Friday, November 14, 2008

Why Obama? – We get what we deserve.

The election of Barrack Obama is now part of history.

The din has died down and the dust is just settling down. The victors are now busy trying to comprehend the magnitude of the task ahead and the losers in disarray. This post hopes to rationally see this phenomenon and hence a respectable interval from the actual event.

Whilst Obama’s ascendancy to the throne means many things to many people, what has struck me is the exuberance with which Indian bloggers have reacted to this. Further, and quite inexplicably, many have bemoaned our political leadership and the absence of an Obama-esque figure on the Indian horizon. We have a term in financial markets parlance, “Irrational Exuberance” and “Irrational Pessimism”

Our positive response to Obama has been mainly on account of following factors

  • His colour. There is always that fantasy of an underdog making it against all odds and an Afro-American in a White dominated USA is a “bang-on” fairy tale script.
  • Brilliant packaging, positioning and superb marketing.
  • Flawless execution of a very detailed strategy.
  • Unfailing magnetic power of rhetoric and oratory.
  • Our own ability to be led down the garden path. An Indian disillusioned with our politics is ready to lap up this fairy tale.

Let me not be cussed and ignore what is worth applauding. It speaks volumes that the American society in five short decades has evolved from a society with deep divisions to a stage where a man of mixed parentage is elected to be President of that country.

Let me now turn to our lament on the absence of a Obama like figure in Indian politics and a detailed analysis on how our political leadership falls woefully short of these high standards. My response

First – We are different

We are still evolving from our clan-caste-village-region-state identity to a pan-Indian identity. We are trying to get rid of the shackles of extreme prejudice. We stick to leaders from our clan, caste or region.

We are also an emotional people and very quickly queer the pitch. Our response to anything tends to be irrational and emotional. You only have to watch any debate in Parliament or media to realize what I am saying.

Second – We get the leaders we deserve

Our leaders come from the same pool as we are in.

We conveniently like to believe that we are educated, sophisticated, dignified, cultured, well mannered, fair minded, broad minded, honest, democratic, secular, unifying, well informed and so on. This list of virtues is endless.

With equal convenience we paint all politicians as the exact opposite of what we believe we are and lament at our misfortune. To us a politician is uneducated, boorish, rough, aggressive, loud, ill mannered, narrow minded, dishonest, corrupt, feudal, communal, divisive, biased, ignorant, criminal and anything else that we can think of.

Is this possible???? It is ridiculous to believe this is possible. We get leaders we elect and more importantly deserve.

The fact is when we hold a mirror to ourselves and are honest, we will see shades of what we believe the politician is. The political class is a microcosm of our society at large and is only representative of the values that we stand for.

Now let us for a moment presume that we have found our Obama – who has captured our imagination and can lead us to glory.

If he talks about Hindus – we will label him communal,

If he talks about others – we will accuse him of appeasement and playing vote bank politics

If he talks of rationalizing fuel prices – we will label him anti-poor

If he wants to lower fuel prices – we will accuse him of poor economic sense and fiscal indiscipline.

If he talks of developing Bihar and UP – we will accuse him of favouritism

If he talks of reviving Mumbai – we will criticize him for ignoring the backward areas and their genuine needs.

If he wants to solve the Kashmir issue – we will accuse him of a sell-out and dividing the country

If he wants to act tough in Kashmir – we will accuse him of human rights violations and suppressing the people’s aspirations

If he wants a tough law on terrorism – we will incite the Muslims that this law will be misused against them

If he does not go in for a tough law on terrorism – we will say that we have a weak leader who has no will to take on terrorism.

If he wants to introduce Uniform Civil Code – He is anti-minorities and will divide the nation.

If he is against Uniform Civil Code – He is pro-minorities and not helping a State where law is same for every one.

This leader will be perpetually caught between the Devil and the Deep Sea.

So, Why crib with our present political leadership??...we are not supportive citizens either.


Gopinath's "Artickles" said...

I have three things to say:
I agree
I completely agree
I absolutely agree

Nice Post, Mavin!

manju said...

Yes, 'an Obama' will certainly find it difficult to govern in India. Not even for the good of our country can people come together in support of such a leader.

In India the leaders themselves also support divisive factions of society for their short-term gains. So a new dynamic leader will find it hard to get support from the established leaders too.

Indian Home Maker said...

Our political leaders do reflect the people who vote for them, and the people who vote for them are generally not us, a majority is those who believe whatever they are told. or those who do have some personal gains planned, like free liquor, an LPG gas agency, a government job, safety in case of politically motivated rioting ... yes we do get what we vote for.
But I think we also need the option called 'None of the above' while voting.

Vinod_Sharma said...

An excellent analysis Mavin as always.

But, in deduction I will disagree with you. We need an 'Obama' precisely because of the seemingly irreconcilable reasons that you have mentioned.

Some of us talk very proudly about democracy without voting and actually believe that those who vote inferior are human beings who are not fit to vote - only when they don't throw up leaders that we want. This is no democracy, when the few who are completely disconnected with real India assume that they are 'superior' to those who live out in the country side and know better.

Mavin, a Mahatma Gandhi rose in this very land. And he rose on the strength of those very people who some of us think are easily corruptible and have no brains, to throw the British out. In fact, it was on the shoulders of this very class of the 'educated' and 'aware' few that the British ruled and enslaved this nation. Even after Obama has brought change to America, it is the same few who are fighting change here

But change will come. And a leader will rise. And the few will be very unhappy. Just like the few were when real Indians led by Gandhi drove the British out. Let us not worry about them and get distracted by the disproportionately loud noise they make because of the means at their disposal. We need to have the 'audacity of hope' Mavin.

