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10 lessons for Modi in Obama’s SOTU address

President of the United States, Barack Obama delivered his last State of the Union address earlier this morning (as per Indian Standard Time). A good orator who knows how to win over his audience, Obama cast a spell on yours truly. It was a moment of déjà vu; his address reminded me of his speech on the day he was sworn in as the 44th President of the US.

Obama SOTU

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Although aimed at giving a direction to American people for the coming year, this year’s address by Obama easily qualifies as a textbook example of how a democracy should function. Not just his Republican comrades, Obama’s suggestions apply to the Indian Right Wing as well.

Here are 10 quotes from Obama’s SOTU speech that the Indian Prime Minister Modi can share with his compatriots in the Sangh:

  1. A great education isn’t all we need in this new economy. We also need benefits and protections that provide a basic measure of security…. That’s why Social Security and Medicare are more important than ever; we shouldn’t weaken them, we should strengthen them.

After coming to power, the Modi Sarkar had slashed the budget for social sector and delinked several schemes. The budgetary support to States for schemes like mid-day meal has been stopped; states are burdened with the expenditure of NREGA. Healthcare spending has also taken a hit in the new regime.


  1. Food Stamp recipients didn’t cause the financial crisis; recklessness on Wall Street did. Immigrants aren’t the reason wages haven’t gone up enough; those decisions are made in the boardrooms that too often put quarterly earnings over long-term returns. It’s sure not the average family watching tonight that avoids paying taxes through offshore accounts.

The BJP has built its whole propaganda on the issue of “illegal immigrants”. All ills of the country have been pinned on these people (following a certain faith). Obama’s message has a bearing on the BJP too.

Moreover, the BJP after coming to power has been burdening the common people with taxes and cess. Small businesses are suffering as big corporate honchos enjoy tax benefits. As Obama points out, Modi must realise the middle class’ woes and take corrective measures. Ending subsidy is not the solution, cleaning up the system is.


  1. We’ve protected an open internet, and taken bold new steps to get more students and low-income Americans online.

Open internet is essential for Digital India. But the BJP government has come across as a headless chicken when it comes to Net Neutrality with the Telecom Minister defending freedom of expression on the internet with Net Neutrality during his statement in the Rajya Sabha.


  1. Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it. You’ll be pretty lonely, because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it.

During an interaction with students on September 5, 2014, Modi had said, “climate has not changed, we have changed”. Modi was also vague on global warming and its causes in an interview with The Hindu a few days earlier.

“Climate change? Is this terminology correct? The reality is this that in our family, some people are old … They say this time the weather is colder. And, people’s ability to bear cold becomes less,” he said.


  1. We need to reject any politics that targets people because of race or religion. This isn’t a matter of political correctness. It’s a matter of understanding what makes us strong. The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity and our openness and the way we respect every faith.

No matter how fiercely the BJP contests the fact that intolerance is on the rise in India, there can be no iota of doubt that BJP leaders and MPs have been repeatedly making xenophobic comments against fellow citizens just because they follow a different faith or support a different party. The silence of the PM on the issue is a mark of approval for his partymen’s actions.


  1. The future we want – opportunity and security for our families; a rising standard of living and a sustainable, peaceful planet for our kids – all that is within our reach. But it will only happen if we work together. It will only happen if we can have rational, constructive debates.

The space for debates in India has been shrinking since this government came to power. It’s my way of the highway. Anybody who criticises BJP is asked to go to Pakistan. Modi has become the gospel truth. Fake photos, shrill diatribes and crass behaviour has become the mainstay online.


  1. A better politics doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything. This is a big country, with different regions and attitudes and interests. That’s one of our strengths, too.

This is the strength of a democracy. Unless we accept the diversity of India, we cannot succeed. Multiplicity of views is our strength and we cannot ignore it. The Sadhvis and Yogis of BJP must be taken to task by the PM.


  1. We have to reduce the influence of money in our politics, so that a handful of families and hidden interests can’t bankroll our elections – and if our existing approach to campaign finance can’t pass muster in the courts, we need to work together to find a real solution.

“Black money leads to money power. Money power leads to muscle power. Muscle and money power are a toxic combination in democracy” – This is the stand of Mamata Banerjee regarding election reforms. On numerous occasions, Trinamool has voiced the message and asked for all parties to come forward to set the wheels of change in motion.

In 2014, BJP ran a campaign worth thousands of crores. The media blitzkrieg was responsible to an extent in shaping public opinion. Therein lies the danger of money power in democracy. India, like US, needs electoral reforms.


  1. Voices that help us see ourselves not first and foremost as black or white or Asian or Latino, not as gay or straight, immigrant or native-born; not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans first, bound by a common creed.

