Saturday, November 08, 2008

India's Obama - Part I

Yesterday, CNN/IBN conducted an sms poll on “Who is India’s Obama?” The preferred names were Rahul Gandhi, Lalu Prasad Yadav & Narendra Modi!! I have my reservations about all three of them. Coincidentally, the last name was already slated as the Obama of India in an exchange I had with a co-visitor of a particular blog I read regularly. The idea was so scary that I ran for my life!

I suppose the answer to that poser is derived from one’s perception of the President –Elect of the USA.

So, what does Obama represent?

The issues that were hotly debated in the US election campaign had no role in shaping my take on Obama. Like that of my compatriots, mine also was an outsider’s academic interest in the fresh and new star that rose in the American horizon, and dominated the imagination of America for over a year.

I suppose experiencing Obama as a voter is very different from watching him from across the seven seas from an Asian country which has one thing in common with the USA – a fierce possessiveness about its democracy.

And this is not all. Many factors inform the individual’s perception of a world leader, and these factors differ from person to person.

As a person whose academic engagement with the political fact of the Empire was more than two decades old, I reacted the minute Obama's victory was confirmed with the comment ,“The Empire strikes back”. Knowing that I had a bee in the bonnet about this issue, my husband smiled indulgently, but a minute later said, “Come to think of it, you are right”. Call it colonial hangover, if you wish (all Indians are afflicted by it but not many admit it). The race superiority theory which is axiomatic to the Imperial discourse about the white destiny to rule and civilize, had been exploded. Jesse Owens did it some decades ago on a smaller scale; but Obama’s victory had an important difference. Owens' was a one man’s effort. The just conducted US election was an emphatic statement of a nation, which brings me to my next point.

Colonization is a dual process. It involves the colonizer and the colonized. Decolonization too, similarly, is a dual process. Both the victim and the perpeterator have to be cured of the colonial complexes. Otherwise decolonisation is not complete or comprehensive. Thus it is that I claim that the people of the US released themselves from the psychological bondage of the imperial rhetoric by giving a resounding victory to Obama – it was a deafeningly loud acknowledgement that colour is but skin deep. It was a major step in the intellectual and psychological decolonisation of America. The effect was cathartic. Once a nation unloads an oppressive burden from its mind, the peace that follows is a near bliss, and an atmosphere charged with positive energy is created, which, in this case, should prove to be the ideal soil for the Great American Dream to strike roots in its unpolluted form . We in India share that joy with the people of the USA and wish them a fast recovery from the economic crisis under their new President.

The long and short of it is, it was the decolonization of an imperial people that was evidenced by the election . (The nature of the US colonialism is not the same as Britain’s and the other European colonial powers, but can be considered under the same umbrella despite the difference).

Now to come to the question of Obama.

He is a person who has his finger on the pulse of the nation ripe for change, and ashamed of the big bully image created by successive administrations.

Equally important, he recognized the fact that America has a CONSCIENCE, which had been lying dormant for a long long time. During his election campaign, Obama had the courage to awaken that collective conscience, and transform that force into a concerted clamour for change. The change was bound to be painful. It was bound to call for sacrifices and adjustments in a consumerist society. He realized that the people of the America were willing to take up the challenge if they had an honest man to lead from the front.

That man was Barak Obama.

And he caught the imagination of the people by using a rhetoric outside the existing one.

The success of Obama lies in his diagnostic acumen which enabled him to detect the ills of the American polity, in his courage to address these ills and inspire the nation, particularly the youth, to take up the challenge.

That’s my take on Barak Obama. I had to have a theory on what is Barak Obama in order to decide on India’s Obama, which is what my next post is about.

Guess who my choice is?

India’s Obama has to be honest, courageous, charismatic, a person with national appeal, therefore not parochial. She/he has to have fire in the belly, should be a humanist with a forgiving heart, and should unite the nation, salvage the people’s faith in the democratic systems, inspire the people groaning under the poor governance of self seeking politicians, boldly address the class, caste and creed divides. She/he should inspire the nation into craving for moral uprightness.

There comes a time in the life of every nation when it craves for change. When a Messiah comes with a promise of change, the nation will embrace him warmly. We saw it happen in the US. India too is ready. But who is that Messiah?

I appeal to my blog visitors to respond with their choice before my next post. Would be nice if you could get your blog circle also to respond.


  1. Me. But you'll have to wait a few decades for that. ;)

  2. excellent post..I love reading your political analysis..

    Talking of Obama..I still feel its too early to gauge him coz what he is will reflect on his actions in the next 4 years...A good orator is not necessarily a great leader..I feel is a man of great ideas and vision but lets wait to see how much of it he going to implement in actions.

    In indian prespective..i think one leader who has got 'obama'ique quality is Omar Abdullah...Atleast his speeches in Lok sabha suggests so..The trouble is that in our political system its difficult for one man to call the shots..whereas in US , Obama would have to power to leverage his ideas...We have young blood in the system but they are still strong only in regional domain and am yet to see a young leader of national stature.. Though I would love to see how much Rahul Gandhi can do as statesman.

    In a diverse country like ours we would need a truly inspiration leader to command respect on the lines of Obama.

