Monday, August 17, 2009

Nehru vs Obama

While campaigning for India's first general election, Nehru described his state of mind in a private letter to Edwina Mountbatten.

"Wherever I have been, vast multitudes gather at my meetings and I love to compare them, their faces, their dress, their reactions to me and what I say.... Having long been imprisoned in the Secretariat of Delhi, I rather enjoy these fresh contacts with people... The effort to explain in simple language our problems and our difficulties, and to reach the minds of these simply folk is both exhausting and exhilarating" - Dec 3, 1951, pg 143, India After Gandhi, Ramchandra Guha.

Growing up in an age of extreme cynicism towards the political class, I was incredibly moved by Nehru's words when I first read them in Guha's first-class book. Nehru discusses sharing and explaining the country's problems with its citizenry not merely winning the ballot. It indicated affection for the people he served, but more than that, it indicated respect - respect for poor, uneducated people and their ability to understand and work with him to make the country a better place.

Perhaps it would be silly to expect such nobility today.

But I do feel that Obama has brought some of that spirit to his politics by not giving up on reason, logic and respect for the people. Throughout his campaign and now through the healthcare debate, he has kept reason and logic supreme - despite the opposition going berserk with lies and accusations - believing that people are intelligent enough to see his point. That is showing respect to them.

Yes, he is being criticised for not using more emotional arguments. I agree, there needs to be a human element to such debates. But that should not overrule the rationality of the issue under debate.

And for the sake of politics in general, I hope that the American people will prove his judgment right.

An op-ed by Obama in the NYT, August 16, 2009:

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