Tuesday, January 20, 2009

PRESIDENT 'BLESSED' OBAMA, THIS IS OUR MOMENT

"People of the world, this is our moment, this is our time." With these words, Barack Obama electrified 200,000 people who had gathered to hear him speak at the Berlin Victory Memorial on July 24, 2008. Then there were not many around the world who believed that this black man was actually going to be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States of America on January 20, 2009, in front of a record two million excited people filled with hope and excitement. Despite the promise of real and authentic change that he was representing, despite his inclusive vision that was not limited by existing barriers and despite a world view that made him stand apart from, and taller than, all global leaders around him, few really thought that America was ready for him, for the big change.

Men of destiny often arrive at their destination even as others believe they are still on the way and are not sure whether they will reach. I had been following Barack Obama on his campaign trail for a few months before he delivered this speech and had already begun to feel that there was something not ordinary about this charismatic man who spoke like no other politician does.

But on that day when I watched him speak and listened to what he had to say to the people of the world, as if he was the leader of them all and not just of the people of the United States, I had little doubt in my mind that he was destined to grace the Oval Office and lead not just America but the whole world, and not just as a political leader but as a unifying, inclusive beacon of morality and hope. The very little doubt that lingered in not my mind alone had nothing to do with the man; it had everything to do with the remnants of racism. "There are many people in this country who are scared that a "black" President may become one of the best in our history", wrote a commenter in The Huffington Post in response to Obama's speech, giving a peek into the unsettling effect that Obama rise was having in America.

As I then travelled more often with Obama on his journey till Election Day, the continental physical distance between us notwithstanding, my thoughts moved back and forth between what was happening in India and the US and elsewhere, inspiring me to write as many as 15 posts with the persona, the idea that Obama was, as the prime mover.

Like many others, I was struck by the similarity between the names of Osama and Obama. They somehow reminded me of the story of Saul who became Paul, and led to my first post on Obama. The dissimilarities between Obama and Bobby Jindal were, again, too glaring to be missed and the resultant post was one of my most read efforts. When I watched Michelle speak at the Democratic Convention, I was struck by how she complimented and completed Obama, and could see that she was going to set new standards of grace, dignity, character and charisma as the First Lady of the US. And when Obama chose his running mate, the coincidence of Obama and Biden Vs Osama bin Laden seemed to be prophetic and not just an accident.

Shashi Tharoor and Rajdeep Sardesai inspired me to question the 'search' of some Indians for an Indian Obama in Harvard, a view that completely missed what the Obama phenomenon was really about. Laloo Yadav's shocking antics were the food for a comparative reality check, as was Rahul Gandhi's announcement that he was going to create thousands of Obamas running around the country. Hillary Clinton's acceptance of Obama's offer to become Secretary of State was an eye-opener to the fact that something similar was inconceivable in the Indian political landscape that had become a hereditary affair. There were other Obama based posts too; all of them can be found here.

Today, an unprecedented more than two million souls charged by the call for change have descended on Washington to join Obama as he completes his long and remarkable journey to the White House. Today, a record breaking hundreds of millions more around the world are with him there through their television sets, computers and mobiles. Today, Obama's journey of a making promises gives way to the journey of delivering on them. Today, the Oval Office welcomes him and places at his command the power and the tools that he needs to give concrete shape to the 'change' that he wants to bring to America and the world.

From today, Obama will be judged not by his eloquence but by his actions. From today, the people of the world will start watching what he, who presented himself to the people of Berlin as a citizen of the world, does to better the "shared destiny" of all people of the world. From today, they will want to know what he is doing to to "defeat terror and dry up the well of extremism that supports it". From today people will weigh his every action against of the ideals of Dr Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi that he has been telling them about.

Will Obama actually prove to be the transformational global leader that he appears to be? Or are his inspiring speeches to be to be viewed through the same prism of skepticism that is used to filter the often dishonest election speeches of other political leaders?

In a poll on this page which ends today, 43% of the 101 have who have voted believe that Obama is going to prove to be the transformational leader that he had been projecting himself as all through the long Presidential campaign. 35% believe he won't - some influenced no doubt by their Indian experience, others by the American one. 16% are not sure while 6% don't know. For a such a large percentage of people to repose faith in a black man from nowhere even before he has spent a single day in office is nothing less than a miracle, a miracle no crystal ball gazer could have foreseen.

At this defining moment in history, as Barack Hussein Obama has become the President of the United States even before taking the oath of office, there is more than high expectation and hope in America as well as the forgotten corners of the world, where the word has already reached. This man, whose name means "Blessed", is alive to the significance of the sacred moment. He knows its connect with past that he has inherited and the future that he wants to bequeath.

"People of the world - the scale of our challenge is great. The road ahead will be long. But I come before you to say that we are heirs to a struggle for freedom. We are a people of improbable hope. With an eye toward the future, with resolve in our hearts, let us remember this history, and answer our destiny, and remake the world once again." With these goose-pimple raising words, Obama had roused Berliners and people around the world on that July afternoon, like no other American leader had ever done.

Today, we the people of the world welcome President 'Blessed' Obama with open arms and hope in heart that he will waste not a moment to start redeeming his pledge of answering our shared destiny and remaking the world once again. This is our moment indeed.