from “Yes we can” to “May be, let’s see”

Hoping against Hope
A Lawyer and An Economist

:: Barack Obama and Manmohan Singh ::

:: 9/11 to 9/11/11 ::

I think today, the day after a decade since 9/11, it is the right time to reflect on Barack Obama’s first shot at the presidency of USA.  When Barack Obama became the president of the United States in 2009, when he won the Nobel peace prize (I still don’t think it was a wasted investment by the Nobel committee), many including me were very happy that we have found something that could change our negative perception of the United States.  There is no denying that President Obama has suffered from inheritance of loss.  He has been hit from all sides…be it global economy, be it the wars in the middle-east, be it sections of hard line domestic opposition.  However, I must say that Obama has not followed his eloquence in speech with complete credible action.  Barring a few anecdotal and symbolic successes here and there, the current stand of the Obama administration and the global situation makes me wonder whether the first term in office for Barack Obama has almost been a failed attempt at the presidency of USA.

Unlike the USA that saw a new president in Obama after the Bush era ended, India continues to have Dr Manmohan Singh as its prime minister.  With all their limitations and drawbacks both George W Bush and Dr Singh had a fantastic professional relationship.  Although Obama struck all the right notes when he spoke to Dr Singh in the sidelines of the London summit (soon after he was elected) and then during his visit to India (2010), he has a left a lot to be desired when it comes to tangible difference in the USA’s approach to many things including its ties with India (at least the way it is perceived).  Frankly, I don’t know the specifics.  However, I see a lot of similarity between the way in which Dr Singh and Mr Obama are struggling with their respective jobs.

There is no doubt in the sincerity with which Dr Singh has tried to address the issues facing India.  There is no doubt that President Obama has the right beliefs and has tried to take his country along the best path.  Unfortunately, both of them have been let down by themselves and their colleagues.  Dr Singh has no personal mandate from the people of India because he never contested a Lok Sabha election to be the prime minister and as a result he has lacked authority both within his party as well as the parliament.  Ironically Dr Singh’s first term (UPA 1) although had a lesser numerical strength in the Lok Sabha, could deliver on many things.  An improved political stability at New Delhi has not yielded an improved government performance from his government.

On the other hand, Obama has had to fight with a divided US senate on all domestic issues.  He is almost fighting a majority in his country that does not want to change.  “Yes we can” has gradually become “May be, let’s see”.  To be fair to Obama, three years in office is a very short time to change some of the problems (US’s own creation) that have taken decades to ferment.  He still has around 12 months to convert some of his policy vision statements to reality.  One can only hope that Obama would not be bogged down by US’s internal political conflicts, which has increasingly become a theatre of the absurd.  The same cannot be said of Dr Manmohan Singh.  I personally wish Dr Singh well and hope that his legacy both as a bureaucrat and as a PM will be judged with due fairness and sympathy by India’s history in the making.

India has fought terrorism for a long time.  I remember former British Prime Minister Tony Blair replying to a question during the Iraq enquiry.  He had said that the calculus of risk changed after 9/11.  It may have.  I would just say that the perception of risk changed after 9/11 and the world has not been the same since.

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