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    Rabble Rousing Random Ramblings by S Jagadish is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.

    November 14, 2008

    An Indian Obama?

    On November 4 2008, Barack Obama was declared the winner of the 2008 US presidential election. For quite a few days before that, ever since he was announced as the Democratic Party's candidate, TV channels in India kept talking about whether just like Barack Obama rose to be a contender, could an event of equivalent significance happen in India. So much so that Rajdeep Sardesai asked "Who will be India's Obama?". Once the election results came in, the same questions started pouring in.

    Several opinions were provided, and there seemed to be consensus that such an event was possible in Indian politics, especially given Mayawati's stratospheric rise ever since the trust vote in July.

    While I wouldn't rule out the possibility, it seems to me that such an event would end up being largely symbolic. We're a nation that prides itself on symbolism. We take great pride in listing it out. We've had a woman prime minister, a Sikh prime minister, 3 Muslim presidents, a Dalit president, a Sikh president, a woman president, Christian party leaders, etc.

    Yet, a few aspects of our symbolism are bloody obvious. For one, the presidency is not the single most important political job in India. In fact, it isn't even a political job. So making someone from a minority section of the population (based on gender, religion or caste) as the president doesn't mean a thing, in my opinion.

    To compare it with the USA election where an African-American was elected (by direct & indirect voting) as the president is very much an apples-oranges comparison.

    The voters of the USA knew well in advance that Barack Obama was the candidate of the Democratic party. In India, the equivalent would be a party announcing before the elections that someone from a minority (gender, religious or caste) section of the population would be the Prime Ministerial candidate. For e.g., the Congress (I) announces that Manmohan would be the man or the UNPA announcing that Mayawati was the front's candidate.

    How likely is that? Not too likely, I'd say.

    The other thing to keep in mind is that Barack Obama isn't totally African-American. His mother, Ann Dunham, is white. I'm fairly sure that had an impact on the white voters who were ambivalent about voting for him.

    In short, I don't quite subscribe to the notion that the time is ripe for an Obama-like upheaval in India's political circles for the simple reason that any such event would be the result of a movement largely symbolic in nature.

    PS: I write this from Cambridge, Massachusetts where I landed on Sunday. I'm here on a business visit till December 5. The weather is not as cold as I expected, so the going is good for now. I rather like the city, and will do some roaming around in Boston & Cambridge over the weekend. It isn't often that you land up in a city that has two great educational institutions and was the venue of a momentous protest in the country's history.

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