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World

Obama Honored As Chief Guest At India's Republic Day Festivities

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

There are not so many occasions when the leaders of the world's two largest democracies share the same stage. It is happening in India this week. President Obama took an invitation to attend India's Republic Day parade in New Delhi. He is attending with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and of course, they have been discussing more than parades as we'll hear in a moment. But we begin with the scene and NPR's Julie McCarthy. Hi, Julie.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: What have you seen?

MCCARTHY: Well, it was an incredible parade today. It was this rich tableau of kind of joy-filled India. It was kind of a typically Republic Day. Unfortunately, this one began in the pouring rain which came down as they played the national anthem.

(SOUNDBITE OF NATIONAL ANTHEM)

MCCARTHY: The president pulled up in his armored Cadillac known as the Beast and he stepped out in front of this flower festoon reviewing stand. Prime Minister Modi greeted him, and they made their way to this bulletproof enclosure that was open to the pouring sky. There were no umbrellas to be found, and the president stood there for several minutes before one arrived. But, you know, the rain didn't dampen the spirits of 125,000 Indians who went through security checks to show up. And it certainly didn't dent the enthusiasm of the stream of marching bands who - I've never seen anything like it, Steve - created a seamless production of sound.

INSKEEP: Well, I can get a sense of the enthusiasm just listening to you.

MCCARTHY: No, it was a wonderful show. There was a flyover that was magnificent at the end, including a massive U.S. transport carrier called the Globemaster. But the one group that really catches the eye and the ear is the All Camel Band. And here they are.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE ALL CAMEL BAND)

INSKEEP: I'm sorry, the All Camel Band?

MCCARTHY: The All Camel Band is a contingent from the border security force. They are riding camels. They're wearing some 75 different accessories, and they're playing instruments. That was followed by a series of floats and an iron lion called Make in India, a bullet train that India is developing, a salute to the girl child and there was a lot of military hardware, much of it from Russia, tanks from the 1990s, infantry carriers from the Czechs, but the president did see a gigantic American C-130 swoop overhead.

INSKEEP: OK. Sounds like a lot of fun. But you have a relatively new Indian prime minister leading a country of well over a billion people meeting with the president of the United States. Have they discussed substance?

MCCARTHY: They sure did discuss substance. And they discussed it in this sort of warm atmosphere of bon ami. The two of them clearly click. But Modi and Obama cleared hurdles in a long-delayed civil nuclear agreement that potentially opens up a market worth billions of dollars to U.S. companies who would come and build power plants here. The Obama administration, as well as Modi, look at nuclear energy as a non-carbon source of energy, part of the drive for cleaner air, less polluted India. The two sides also renewed a defense framework.

So I think the takeaway here is that they were resolving old issues. And that led to progress in opening up new doors, to do a lot with India on energy, global health, global warming. As I say, the two men clearly click, and it looks like a new page for U.S.-India relations.

INSKEEP: Julie, thanks very much as always.

MCCARTHY: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Julie McCarthy in New Delhi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.