VIKRAM MUTHANNA writes: Barack is back, and what a victory speech he gave us!
I say ‘us’ because the speech had something for all of us, in India too.
Like many of us Indians, as I watched Barack Obama’s victory speech on Thursday morning, I was left feeling envious — envious of Americans for having elected for themselves such an inspiring leader as their President.
I was left asking, “Why can’t I have a Prime Minister like him? A Prime Minister who inspires me, makes me feel like I matter, arouses a renewed sense of patriotism even in this severely fractured democracy that is India?”
Just a few days before Obama’s victory speech, our Prime Minister and our future prime ministerial candidate also spoke at a Congress mega rally. What a disappointment it was. No one on the dais could connect with the people they were addressing.
Rahul Gandhi’s ‘screech’ was full of sound and fury, at one point it seemed like he might collapse under his own vocal ferocity. But in spite of all the sound, in the end he shed very little light on any issue.
Instead, he showed us how dim he sometimes can be when he compared support for Kargil war to FDI! Neither did he inspire nor did he inform.
The only good thing about his speech was its timing. It was short.
Then our Prime Minister spoke. The content was repetitive, and like all his speeches, uninspiring. At best it could have inspired a few ventriloquists. Probably Robocop would have done a better job of connecting emotionally to us than our PM.
It is unfortunate. What use is intellect, if it can neither save us nor give us hope or produce words that will inspire us?
More importantly, what most of us would have noticed during the American presidential elections is the role of the family. We Indians never tire of saying that Americans are very detached from their families and add how we are such a family-oriented culture.
But every US President is judged by his family life. Every US President brings up his family in his speech, and never fails to mention the family values they imbibed in their formative years.
On the victory night, Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden both had their families on stage.
In fact, Obama said:
“and I wouldn’t be the man I am today without the woman who agreed to marry me 20 years ago. Let me say this publicly. Michelle, I have never loved you more.”
Then he acknowledged his children saying:
“You’re growing up to become two strong, smart, beautiful young women, just like your mom. And I am so proud of you.”
In fact, not only did Obama thank his family, he also thanked and praised his opponent Mitt Romney’s family when he said:
“The Romney family has chosen to give back to America through public service. And that is a legacy that we honour and applaud tonight.”
Now we have to ask, for a people who claim to be so much more ‘family-oriented,’ how many of our leaders have ever brought their family to the public fore to feel one with the people?
How many of our leaders have thanked their wives for their success (may be they don’t want to create ripples by picking one over the other)?
How many politicians have thanked their children for tolerating their absence?
Even if they do, it is a display to garner sympathy and not family values.
Every Indian politician’s family life is shrouded in secrecy and when their children join them in politics, it is for personal gain, or when they have learnt the dirty tricks of the trade. Or even worse their names surface only when their illegal property is unearthed or a back door deal is exposed.
So political families get involved to stay in power and loot together. It makes us wonder, is there any true patriot among Indian politicians? It seems more likely that they love this country like one would love their goose that lays golden eggs, that’s all.
While we were in envy, Obama’s speech also made us feel miserable, because he made us think about our own nation when he said:
“We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt, that isn’t weakened by inequality, that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet. We want to pass on a country that’s safe and respected and admired around the world.”
We were left thinking, what do our leaders want to leave behind for our children? A chaotic mess, that churns out black money and mediocrity, over which their equally greedy children can rule?
American Presidents care about legacy. But our leaders care only about power. And the only legacy they worry about is passing on their constituency and seat to their children. So they are either in power or forever in pursuit of it.
No wonder that yesterday Vijay Kumar Malhotra at age 80 won his 40th term as President of the Archery Association of India. It’s astounding that in 40 years, the members could not find anyone better than him.
When this is the case, it’s power that drives our leaders, not the vision of a better India or patriotism. That is why our election is based on promise of freebies, caste and money.
Not on agendas such as social justice, equality and prosperity.
Obama made us cheer for an otherwise arrogant America, when he said:
“We believe we can keep the promise of our founding fathers, the idea that if you’re willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or where you love. It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, abled, disabled, gay or straight you can make it here in America if you’re willing to try.”
Can any of our leaders say that?
Have we ever heard our leaders say “no matter whatever you are, North Indian or South Indian, no matter if you are rich or poor, Hindu or Muslim, abled or disabled, if you are willing to work hard and be sincere, you can make it in India?”
No. Instead, our leaders have created an environment where you have to be born rich or be crooked to make it in India. We have to be a certain vote bank to avail basic facilities and must be able to mobilise a mob to get justice.
Obama probably is the best thing that happened in recent times to the very idea of democracy. Because when we heard Obama’s speech, we felt inspired to be part of a democracy.
We felt we needed to be part of nation-building.
We felt we mattered.
We felt we had to vote.
We felt we had to be responsible citizens.
In contrast, our leaders have left us feeling deceived and helpless, so helpless in fact that we want to flee this nation the first chance we get. The only ones who are staying back are those who cannot leave due to financial or family constraints; in some cases, the inability to adjust to a new culture.
That is why so many of our young, unappreciated minds go there. They almost always do better than they would have here in their own country. They go there and become whatever they want. Some may disagree, especially our neo-rich, real-estate barons and corporate honchos who say that India is shining and no one wants to leave.
Well, then how come there is still a line outside the US Consulate offices all over India even today and there is no line in sight anywhere near an Indian Consulate in any part of the world?
That’s because India does not harbour an environment to facilitate the development of a decent and dignified citizen.
Instead we are engulfed in the smog of corruption, crony-capitalism, casteism and a lethargic justice system that has only helped the development of a crooked, greedy and self-centered citizenry.
When Manmohan Singh became the Prime Minister with Rahul Gandhi waiting in toe, we assumed there was hope. Instead, in these ‘hopeful’ hands, our nation has become hopeless.
And so today while we watch in envy the American President’s inspirational and touching address to his nation, we are left orphaned with no leaders to inspire us or lead us. The only thing holding us together is our collective sense of greed and insecurity.
We have no hope.
We have only God.
But he too seems to have given up.
(Vikram Muthanna is managing editor of Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared)