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Millennium Post

Tale of two nations

Fifty years ago on 28 August at Lincoln Memorial Martin Luther King Junior told the huge crowd seeking jobs and freedom of his dream: ‘that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’
Fifty years later on 24 August 2013 his son Martin Luther King III reminded the crowd commemorating the speech what his father said, ‘I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character’. With the first black president Barack Obama as also the first black US Attorney General Eric Holder has his dream now got translated into reality? King’s son does not feel so. He said, ‘This is not the time for nostalgic commemoration nor is this the time for self-congratulatory celebration. The task is not done. The journey is not complete. We can and we must do more.’

True without the historical march for freedom and jobs by 2,50,000 mostly black people neither Holder nor Obama would have been in the two critical posts today. One must not also forget Colin Luther Powell and Condoleezza Rice, the two secretaries of states, who occupied arguably the second most critical post in the US administration – as the nation’s secretary of state. Condoleezza was also the first woman, that too black, who was the national security advisor of President George W Bush II. None of these would have been possible without Martin Luther King II articulating his dream 50 years ago under the giant statue of a President who, 100 years before that had the courage and conviction to take the nation to a civil war for the emancipation of slaves. A great nation needs great leaders who dare to dream.

No wonder that a first time senator, son of a migrant from Kenya, who was audacious and frank enough to admit on the 27 July 2004 in the Democratic National Convention in Boston that his ‘presence on this stage is pretty unlikely.’ What he or the cheering democrats in the convention did not realise at that time that four years later the first time Senator would rewrite the history of the mightiest nation on Earth.

Look at the modest beginning as Obama told the convention on that day. ‘My father was a foreign student, born and raised in a small village in Kenya. He grew up herding goats, went to school in a tin-roof shack. His father – my grandfather – was a cook, a domestic servant to the British... Through hard work and perseverance my father got a scholarship to study in a magical place, America, that shone as a beacon of freedom and opportunity to so many who had come before.’ His mother, too, had a modest life; her father worked on oil rigs and farms and then joined the US army during the Second World War. Imagine someone with such a modest background rising to the level that Obama has reached! Compare India, for a change on the historic 50th anniversary of the famous Martin Luther King’s speech with the USA! In India you are a born leader even if your abilities are suspect. Listen to what one of India’s most experienced politician and cabinet minister Sharad Pawar said on Rahul Gandhi, the future of the ruling Congress, ‘I have no personal knowledge about his abilities. But from the family background he comes, he definitely gets comparatively better knowledge.’ The message is clear though unstated – connection is the king in the world’s largest democracy.

In contrast turn to what Obama said in 2004, ‘My parents shared not only an improbable love, they shared an abiding faith in the possibilities of this nation. They would give me an African name, Barack, or ‘blessed,’ believing that in a tolerant America your name is no barrier to success.They imagined me going to the best schools in the land, even though they weren’t rich, because in a generous America you don’t have to be rich to achieve your potential... I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger American story, that I owe a debt to all of those who came before me, and that, in no other country on earth, is my story even possible.’
Not that the nation President Obama leads has no blemishes. Take the case of Trayvon Martin, a black teenager shot dead in Florida last yearand  whose killer neighbourhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman was recently acquitted.George Zimmerman was not arrested for six weeks after he shot Trayvon Martin dead because, under Florida law, you are allowed to use lethal force if you believe your life is in grave danger.The jury in the trial acquitted him, believing his assertion that he acted in self-defence. Imagine self-defence from a kid of just 17 who had no criminal record and a US court accepting the same! Even President Obama was candid when he said,’Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.’
Did we hear from Delhi’s chief minister Sheila Dikshit when the hapless girl was brutally raped and killed saying that the girl could have been she 50 years ago? No it could not have been so here. Our politicians come from a different class; they don’t have the modest background of President Obama.
No wonder we are where we are today, debating on non-issues.

The author is a communication professional


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