Mavin said...

Gopi, Manju, IHM - Thanks

Mavin said...


I too am an optimist and I firmly believe that we can overcome all these hurdles.

Our political class just mirrors us as a society. I have tried to comment on the hypocritical attitude of our people who believe they are a paragons of virtue and the political class is the scum of this earth.

We, as a society, are rigid, prejudiced and increasingly intolerant of a different view point. (You can see instances in your life every day)

Mahatma Gandhi took root in a land which had a single objective - Throw the British out and get Independence.

Yet, partition was unavoidable and a million plus lives lost as humans became predators.

Vinod_Sharma said...

Mavin, yes, in Mahatma Gandhi's time, there was mainly one agenda. But, there were many other agendas too even then, some of which are manifesting even today. But Gandhi rose above them, at least substantially, because he could not stop the communal division of India. That demand was the creation of a few belonging to the UK educated, 'secular' elite led by was not the mullahs or ordinary folk living in India's villages who asked for Pakistan.

The situation, in many ways is similar today. For some of the same type of educated, 'secular' Indians, for example, the BJP is a greater enemy than Pakistan. Political fights have been turned into real, irreconcilable battles. No one is willing to give the other a quarter. But, this loud 'city' static is not the voice of the whole country. I hope that does not become that, because if it does, the violence that will erupt in the country will be worse than we saw in 1947.

Yes, the situation is grim. That is precisely why a real leader who talks of hope and not fear will emerge. I have great faith in the collective intelligence and integrity of the real Indians whose voices are seldom heard.

Anrosh said...

and may this one should be added too:
If she was a woman who had a christian name it would be difficult for her to run for election.

if india is a country where chess was born and zero invented and can believe and be PROUD of who we are and want to do the country proud may more "chak de indians" ( vinod sharma wrote an awesome post some time ago ) will be MADE.

Monika,Ansh said...

Agree. Till people in the main stream have the guts to take up politics , things will never change.

Mavin said...

Hi Anrosh,

Thats right - could be very challenging. Can you imagine a Muslim becoming Prime Minister of India in the current inflamed circumstances.

But as Vinod also says - change we must.

Hello Monika,

Welcome to "My Voice"

These main stream people should also have the guts and tenacity to outlast entrenched interests.

Say hi to Ansh - that's a cute photo on the potty...:-)

Krishnan said...

Brilliant analysis Mavin. You have hit the nail on the head.

kochuthresiamma p .j said...

Superb post.
but i beg to disagree on a couple of counts.
1. racism is as entrenched in the american psyche and as linked to the identity as caste. look at the backlash in the US now. There are predictions of KKK revival. so US is a divided nation (Obama's popular vote is 48%?). But the good news is that the new generation is being cured of race consciousness.
2. 'We conveniently like to believe that we are educated, sophisticated, dignified, cultured, well mannered, fair minded, broad minded, honest, democratic, secular, unifying, well informed and so on. This list of virtues is endless'
who are the 'we"? surely not the bpl population? if anyone has these pretensions, it's the 'educated' who dont form the bulk of the vote bank.the substandard, criminal politicians are usually voted into power by the marginalised sections of the society on account of their illiteracy.again, the good news is that, the same voters punish these politicians by voting them out of power if hey fail to deliver.

Today, we need a person who has a national appeal to unite the country which is polralised on caste,creed and class lines.
we need a charismatic leader who can unite the nation.

Mavin said...

Hello Kochuthresiamma P J,

Welcome to "My Voice" and thanks for your comment.

Pt - 1:

My point was that Obama could actually rise to be the President of a country which just a few decades back was a racially divided one. Assuming all Afro-Americans have voted for Obama, you also have 33 - 35% of the whites who have voted for him.

This is a great achievement though it by no means indicates the end of racism.

It will take a long time to erase racism from this planet. I have no pretensions on that.

Point No. 2: Was more a response to what i read on innumerabke blogs. These are surely educated and proudly say they do not vote. They are also the loudest critics and unfortunately our English media given a lot of credence to these people.

Yes - We need a visionary leader but will we jettison our prejudices and believe / join this leader.

Do keep visiting this blog.

Vikram said...

Truly Mavin in a country with the size and diversity of India, the issues are so varied and complex that the politics is extremely diabolical. We are after all carrying with us the legacy of a hierarchical society and colonial administrative structure.

But there are success stories too, examples are Kerala, which has a more sustainable society than western countries with the same level of health and literacy. Punjab, which was wrecked by insurgency but now is mostly prosperous. Meghalaya, where ppl may not look 'Indian' but could give many urban Indians in Delhi and Mumbai a lesson in Indianness.

We have to keep fighting and keep the fire alive.

Mavin said...

Hi Vikram,

Surely...there are some states where decent progress is visible, if you keep aside politics for a moment.

These are far more homogenous states with few disrupting factors on the social front.

The pot boilers are the larger states where demographics are more complicated.

Progress (in the conventional sense or otherwise) seems to have
bypassed a large swathe of land here. As a result you have many young persons with energy but idle, directionless and open to exploitation.

A big challenge but not impossible to take on.