Thursday, January 29, 2009


Barack Obama has been US President for under 10 days. But, watching him go about his brand new job, one that his predecessor always looked weighed down by, it appears as if he has been in the Oval Office for a long time and that the job sits lightly on his shoulder. And this when he has inherited an America that, in eight of George Bush, has literally plummeted from the heights of invincibility to the the depths of vulnerability that it has not seen for a long time.

Already, America and the world are beginning to see a new America that wants to lead the world by example and respect rather than by making examples of others and bulldozing its way by its arrogant might. Obama's first act as President was to sign an executive order to shut down the inhuman Guantanamo Bay Prison. His first ever interview as President was to Al Arabiya, an Arabic channel based in Dubai, to send a clear message to the Muslim world that he makes a clear distinction between ordinary Muslims and Muslims engaged in terror activities. His offer of meaningful dialogue with Iran and North Korea, his decision to stop development of new nuclear weapons, his hyphenation of Afghanistan and Pakistan in the war on terror and the de-linking of India and Kashmir from it etc, are some of the other dramatic steps that he has already taken in these few days.

Not only has Barack Obama signaled a clear break from many past policies, he has put his personal stamp emphatically on them already. It may be recalled that during the election campaign, his biggest weakness was perceived to be lack of experience. John McCain never tired of saying how he knew all about most issues because he had seen and experienced them over many years. But Obama's promise of real change based on his unusual vision caught the imagination of many over the limitations and conditioning of experience that McCain offered.

America and the world is beginning to discover the paradigm shifts that are possible by a vision not entrapped by the inertia of experience. There is no naïveté in Obama's world view. There is a luminous transcendence to it, a transcendence that has been honed in his razor-sharp mind thanks to his multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-nation upbringing, that has no parallel in the Western world. That is why he able to see beyond the obvious and immediate, beyond confrontation to reconciliation and beyond narrow national destinies to the shared global destiny.

No wonder, therefore, that after 100 hours in office, a Gallup poll shows that he enjoys about a two-thirds approval rating for his performance as President. It is not that racism is dead in America. It is simply that with Obama, you are forced to look beyond the colour of his skin. The content of his character, to borrow the words of Dr Martin Luther King, the force of his intellect and the sheer audacity of his positive vision have virtually mesmersied Americans and impressed and filled with hope many others around the world.

When George Bush became President, his body language and words gave away the fact that he had landed in an office to which he would take time to grow up to. That happens to most people when they move up to the next rung in the hierarchical ladder; there is a certain vulnerability, an uncertainty that dissolves only over time, before a man becomes fully comfortable and one with his new station, if at all.

But with Barack Obama, right from the moment he gave his inaugural address, there have been no false steps, no nervousness of unfamiliarity, no awe that he, a black man, is now through the biggest glass ceiling in the world. And this, despite the massive jump in status that his elevation means. He is so supremely confident that you would think that he has been living in the White House and sitting in that chair in the Oval Office forever. It appears as if he was born to be the President of the United States of America and the leader of the world.

In India, the Obama phenomenon has sparked a hunt for his desi version. Many names have been discussed and some have even claimed that they have it in them to create thousands of Obamas in India. Is there an Obama anywhere on the Indian horizon? Can you close your eyes and imagine any Indian leader who, when he becomes Prime Minister, will look like one born to the office from the moment he steps into it? Concentrate. Is an image beginning to emerge? Or is it still a blank slate?