In the last two weeks, sitting in Canada and peering into the United States of America across the world’s longest unprotected border, I have witnessed what is perhaps the world’s most anticipated and watched political theater: the choosing and crowning of the presidential candidates of the Democrats and Republicans, one of whom will be successful in November this year to become the President of the world’s most powerful country.
The contrast between the Democratic and Republican conventions was as sharp as day and night; the democrats attempted Reaganesquely to paint America as “the shining city on the hill” and the Republicans portrayed it as a “divided crime scene”. While agreeing all was not hunky dory with the USA, the Democratic standard bearer Hillary Clinton, argued “Americans are stronger together” and, while “it is the greatest country on earth”, its best days are ahead and together the Americans could “make it greater.” The Republican Candidate Trump, the proto fascist xenophobe called America a weakened country, its military a disaster, its cities crime ridden and its influence and reputation in the world at its nadir promising to “make it great again”.
As a Canadian citizen and an Indian by heritage I was mesmerised by the furious arguments, soaring speeches and frightening diatribes in the most watched political spectacle in the world. The US is still the most influential power in the world with the largest and growing economy. Therefore its politics is significant for the world. This year’s election more than any other in recent history pits Trump’s isolationist, protectionist and xenophobic America motivated by fear of the “other” against an aspiring, inspiring and inclusive America — a country of the world– of Obama and Hillary Clinton.
As a child of and in India I grew up in the progressive and secular afterglow of Independence, reading the soul inspiring words of Mahatma Gandhi that conveyed unconditional inclusion, equality, compassion and justice. Listening to Barack Obama’s stream of oratory in support of Clinton and making the US a fairer, more inclusive, egalitarian and just country in a world that is crying out for world statesmen and stateswomen, I was filled with hope for our world.
I know US is just one country and not always a force for good. But in a world beset with dictators, corrupt leaders lining their own pockets rather than ending poverty and corruption for their people and budding proto fascist demagogues like Trump, it was refreshing to hear the likes of Obama calling Americans to a higher purpose.
In the wall to wall television coverage of the two conventions in the US, I was impressed by the words and the way in which Michelle and Barack Obama cajoled, urged and inspired Americans to aspire for the ideals of liberty, equality and prosperity for all. It reminded the Indian in me of the caravan of the freedom movement that gripped India for the first 50 years of the 20th century and the panoply of larger than life giants that led and won it. The words of Nehru’s Tryst with Destiny reverberated in my soul. One may not agree with or like them, but one can’t resist marvelling at the likes of Nehru, Ambedkar, Patel, Bose and Gandhi to name just a few and how they and others marshalled India and Indians into the dawn of independence.
While the US Republicans and Democrats alike proclaim Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson and even the likes of Regan as their own, the politics of India belittles its heroes by arguing about what their current political identity would have been rather than celebrating their unflinching commitment to their shared ideals and the struggle for India’s freedom; BJP sullying Patel by trying to appropriate him for their narrow Hindutva project and the Congress belittling Gandhi and Nehru as if they would have agreed with everything the current Congress’ luminaries do or stand for.
As a Canadian, I know Canadian politics and influence is quite tame compared to that of the US.
But India is an ancient civilisation, world’s largest democracy and a growing economic power. It is true that it faces the issues of grave injustices, inequalities, poverty and corruption all over the country and near absence of the rule of law in some parts. But it has the potential to be a prosperous, fair, just and great nation–among the foremost nations of the world. Sadly, it lacks the leaders to match this moment in its history. This moment in India’s history requires men and women who can draw upon the history of its ancient and modern leaders to urge and steer it upon a path of unity of purpose and progress beyond the narrow confines of caste, region and religion.
Indians, India is searching for you. Come, one and all. Come, steer it to its destiny of greatness.