“We don't know what is in his heart but he is clever enough to recognize that destiny has given him this opportunity,” Ashley Tellis, a former senior adviser to the ambassador at the U.S. embassy in New Delhi, said of Modi. “Whatever his ‘real views’ are, he's going to be ruthlessly pragmatic because that's the ticket to political longevity and power.”

On Monday, they will be partners on stage for the elaborate Republic Day parade.

“Are they buddy-buddy? That’s for them to tell you about,” said Richard Rossow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "But more importantly for the president of the United States, he sees a counterpart that will actually try to deliver on things that are promised in those meetings."

“Personal relationships play a big role in who [leaders] choose to engage with, and I think there’s no better indication of the fact that they seem to have gotten along fine than the fact that the president agreed to go back so soon [to India]," said Rossow.

“In their first conversation after Prime Minister Modi’s election, I think they noted some similarities in terms of how their campaigns kind of changed the way in which politics was practiced in their respective countries,” he said.

They also came into office with super-sized expectations for bringing about political change. While Obama is in the twilight of his term, Modi is just beginning.

“Our hope is that the chemistry between the leaders and the personal relationship can lead to positive outcomes for our country," said Rhodes. "It’s worth the investment in the relationship with the country, the leader, and the people of India.”