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Friday, December 11, 2009

Barack Obama: The New Hope

What a journey! From standing back in the queues for boarding buses, drinking water from fountains that were marked ‘coloreds’, getting meals in a brown paper sack at the back door of restaurants, from no entry to motels to entry into the White House—all within a span of four-and-a-half decades of passing of the Civil Rights Bill—an incredible journey! Has America metamorphosed into a ‘color-blind’ nation? Or, become a nation of velvet with its young lot viewing their vote as the most valuable in a world where everything else around is losing value? 

At least, that is what Barack Hussein Obama’s assertion at his address to his supporters in Chicago, immediately after defeating John McCain to become the first African-American President in the US history, echoes: “Change has come to America.”   Hopefully, it is, perhaps, the beginning of America letting every child of her “to live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”—living true to the spirit of slogan on its official insignia: E Pluribus Unum.

Turning to realities, the first question that begs an answer is: What does Obama’s win mean to America, the world, and particularly for India? First, to America, his win means a great hope and ‘great expectations’. America’s reputation in the world is today abysmally low with a record budget deficit and a $9 tn debt. Unaffordable healthcare is ruling the roost calling for radical changes in its dispensation. The collapse of the Wall Street giants and the resultant  financial crisis have made the markets topsy-turvy. The rise in unemployment rate to a 14-year high of 6.5% in October is only adding fuel to fire. Amidst such crises, many have voted for Obama with a hope that he would ‘redistribute wealth’ to get the Americans out from the woes of the impending economic recession. Given that, the big challenge for Obama would be how to impose fresh taxes without letting capital migrate to tax-havens and the conundrum of issuing more pink slips re-emerge.

Nor is there anything to gloat about on the foreign policy front. At the most, he may be able to shut down the notorious prisons in Gauntanamo Bay, speed up the pull out, if at all, of the troops from Iraq, and may hasten the nation-building process in Afghanistan to improve America’s reputation in the world. But, the question that still haunts the US is: Will it enable America to win back the friendship of European nations? More than that, the world may be more interested in watching how the US reconfigures its financial markets, which is more crucial for bringing in a semblance of order in global financial markets, which in itself is a very daunting task. Which is why, it is sure that certain sections will definitely be disappointed.

Coming to India, it would be watching with great interest to know if Obama is as good as the outgoing President George Bush who put Indo-US relations on a new trajectory. Secondly, India will be watching with caution if his administration is really going to intervene in the Kashmir issue, for it strongly believes that Kashmir issue is a bilateral one. Thirdly, but most importantly, India will be wondering if he is really going to implement what he promised in his campaign: offering incentives to American businesses that do not outsource jobs, for it will affect India adversely, that too, in today’s global financial meltdown.

That aside, what a commoner in India is mightily impressed about is the maturity of the US democracy as reflected in what John McCain—conceding defeat in his speech in his hometown of Phoenix, Arizona—said: “I urge all Americans who supported me not just to congratulate him [Obama] but also to offer our president our goodwill and find ways to come together and find the necessary compromises to bridge our differences and leave our grandchildren and great grandchildren a stronger country than we inherited.”  He is equally impressed by the statesmanship of Obama, which reflects in his reciprocating McCain’s felicitation with an equally mature solicitation: “I need your help.”

And, our obvious curiosity is: When will Indian democracy display such an awesome maturity?

- GRK Murty


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