  3. India, with its thousands of parties may not be a place where you expect to see a leader like Obama to emerge.. The 3 names you mentioned there are definitely ruled out..Rahul Gandhi is too much of an idiot to hold any post of national importance.. Narendra Modi is a religious fanatic, although off late, he's been trying hard to change that image. Laloo, though he turned around the railways, still has not got his hands clean. Some past mistakes makes him ineligible.

    And as the search continues, there's a total lack of leaders having the conviction and the charisma of Obama in the Indian political spectrum. Leaders of the ilk of Subhash chandra Bose and Sardar Vallabhai Patel are a thing of the past. Selfish interests and sometimes regional interests rule threir minds now. Its a sad fact, we dont have an able leader who can be projected as the face of new India...Wish we had an younger version of Abdul Kalam, not in President's post, but as PM, with all the powers to make the change...and make us say "yes, we can"... am ashamed to say, I cant find a name:(

  4. @ philip
    an obama in the workshop, eh?:-)

    @ mathew
    will he be acceptable to all? even gandhi couldnt make jinnah the PM of India

    @ praveen
    i have a name in mind.but lemme see if someone'll name that person.

  5. After reading Mathew's comment I'm also inclined to say Omar Abdullah..

    But after seeing your reply to praveen, I'm trying to figure out who it is..

    any clues..
    can CEOs/non politicians be given as answers?

  6. @ doni
    @ deepak
    why not-a person innocent of political chicanery but capable of selling himelf and with exemplary managerial skill can also be considered.
    you see i am a little hesitant to reveal my choice for fear of being battered virtually. am waiting for at least one person to suggest my choice. :-)

  7. @ mathew
    thanks for the complment. flattered.

  8. If i have to pick someone from non-political space..there are several names that i would love up there..but I guess my fav would be the Delhi Metro architect...M Sreedharan..He is old but got the guts to get things done!!

    Am really curious to know your choice now...:-)

    P.S. Sorry for the horrible typos in previous comment.;-P

  9. @ mathew
    a very obvious name-and no one mentioned it so far!!? which makes me more and more diffident to publish it. :-)
    both your suggestion are ideal - except on one important count - national appeal.
    shall wait till someone comes out with my choice. someone is bound to

  10. Loved this post. And the last post too and from these two posts this seems to be a blog after my own heart. I have been thinking exactly the same thing, Obama effect can make us vote for the right guy... and although I am still not sure, one of the people in my mind is Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh.
    Modi has shown no regret over the deaths of people in his care. 'The idea was so scary that I ran for my life!' is exactly how I feel :))) I hope the voters do the same. Rahul Gandhi is sweet and all, clean record but seems naive ... not sure.
    Lalu does not have a clean record. Would love to hear err... read who your candidate is :)

  11. we have ours. he is greater than the obama of america. he is been in our 2 years ago.--this comment is going to be long, hence i wrote on my blog.

  12. Sachin Pilot has the ability to stand up for higher principles.

  13. @ Mathew..a great orator not a great leader,but he IS a great unifier.his was the quiet revolution.....his strategy and tactcics have been unmatched in th e past few decades.His campaign has been the most positive in along long time..anyways only time will tell what he has in store for America.
    What India needs is a unifying figure...India is unique in the sense that nationalism was/has been thrust on us.we have been from time immermorial a nation of thousand splinters.Our country is being torn about apart by religion,caste,creed and is heart wrenching to see it.
    prior to seeing obama i didnt believe that one man could make a diffference, especially in todays cynicism filled world.
    but he makes me believe in the power of the positive and the power of one..
    in this context,I have been thinking abou priyanka gandhi.rahul gandhi doesnt have it in.period.priyanka on the other hand has quietly worked behind the scenes,she has her grand other's not everyone like Indira,but you gotta admit that woman had something in her,not withstanding the Nehru grooming..she appealed to a whole nation.times have chnaged ,so have people..but maybe we ought to come back to full circle.
    before everyone launches on the tirade of dynastic rule think about it.....India is running out of options..we need to regroup fast ..we need to think beyond state and is way way harder in India than in U.S...but should that deter a try?

  14. Jyotiraditya Scindia?? Ya I know Im wrong 99%, but i cant think of anyone young other than rahul gandhi or omar.

  15. relieved to note there are people who think like me-
    yes. my choice has appeared in the comment section.
    my next post is on the anvil. in the meanwhile, happy guessing:-)

  16. So it's either Sachin Pilot or Scindia u thought of?? I'm the above anonymous. Well I'm relieved too. And sorry for the anonymous comment, was a little diffident like you too.

  17. So it's Sachin Pilot or Scindia you thought of. I'm the above anonymous. And I too am relieved. Sorry for being anonymous as I was a bit diffident too like you.

  18. no comment.
    would like to see how much support my nomination will get:-)
    just one more day and the cat will be out.

  19. I am not an authority on politics, but the nominations that people have put forward somehow seem to suggest to me that we are too stuck up on glamor. I don't know if a Sachin Pilot or a Jyotiraditya Scindia have done that much to deserve all this appreciation. Maybe they have, but it would probably have been a good idea to ask people to justify their choices as well :), maybe post some links to the kind of work these guys are upto. (So, the illiterate like me can be enlightened!)

