India has had six Presidential visits from the US----those of Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George Bush and now Barack Obama.
Obama was accompanied by his wife Michelle. His predecessors, except Jimmy Carter, were not accompanied by their wives. Presumably because their wives were not interested in India. Or because, the Presidential aides thought it was not necessary
There have been instances of First Ladies visiting India on their own even though their husbands did not consider it necessary to make a Presidential visit to India. An example that comes to mind is that of Jaqueline Kennedy, who came with her sister.
There have also been instances of Presidential offspring coming to India----noticed or unnoticed. Example : Chelsea, daughter of Bill and Hillary Clinton.
There have been many instances of visiting Heads of State or Government from other countries being accompanied by their First Ladies.
The visit of Michelle stood apart from all other visits of First Ladies in the past.
This was not only because of her grace and natural charm. The other First Ladies were also gracious and charming.
The way Michelle won the heart of India, no other First Lady had won in the past.
The other First Ladies restricted themselves to mingling with India's social elite--- ex-maharajas, ex-maharanis, Bollywood actors, fashion-designers etc.
Jacqueline Kennedy was mostly in the company of the ex-Maharani of Jaipur and other ex-princes of Rajasthan.
Michelle was the first First Lady to have mingled with the Aam Admi---the common man. And woman.
She did mingle with the political and social elite at the two formal banquets hosted for her husband.
The rest of the time----whether in Mumbai or in Delhi--- she was mostly in the company of the ordinary people of India---children and adults.
A totally captivated country watched her chatting, joking, singing and dancing with India's Aam Admi. Very naturally.
Those were not put up or orchestrated shows for the photo. What one saw was her natural joy and exuberance in the company of ordinary people.
She won hundreds of thousands of new friends for the US----in the old as well as the new generation.
Her contribution to the success of the President's visit was immense.
Whereas her husband was the toast of the Indian elite, she became the toast of the Aam Admi.
Whoever thought of enabling her to mingle freely with the Aam Admi instead of keeping her confined to the company of the social elite has to be a genius.
It is a pity the President and Michelle came to India after the mid-term elections to the US Congress were over.
If they had come during the election campaign, the people-friendly images of Michelle beamed to the US might have won some extra seats for the Democrats in the elections. (12-11-10)
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com )