The world has seen made-in-the-Internet scholars, made-in-the-Internet stock-brokers, made-in-the-Internet lovers and even made-in-the-Internet terrorists.
If Senator Barrack Obama is elected the President of the United States on November 4, the US and the rest of the world will be seeing for the first time a made-in-the-Internet President.
The way his advisers and entourage have effectively used the Internet to make him known to the people, to collect funds for him and to project him as a right-thinking person, who will take the US into a brave new world, will form the theme of many likely best-sellers if he wins the elections, as he seems destined to do.
Large sections of the American people are in a state of guilt----- over having suppressed the Blacks for so many years, over having supported President Bush and his Neo Conservatives in their Iraq adventure under the pretext of removing non-existent weapons of mass destruction, and over so many other perceived wrongs of the Bush Administration.
What better way of ridding themselves of their gnawing sense of guilt than to vote for a candidate, who is an Afro-American and who promises to rid the US of the legacies of the Bush administration. Just by casting their vote for him on November 4, they would in one stroke be able to get rid of all their guilt feelings and start a new life as Americans. So they think. As they stand before the voting machine, it will be their hour of the confessional ---- that they were wrong in having supported Bush.
His advisers and entourage have skillfully exploited the widely prevalent mood of guilt in the US to project him as a transformational figure (to quote Colin Powell) the like of which comes but rarely. Vote for Obama and vote for all that that is good and great in the US.
The liberals---- in the civil society, in the media, among the opinion-makers--- have made Obama seem a cult figure. For them, it will be blasphemous to ask questions about his past, to find out who he really is.
Had a white been the Democratic candidate like Senator John McCain, the Republican candidate, they would not have had the least qualms in researching into his past and in dissecting every inch of him.
How can one do it for a transformational, cult figure? Cult figures have to be accepted as such without questions. How can one do that for a Black, who is on the threshold of history by being the first Black to become the President of the US? To question his past and his credentials would be racist. So the American voters have been told.
Can anyone in the US or in the rest of the world assert that he knows Obama well ---- his past and his present and what he will be in future? Future is the child of the past.
Obama is a mix of two vintages. The old pre-2006 vintage and the new post-2006 one. All his admirers know Obama of the new vintage. How many know Obama of the old vintage?
Very few. There is no desire to find out either.
Obama of the new vintage has nothing but the highest words of praise for India and Indians. He wants to continue with Bush’s policy of promoting a strategic relationship with India.
What about Obama of the old vintage? Cautious and reserved in exuding any warmth for India and the Indians lest his Pakistani friends and constituents misunderstand.
It is said that as a student he had more Pakistani friends than Indians. He felt more comfortable in the company of the Pakistanis than Indians. It was his choice and nobody could grudge it.
It was at the invitation of one of his Pakistani friends that he visited Islamabad, Karachi and Hyderabad (Sind) in the 1980s. Nobody can hold that against him.
As an Indian, one will be but human if one felt troubled that he did not disclose this till he became the Presidential candidate. He disclosed this----as if in passing--- when it was alleged that he did not understand the Islamic world and its divisions. He mentioned his visit to Pakistan to show that he knew about the divisions in Islam, about the Shia-Sunni differences.
Why did he keep mum on his visit to Pakistan till this question was raised? Has he disclosed all the details regarding his Pakistan visit? Was it as innocuous as made out by him----to respond to the invitation of a Pakistani friend or was there something more to it?
One would have expected the US journalists to have gone into this, to have quizzed him on it. But, they didn’t.
As I read about Obama’s visit to Pakistan in the 1980s, I could not help thinking of dozens of things. Of the Afghan jihad against communism. Of the fascination of many Afro-Americans for the jihad. Of the visits of a stream of Afro-Americans to Pakistan to feel the greatness of the jihad. Of their fascination for Abdullah Azzam, who came to Pakistan in the 1980s and started teaching in the International Islamic University in Islamabad. Of the fascination of some Afro-Americans for him. Of the frequent visits of Cat Stevens, the pop singer, to Pakistan and of his fascination for Islam and the on-going jihad. Of his conversion to Islam.
One might think that I am morbid in entertaining such thoughts and questions in my mind. But morbidity is understandable when one has a feeling that one has not been told the whole story, but only a part of it.
It is the right of the Americans to decide who should be their President. It is my right to worry about the implications of their decision for the rest of the world, including India. (29-10-08)
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com )