    If I were to think of a name, I cant but draw a blank. Not because, there is a lack of well-intentioned able youth in our country, but more because it would almost take a miracle for them to come to the forefront. Isn't it all about having the right connections still?

    My hope is that the black horse that I am counting on, is not bogged down by the current scenario and fights its way to the top. And the black horse could be you, me , anyone who is ready to give it all it takes.

  20. If I go by Personal choice I would agree with Mathew on Omar but on a larger scale I would pick Jyoti Scindia over Sachin Pilot or Omar purely for his educational background and the right age for being a leader. Also his work experience outside the political arena is given due weightage too. Sachin is too young and Omar has some limiting factors. So Jyoti is the choice. :-)

  21. @ freespirit
    guess you are talking about experience, but does it really matter? in the US elction, eexperience lost out to inexperience. people wanted change - and for that stalwarts were sidelined.
    What experience did rajiv gandhi have when he became the PM?
    yes. should have asked for the rationale for the choice-but now too late.
    also. i dont think one needs to be an authority on politics to cast vote and decid on a leader. the voter always knows what he wants.

    your observations, btw, are most discerning.

  22. @ seema
    of the three, i'd go for omar, particularly since he has been showing of late that he has a mind of his own. But, of course, he will not be accepted by all sections.
    @ deepak
    mum's the word till tomorrow:-)

  23. Me too. Mums the word till I hear what the wise has to say :-)

  24. Great Post.. I was really lol at the Empire strikes back pun.. :D...

    The first person who came to my mind btw was Chandrababu Naidu... I dont know if he could be a person whom everybody could relate too if he stood for the prime minestership tommorow.. but hey neither was Obama in february of 2007..

    and I kind of agree with what free spirit has to say about a choice of scindia or even rahul Gandhi for that...:D

  25. Well, i might not be the happiest person around about Obama making it as the President for precisely the same reasons as u cite, inexperience. Yes, his victory maybe symbolic of how the Americans may have finally let go off their racist mindsets. But whether he is the leader America wants or is simply a poster boy for positive change will only become clear in the days to come. Maybe America can afford to take the risk.

    We on the other hand, have always been shallow-minded and emotional about choosing our leaders. And that's what I want to see changing. The voter does know what he wants, but his wants should be backed by his literacy in matters of the nation and not by sentiments or personal gains. We have to learn to be responsible voters and cannot keep taking risks any more!

  26. Isn't there somebody in Indian politics who would fit the bill, without having a family tradition of being in it (leave out the Gandhis, the Scindias, the Pilots, etc.)?

    Obama came out of nothing, in terms of a political family background, the anti-Kennedy, Bush or Clinton, in that respect.

  27. @ freespirit
    'We on the other hand, have always been shallow-minded and emotional about choosing our leaders'.
    dont quite agree you with there. despite illiteracy, the india voter has shown an amazing maturity. consider the post emergency voting back of democracy, or seeing thru of the india shining facade of the bjp combine.
    in kerala, after emergency the literate voter harassed by the terible work and hartal culture, opted for discipline over democratic freedom- guess literacy renders one practical and low on idealism.
    no. the indian voter is very sensible-but the leaders have no statesmanship. so the voter is left with choosing best of the bad lot.
    @ filarial
    chandrababu naidu is an excellent choice, but may not appeal the all parts of India, I think.
    @ cris
    wise? hold that till u see my choice
    @ thomman
    thanks for coming out of your anonymity:-)

  28. That shouldn't shake your confidence, Kochuthresiamma. Somewhere right now in India, there's a man or woman who is slowly moving up the party ranks, with nothing beyond the goodwill of colleagues and backers, no family history of 'great name' and 'breeding'.
    We don't know who it is, but from the millions of people in India, when we can produce the likes of a Mahatma Gandhi or Sardar Patel or BR Ambedkar, that person definitely exists, just the time isn't ripe yet for him/her to capture the nation's imagination.

  29. Obama have only proved he is a good orator.After 8 years of Bush any Democrat would have won.Did he unify USA?You should remember that 46 percent of US electorate voted against him.Let us wait for 4 years to judge him.
    No saviour will come.Actually we the voters are our saviours.We should excise our franchise carefully.I agree with Sujatha.A self made man or woman may be better than dynasties

  30. Empty rhetoric. I haven't seen a single point mentioned in terms of actual policies that makes Obama deserve presidency.
    Besides, his virtues of character too are nothing compared to Ralph Nader.
    Anyways, for India: my knowledge is not very extensive right now but I'd probably nominate Lok Satta president Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan.

    You may delete the comment if criticism is unwelcome.

  31. great read and well analyzed...and i agree with mathew...a great orator not necessarily be a good leader..but if his speech stands for anything he is...i dont think we have anyone even in the near spectrum of comparison...well there are lots who generate negative vibrating pulses..but they dont count, do they?
    Maybe we have to wait..!!!!


Dear visitors, dont run away without leaving behind something for me :-)
By the way, if your comment does not get posted at the first click, just click once more.