Unity in diversity is the thread that binds India. We must respect the diversity; then only can we become true Indians. We must respect each other’s cultures. Imposition of ‘Raj Bhasha’ from Delhi or dictatorial interferences in state matters is counter-productive. We must not just be tolerant of other cultures but also respect them. And most importantly, the government of India must accept that rights of sexual minorities are also human rights!


  1. Democracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens. It doesn’t work if we think the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice, or that our political opponents are unpatriotic. Democracy grinds to a halt without a willingness to compromise; or when even basic facts are contested, and we listen only to those who agree with us.

From ministers to MPs, “fringe” elements to party president, BJP has a whole list of netas who think they are the flag bearers of patriotism and anybody who does not agree with their brand of politics must be sent to Pakistan. That’s why ‘Go to Pakistan’ becomes common exchange during election season, the BJP Party President remarks Pakistan will celebrate if BJP loses or the PM (denigrating his own office) takes potshots at those who eat biriyani!


India is a great nation with not so great people. We can make India proud. We must strengthen our democracy. Obama’s speech today was a small guiding principle for the government of India to practice in the days to come!


The Intolerance Debate – From the Perspective of a Gay Man

Over the past 48 hours the heavens have been breathing fire on India, all hell has broken loose on this country. During a one-on-one interaction at the Ramnath Goenka Awards for journalism, Aamir Khan decided to speak his mind on the topic that has been the topmost concern now in the country – intolerance.

For those interested, watch what Aamir said here (not for the outrage-happy generation that does not read beyond headlines)

This post is not to post a defense of Aamir’s stand – that’s done and dusted; Aamir himself has issued a statement. What compelled me to write this post were some thoughts that crossed my mind while reading the vitriol against Aamir online.

I was reminded of two dates – very significant ones, for a gay man in India – 2 July, 2009 and 11 December, 2013. The former was like a day of emancipation for the LGBT community in the country, freedom 63 years after independence. The latter when the highest judicial body of the country forced many like me into tears, ending the hopes of equality for many.

Having grown up in an environment where effeminate behaviour was mocked, laughed at and called an aberration, it was a welcome relief to finally breathe in free air. After July, 2009 a silent social revolution was brewing. There was open talk about alternate sexuality. Films, for a change, were taking the subject seriously. The population at large was coming to terms with the idea that some people may have different choices.

In 1950, the Constitution that was passed vouched to protect the diversity of India. We are a nation of myriad languages, cultures, traditions. We may be Bengali, Tamil, Punjabi or Marathi – ultimately we are all Indians. Similarly, we all have different biological make-up. I am a man who seeks love (and lust, if you may) in another man. I have friends who believe they are women trapped in a man’s body. I know others who are women who seek solace in females. Needless to say, vast majority of my friends are heterosexual (like the society is).

In 2009, we were successful in dispelling the notion that majoritarianism is “normal”. Justice AP Shah (God Bless Him) chose to uphold the diversity of India instead of giving in to those sought to establish uniformity in choices. Sadly, this was all undone in 2013. After the pronouncement of the deadly blow on 11 December, 2013, most political parties, barring one or two, supported the rights of LGBT community.

The party that stood out in its vociferous opposition to alternate sexuality is currently in power and the man who was mostly giving bytes against homosexuality is sadly the Home Minister of India now. And this is why I feel insecure in India. Living in India feels like Orwell’s worst nightmares coming true. You must hail the Führer or be doomed. It is stifling.

India celebrates Unity in Diversity. Uniformity would kill the spirit of India. If I do not like a channel on TV, I would switch to another one instead of throwing a stone at the TV set in a fit of rage. My personal choices – what I wear, what I eat, who I sleep with – are best left to me. We elect governments at the age of 18, surely we can handle these trivial decisions in life.

This is my country and I refuse to live here like a criminal. Love for country does not make one a blind nationalist. A true patriot would speak out when the State commits a wrong. Differences of opinion, like different choices of sexuality, must be allowed to exist freely, without fear. Stifling the voices who refuse to be counted in the majority (and I do not mean religion here) is against the idea of India.

Although I voted against the party in power now, 31% of my countrymen did; their verdict needs to be respected. The government must respect the office it holds. With so many issues facing the country, this mindless obsession over controlling personal liberties is baffling. Few call them the fringe; sadly the fringe has taken over while the mainstream is a mute spectator.

If things go this way, I am afraid the day is not far when IPC Section 377 will be used against us ruthlessly just like POTA was once used against the religious minority. Let us hope my fears are unfounded and the leader of the nation takes over the reins with renewed zeal and lives up to the erudite speeches he makes abroad.

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