Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama of India

The Obama fever has swept the Indian media as well. Whole talk shows were dedicated to the debate on the topic ... Will India have an Obama-esque leader in the near future?

Let me first set forward the criteria that I think defines Obama-esque:
  1. Not from a family that constitutes the national elite. (Obama was hardly a household name)
  2. Highly educated. (Obama is from the Harvard Law school)
  3. Young. (Obama is 47)
So, will we have such a leader in India - NO! Not in the foreseeable future. The reasons are manifold.

Firstly, in India, it takes many decades of being active in politics before a candidate is recognized as a leader at a national level. This is even more true when it comes to prime ministerial hopefuls. I could not find the average age of the Prime Ministers of India - but I am pretty sure it will be in the late 60s. the average age of the current cabinet ministers is 60. In India, it is inconceivable to even think that a candidate can rise through the ranks nearly as quickly as Obama has in the United States.

Secondly, there is a lot less glory in being actively involved in politics in India compared to USA. The term "politics" itself is used in everyday conversation to denote negative tactics that people sometimes use to rise to the top. As a result, those among the highly educated lot who are inclined towards servicing people prefer to achieve that motive through charitable organizations or private sector rather than jump into the realm of politics.

The message is not all negative. There are many areas in which America should aspire to be more like India. We may not be able to answer the question "Where is Obama of India?", but more barriers have been overcome in the 61 years of Indian independence than 230+ years that America has been independent. We have had a female head of state and heads of states from 3 different religions. To this day, we have not seen an American president who was not a male christian. Obama has broken the race barrier but it has taken 230 years.

Something interesting to ponder over - Would Obama win the Indian parliamentary elections if he were to contest? - Lets say for the upcoming Indian elections, we have an candidate who is under 5o years of age, armed with a message of hope, having the best education, short but sound legislation history, no political pedigree and has been in the parliament for only 4 years - would we even consider that candidate for the highest office in the country? Would he stand a chance against Gandhis and Advanis of India? I think we would tell him - "We like you, but wait for another 20 years and we might consider you. We are too busy electing 80 year olds to lead a country where more than half the population is under 25."