I was watching the inauguration of Barack Obama to the Presidential office last evening. Apparently some 2 million people had gathered to watch the oath-taking ceremony, battling sub-zero temperature, the largest congregation ever at a Presidential inaugural event.
There’ve been numerous arguments in office on why we in India, the Indian media etc. are making such a big deal about what’s going on in America. It’s a historical moment for America, not for us. There’s change being heralded in America, not in India.
My argument is that Obama being elected the President of United States is not only a signal of change in America, it’s a signal of change globally. It's a harbinger of change in race relations, change in how Africans/African-Americans are perceived, an impending alleviation of the doom that is swallowing up economies, improvement in relations between the Middle East & the rest of the world, and possibly as a fallout, a reduction in the number of terror attacks in non-Muslim countries.
In the US, African-Americans have had a bloody history. They have faced slavery, the Civil War, inconceivable discrimination and segregation (where they wouldn’t be served at the same restaurants as whites, they had to sit at the back of buses while whites rode in front, enter through the back door only and give up their seats in case a white demanded it, where their children couldn’t go to the same schools as whites and their own schools being significantly poor in terms of infrastructure and quality of education, where they couldn’t get treated at the same hospitals as whites etc.)
Even now there are fewer blacks at high posts in corporate America, there is much more poverty among them than among whites, their living standards are much lower than those of whites, American ghettos tend to be teeming with blacks, and crime rates are higher among them than among whites due to poverty & lack of opportunity.
In spite of the abolition of slavery and a tremendous improvement in race relations since the Civil War, even today blacks are a race that, at some level - sometimes implicitly, sometimes blatantly - are discriminated against (including in India which I think is one of the most racist countries in the world).
So a black making it to the most powerful office in the world is a BIG thing, not only for America but also for the world!
The 2 million people gathered at the Capitol Hill to watch the inauguration because Obama’s election brings hope to America & the world. It might also bring along an end to the war in Iraq and peace in the Middle East, as Obama has pledged to recall American troops from Iraq and leave the country (responsibly) to its people. It might lead to a decline in global terrorism, which to a certain extent was fuelled by George Bush’s ‘Axis of Evil’ declarations & ‘Shock-N-Awe’ policies. It might also lead to an easing of the global financial crisis because, like it or not, most economies in the world, especially those of developing & under-developed countries, depend on that of America.
These three challenges are topmost priorities for Obama, as he mentioned in his inaugural speech. These, and cleaning up America’s image in the world and improving it’s corroded relations with other countries (thanks again to George Bush's invasionary, half thought-through policies) by letting them be, by not trying to demonstrate America's might on them, and by working with them based on mutual understanding and respect.
Obama’s views and proposed policies on these issues are refreshingly different from those of George Bush, who the world has had to endure for the past 8 years (thanks to 537 confused "elderly" voters in Florida!!) and whose antics the world has grown completely weary of over time.
Obama brings with him hope, and that is why the entire world, including Indians, is making a big deal about him becoming the President of the United States. That is why each one of us should care, because let’s face it, what that one man does sitting on Capitol Hill will affect the lives and careers of all of us.
Gone are the times when Indians could afford to be ignorant of the happenings around the world. We need to be more aware of the goings-on, we need to be more involved in world affairs. Our perspective on world affairs is zero, which is painfully exposed when we travel outside India and interact with people from other countries. Our views on life and on people & cultures that are different from ours are largely - if not completely - ethnocentric. We don’t have a perspective because we don’t care. It is because of our ‘it-doesn’t-affect-us-so-why-should-we-care’ attitude that we haven't been able to break out of our narrow mindedness and limited perspective.
We need to start caring about what's happening in other parts of the world because we aren’t insulated from world events anymore. If you remember, our economy was ‘opened’ in the 1990s.
It's about time we became aware. The world has become smaller, more cohesive and inter-locked than it was earlier, and what happens in America is bloody well going to affect us. It does already, the impact will only become stronger in times to come.