Wednesday, January 21

Some more reflecting

Nimish has an excellent post about the elections here. The following is my comment on it, which I am taking the liberty to reproduce since it ended up being so long.

"You raise some very pertinent questions about Obama, the historic significance in terms of what Obama can do and symbolizes for democracy, the expectations people have from him, if attitudes can change suddenly…

Like you, I was initially a Clinton supporter, or rather was in favor of Clinton over Obama or McCain. Part of it was to do with her being a Democratic member and a woman. I have a long standing question about why the US has never had a woman President, and I still have to find a really convincing answer to it. But that is a different story.

As for Sarah Palin, she was a glamour doll for a party that was desperate for some glamour. Had she showed some understanding of issues, I would have been sympathetic. But the minute she spoke, she was a disaster. It is wrong that election campaigns resort to mudslinging, but that is politics and no one has escaped it so far. It is admirable that that is not the only thing that happened there was serious policy debate too. And for that some character assaults could be pardoned.

I don't really remember when I was charmed by Obama, but that's what happened. For all my educational and professional background, I was finally charmed by his oratory and smile. I could see the "hope" everyone talked about. And after the initial daze subsided, I started listening to him objectively. He is an intelligent man. There were issues I did not agree upon, or was skeptical about, but there was the underlying fact that he was a rational intelligent man who could be expected to make policy decision based on facts, who would be able to grasp the various aspects of a situation, at least when informed about them, and that made him different. Of course it would be unreasonable to expect him to take decision without political and electoral considerations. But within the scope of his party ideology they would be rational. Obama’s victory is historic in that he is the first black President. But if it will end at that is speculative. There are unreasonable expectations of him. He will be closely watched because of that and because he is Black. And he will fail numerous times. How that is handled will tell us if that race gap has been bridged.

The question you raise about kalyankari neta saving the people is also very interesting. But that it happened here in the US is not a surprise because of the very nature of their political system, their democratic setup. Through a presidential democracy they have institutionalized the ek kalyankari neta idea for decades. The fact that they vote less on party lines, more for the actual person inculcates that within them. We in India are oriented into thinking about the party we are voting for than the person. There are very few leaders who we vote for individually. We vote for the Congress, the BJP, CPI, SP, BSP… The candidate might be a convicted criminal, but the party is good. We vote for a group of people. It is always ambiguous who the Prime Ministerial candidate is. But even then it is sarkar maibaap.

They way I understand government as an institution it came about because people need someone who will look after them, who will undo their problems, who will uplift them from their hardships. Even if we look at government as a group of people, as an institution, or even a bunch of buildings, we are still looking for someone to help us live our lives happily. Even a socialist, communist government is expected to do that. The idea remains and will continue to exist as we as people always need something that we individually cannot provide ourselves with. As part of a society, due to our interactions and interdependence we need someone ‘other’ to look out for us. The need for a kalyankari neta, the sarkar maibap continues."

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