Missing the Point

10 Nov


… and rather spectacularly at that. Dipankar Gupta writes for Outlook:

After the victory of Barack Obama, democracy has again raised its head with considerable swagger. It is true that a dream has been realised in America, and for democracy worldwide. Naturally, comparisons abound, and it has set people thinking everywhere if they could do an Obama in their country too. In India the question that comes up is, who can conceivably be our next Obama? Will it be a Muslim? Or will it be a member of the scheduled caste?

Of the two, religion is a more difficult hurdle to cross.

While the effect of Barack Obama’s election on the African-American community and minorities in general cannot be understated, I’m with the NYT‘s Nicholas Kristoff when he writes:

Barack Obama’s election is a milestone in more than his pigmentation. The second most remarkable thing about his election is that American voters have just picked a president who is an open, out-of-the-closet, practicing intellectual.

The challenge for India is not to come up with a Muslim Prime Minister. The challenge for India is to come up with a Prime Minister who has ideas.


Posted by on November 10, 2008 in Politics


15 responses to “Missing the Point

  1. M

    November 10, 2008 at 3:52 pm

    I actually think the challenge for India may not be so much teh polictician with ideas, but one who is able to implement them..which, I unfortunately believe won’t happen unless our whole political system is overhauled …which I sadly don’t see happenning.

  2. anindianabroad

    November 10, 2008 at 4:12 pm


  3. sachita

    November 10, 2008 at 4:28 pm

    But, was obama elected because he was an intellectual?

    So we need circumstances that would mask out mass’s inherent repulsion towards intellectuals in India.

    Ps: don’t you feel his pigmentation came to the forefront much more after elections? i mean it was not that he went into elections asking people to vote for him because he was black.

  4. prasun

    November 10, 2008 at 4:51 pm

    I read this in a recent article (by Vir Sanghvi I think) where he says that the highlight of Obama’s win was that he distanced himself from identity politics and pitched himself as America’s candidate/president.

    The real challenge in India isn’t whether Mayawati will be prime minister — after all, we have had (lame duck?) presidents of all hues and colors, but whether Mayawati (or others, for that matter) would ever even think of not running as the Dalit (or whatever) candidate

  5. Kokonad

    November 10, 2008 at 5:34 pm

    Personally I do not feel that Dr. Manmohan Singh is lacking any ideas. For all I know, he is a brilliant intellectual and knows exactly what needs to be done for fixing India. But the sheer stupidity of the rest of the country is standing in the way of implementation of these ideas.
    What the country lacks is an awakening of sorts. People are taught to be open minded, but never open up their minds in the melee of their personal gains.
    Obama’s win, as Prasun has quoted, is the result of pitching himself as America’s candidate. Having a Muslim PM or a dalit PM is only going to cause more unrest in the country, as politicians are going to use the identity of the PM to “arouse discontent”.
    The solution to this problem? Make Indians be better citizens.

  6. naren

    November 10, 2008 at 10:18 pm

    A swedish economist, Gunnar Myrdal, wrote a book called Asian Drama – An enquiry into the poverty of nations. In the chapter devoted to India, he identified the major problem as a lack of strong leadership leading to soft options.

    This has been the story of India. Take reservations for example. If the benefits have to percolate to the really deserving low-born, they have to be focussed on them and backed up with other programs such as funding for education.

    Instead we have politician after politician increasiing the quota for the far better off OBCs by a few notches everytime the elections draw closer. Soft option. No one has the political strengh to do what is necessary. Same with J&K. Ditto with the north east. Raj Thakeray. The list can go on.

    We need politicians with balls. Sadly, there are none in sight. Makes not a whit of a difference what religion, sex or caste the prime minister is.

  7. sachita

    November 10, 2008 at 10:33 pm

    I just want to point out one thing.
    Narasimha rao as Prime Minister with Manmohan singh as finance minister
    Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister.

    I rest my case.

  8. wordjunkie

    November 10, 2008 at 10:57 pm

    We do have an intellectual as PM, but I don’t think that counts for much with us. Now more than ever, the race for power is going to be about addressing what each candidate perceives as their vote bank, which in turn will mean a divide and rule, where ‘Brahmin/ Muslim’ and ‘Dalit’ and ‘wife/ widow of’ will gain more credence than any ideology or moral code.
    Through the US elections, there have been several references to the similarities between the rise of Obama and Mayawati, which is really unsettling.

  9. Prasanth

    November 11, 2008 at 7:07 am

    I am a bit skeptical about the whole “Obamas of the world” idea. The idea usually encapsulates(as The Outlook article so brilliantly does) a superficial emphasis on symbols while ignoring the fact that every country not only has a distinct political system but also a unique set of problems and contexts which ensures that a victory by a member of a minority means different things in each country.

