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Published On:23 November 2012
Posted by Indian Muslim Observer

Why India's minority political leaders should emulate Obama

By Javed Sayed

Barack Obama's re-election lacks the sense of history and the drama of his first victory. Five years ago, when Obama announced his intention to run for president, it seemed incredible that an African American could become the resident of the White House. It may still not be the new normal, but what then appeared unbelievable has been the reality of the last four years.

In 2008, Obama built his campaign around the twin pledges of hope and change. His personal history positioned him to be the perfect messenger for these inspiring promises. In stark contrast, he fought a darker, negative, and far more attritional campaign this year. He tore into his opponent and tapped into the fears of his supporters. If his first victory was greeted with unrestrained euphoria, the celebrations were more muted, the second time around.

And yet, it would be a mistake to underestimate the significance of Obama's victory on Tuesday. He has demonstrated that it is not necessary for a minority leader to always tug at the heartstrings of the voter and base his appeal on lofty ideals and soaring rhetoric. Why cant he fight a hard-nosed campaign like a mainstream politician? Why cant his campaign be as tactical as say George Bush or any other politician?

His re-election will also make it impossible for anyone to describe a black presidency as an aberration or a flash-in-the-pan. Not everyone in the US is overjoyed at the prospect of an African-American as president. His opponents tried their best to highlight his 'otherness'. Around 60 per cent of America's white population did not vote for him. But a large number of white women and younger whites did. As did white males in the crucial battleground of Ohio. A coalition of African Americans, Hispanics, women, and young voters may have propelled Obama to victory but older white males, too, will accept him as their president.

For minority leaders, all over the world, and particularly in India, there is much to learn from the US president. Race and colour are probably more divisive than religion and language. If Obama has breached these seemingly insurmountable barriers to become a two-term president of the US, what stops Muslim politicians in India from emulating his example and aspiring for the top job in the country? Why don't they try to forge the kind of coalition that Obama has? Why don't they set their sights higher?

Blacks and Muslims account for 13-14% of America's and India's populations respectively. Muslims have historically not faced the kind of discrimination here that African Americans have in the US, where in the south, until a generation ago, they were not allowed to sit in the front of buses and eat in restaurants with whites. No black movie star has reigned in Hollywood the way the Khans have held sway in the Indian film industry.

India has had no problem accepting Muslims as presidents, chief justices, and senior bureaucrats including cabinet secretaries. To be sure, there will be resistance to the idea of a Muslim aspiring to be a prime minister of India. But, it will not be much different from the resistance that Obama faced in the US.

Yet, in the six-and-a-half decades since independence, no Muslim politician has aspired to be a national leader. While there are several legitimate constraints, it is also true that the Muslim leadership in India, such as it is, has been hobbled by its excessive focus on community specific issues. It has been largely content to espouse 'Muslim' causes and has jockeyed for position and influence within this limited space. It has seen its role as primarily delivering the Muslim vote to a political party. Political parties, too, have viewed these politicians through this prism. Their importance has been judged by the influence they wield in their community.

Ironically, the Muslim voter is aware of this equation and realizes the limitations of his so-called leaders. He realizes that his need for law & order, employment, education, electricity, and an improved standard of living cannot be met by politicians who are solely focused on him and have no clout independent of him. He knows many of his requirements are similar to those of his fellow citizens and he looks for leaders and parties that have the capacity and the scale to fulfill his aspirations. So, he looks to support Mulayam Singh, Mamata Banerjee, Nitish Kumar, the Congress, and others.

Till the time, Muslim politicians take up national causes and broaden their appeal, they will remain bit players feeding of the crumbs that political parties will throw their way. There will never again be a Rafi Ahmed Kidwai or a Maulana Azad. For a strong and viable Muslim leadership to emerge, it has to look beyond the community, find common ground with other social forces, and form alliances and coalitions across communities. It has to embrace national issues with the conviction that what is good for India cant be bad for Indian Muslims.

Obama can prove to be a valuable role model. He has never disowned his roots but has not let race define his politics. When asked to respond to criticism that he not done enough for black business, without batting an eyelid, he replied that he was not the president of Black America. " I want all businesses to succeed. I want all Americans to have the opportunity. I am not the president of Black America. I am the president of the United States of America,'' he said. When his opponents made not so subtle digs about his "otherness'' he refused to take the bait. He knew that his silence would diminish the opposition.

(Courtesy: The Economic Times)

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Posted by Indian Muslim Observer on November 23, 2012. Filed under , , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Feel free to leave a response

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