Perspectives: Obama Moment

Obama certainly transformed political discourse throughout the world. In India, his election to the White house-the “Obama moment”, has become a comforting wish. For some, Obama represents a fresh breath in politics. His message of “Change” became an instant hit in the media, among youngsters. His unblemished rectitude, unquestionable academic career and previously-held university faculty position awestruck many. Many Indians and observers of India look forward to such a messiah, who would transform politics (for them), someone who would cleanse the political system(of politics and politicians-which they so hate). And they stop there, they look to Ratan Tata, Narayan Murthy with hope. It seems the elaborate resume and clean image of Prime Minister Manmohan Sing failed to precipitate ‘Obama moment’. I have serious doubt if these people understand what democracy is.

For political observers, the ‘historic moment’ is the victory of a multiracial, bipartisan movement inspired by and culminating in electing a member of minority (blacks are only 13% in USA) and historically oppressed race (community) as President of USA. Political campaign have been biracial (democrats always carried Black votes), but the electoral arithmetic had not elected a Black even in the primaries. For them, ‘Obama moment’ is a triumph of democracy meaning, political equality-the normative ideal of democracy, is achieved.

In India, the first Prime minister from a minority community is (once again) Mr. Manmohan Sing. Before him, all Prime Ministers were Caste-Hindus (mostly Brahmins). His party INC always drew strength from a rainbow coalition of all section of society, Caste-Hindus, Dalits, Tribals, Muslims, Sikh, Christians etc. That wasn’t as historic because; first, he was sworn in handpicked by the Congress President Sonai Gandhi amidst the controversy of her Italian origin, and at time when INC vote base was eroding. Second, Sikh community are not socio-economically marginalized(although here was historical oppression of the Sikh community during Mogul Empire, Khalistani movement and immediately after assassinated of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi).

Ms. Mayawati instead comes from the bottom of socio-economic hierarchy. She associated herself with BSP at it’s nascent stage and led it to the national stage. She was a grass-root political organizer, who consolidated Dalit votes by reaching out to them, on foot, over decades. Her winning formula, labeled by the analysts as “social engineering”, which claims to be all-‘caste and religion’-inclusive has brought her tremendous electoral success. It is only then the national media reluctantly acknowledged her political presence. Recently she figures tentatively as the Prime ministerial candidate for a probable Third front, an alternative to INC and BJP. For political commentators, Ms. Mayawati’s ascendance to the highest executive power is as real and as symbolic for Indian democracy as Obama’ was for USA.

Ms. Mayawati as Primer minister will be a significant milestone, like the one after a daunting uphill, in Dalits’ quest for social justice and political power. It will not be the end of Brahminical power structure, but a serious challenge nonetheless. It is result of painfully slow democratic movement that Dalits pushed over decades, notwithstanding conniving and coercing political stratagems by those at the helm of power. In an India, where Ambedkar has become untouchable, and every other Dalit/backward caste leader is depicted as either corrupt or unintelligent, it will be a long-sought proud moment for Dalits as Indians, their “Obama moment”. For a community which never had a ruler of their own in the nation’s collective memory, it certainly will be historic.


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