    But again it is inevitable that Obama’s victory should give rise to such questions all over the world. As many of the comment-ers have pointed out above, Manmohan Singh is a man of ideas(whatever one might think of those ideas) but is singularly incapable of harnessing political will. In some senses, the inability of one leader to do so(or in other words, “inspire” the country) perhaps points to the strength of our democracy rather than its weakness, Perhaps the parallel of Barack Obama’s victory(if it is something we must aspire for) will come when people stop thinking about leaders in the old paradigms of the Gandhi-Nehrus.


  10. memsaab

    November 11, 2008 at 3:21 pm

    Yeah well we had to suffer under 8 years of a tyrannical, incompetent, arrogant and moronic administration which destroyed our Constitution, our Supreme Court, our economy and our worldwide reputation before Americans would vote for an intellectual.

  11. Amrita

    November 12, 2008 at 2:33 pm

    I guess the point I was trying to make is the one Naren does – that india is governed largely from day to day. We don’t seem to have a direction as a country. The last time we had a plot of some kind was during the NAM, which ironically was all about abstaining from a decision. But since the 90s, when the world shifted, what do we believe in? We keep reacting to what everyone else is doing, but what guides us as a nation? It disturbs me that the two people I see with some idea of what needs to be done are Narendra Modi and Prakash Karat.

    M – it’s a bit chicken ang egg, I agree. The system needs rectification so merit can be rewarded but it can’t be rectified unless we get someone with that kind of drive and ambition.

    Sachita – You’re absolutely right! His color really wasn’t a factor until afterwards, mainly I think because a lot of people really couldnt believe that he’d get this far. I had this weird reaction as I heard his Grant Park speech where for one second, I expected to see his head explode or something. I didn’t realize until then how much I’d bought into the “he can’t win” theory. And Narasimha Rao never gets any credit. He did a lot of BS for which he rightly gets jacked but the man does deserve a little love.

    AiA – you and me both 🙂

    Prasun – if that came to pass, I’d be the proudest person around.

    Koke – there’s definitely something to be said for your POV but the thing about leaders is that they’re supposed to lead even in conditions unfavorable to everything but demagoguery. Nehru, for all his faults, managed that feat while promptly fucking things up through his own limitations as a man of ideas but no one since then has been able to combine or harness the elements of leadership.

    Naren – that is what I was trying to say without much success. Thanks 🙂

    Wordjunkie – you’re not kidding! Disturbing is an understatement. I don’t really think of Manmohan Singh as an intellectual. He’s a bit of a mousy wonk which is what passes for intellectualism in Delhi these days but I can think of any five communists who’re more intellectual than him. And like Naren says, he’s essentially useless because he’s missing important equipment.

    Prasanth – or old paradigms at all. If we could look at outsiders and vote on merit, that would be a wonderful thing.

    Memsaab – well, as someone said, the best thing you can say about Bush is that at least half the country didn’t try to secede on his watch. 😀

  12. harini calamur

    November 14, 2008 at 10:33 am

    i think that the problem with India is that the last few PM’s have all been intellectuals. the last non intellectual PM we had was DEwe Gowda – and given that he slept through the premiership , that would mean that the last non intellecutal PM was Rajiv Gandhi !
    The problem with the political leadership is that it derives from caste or communal votebanks…. i am hoping that the next generation will be able to rise beyond that !

  13. prasun

    November 15, 2008 at 3:49 am

    Amrita – don’t you see what’s common between the two people. Modi has succeeded in uniting the hindu vote whereas Karat still hasn’t grown out of his kurta-jhola-jnu-type days (let me use that stereotype ) – so neither of them need to worry about their vote banks!

    What incentive does a politician (or anyone) have to bring good leadership or progress unless it keeps them in power or otherwise benefits them directly (of course, in a sane world it would). Just look at Chandrababu Naidu. People in Karnataka complain about rural people being neglected when the government wants to fix Bangalore’s traffic!

    Gurucharan Das makes a point in his book India Unbound that only when a larger populace is part of the middle class that people will start voting on economic/progress issues.

    People in India still vote along caste/religion/linguistic/regional lines. At the best they vote against the party in power. The people I know don’t vote (thinking middle class types), and when they do it’s for the party that represents the upper caste Hindu vote. Why do you think Manmohan Singh is a Rajya Sabha member?

  14. Amrita

    November 15, 2008 at 2:31 pm

    HC – the very fact that votebank politics have come to be a political mainstay makes me think these people aren’t all that intellectual or intelligent for that matter. To me, Mayawati seems to have out thought all of them. Now that spells trouble,

    Prasun – You know I’ve been sitting on a book review that pretty much relates to this topic for a while now and you remind me that I ought to dust it off. Those are some excellent points and they deserve a post all their own. Which will come soon. 🙂

  15. prasun

    November 15, 2008 at 3:54 pm

    What about a Dostana review before that 🙂

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