The farewell address of Barack Obama bore the hallmarks of a true leader—because it was not only about him but his country people; it was never “my” achievement but “our” achievement. Also, as always, he started his address by saying “Michelle and I…,” reinforcing her role as a partner rather than just as a supportive presence in this journey. Mr. Obama showed the world that it is not a prerequisite to leave everything in order to fulfil the demands of a position of power, authority and responsibility. He never for once portrayed Michelle, Malia and Sasha as second priorities, instead highlighting their role as integral to his entire life, including his tenure as President of the Unites States.
We wake and sleep with speeches vibrating in our ears. However, we are yearning to listen to a leader who does not speak like a politician.
While most politicians would have thanked a spouse for their “sacrifices” and glorified having had to miss parenting milestones because they were too busy changing the world, he highlighted the importance of being a husband and father first. Mr. Obama also didn’t shy away from describing his vice-president and his wife as a second “family”, drawing yet another standing ovation for himself.
Congratulations Mr. Obama! Thanks for letting us witness the traits of a genuine leader in the past eight years. Here in India, we wake and sleep with speeches vibrating in our ears. However, we are yearning to listen to a leader who does not speak like a politician.
Here are seven ways in which Obama is very different from his counterpart in India.
1. It’s not all about me, me, me
Obama: “I am asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change — but in yours.”
Modi: “I am very happy today. I am PM of the country, you know which political party I belong to. Manohar Parrikarji is also from BJP, Goa CM Laxmikant is also from the same party. We are not praising each other because we are colleagues. There’s a reason behind the praises showered….”
2. It’s not about extolling self-sacrifice
Obama: “Change only happens when ordinary people get involved, get engaged, and come together to demand it.”
Modi: “I was not born to sit on a chair of high office. Whatever I had, my family, my home, I left it for nation.”
3. It’s not about taking all the credit
Obama: “[Y]ou have been a great Vice President… in the bargain, I gained a brother.”
Modi: “I only returned late last night from Japan. That’s true, but here I am at your service this morning. From here, I will go to Karnataka, then to Maharashtra and will attend a meeting late night after reaching Delhi. Goa is the only place where I had spent more than a night for the first time ever after taking over the job of Prime Minister of India.”
4. It’s not about projecting faultlessness and blaming others
Obama: “Not that our nation has been flawless from the start, but that we have shown the capacity to change.”
Modi: “Many people say I had not taken account the consequences of this huge step (of demonetisation). In fact, the only thing that I could not take into account was the brazenness with which many political parties and leaders came to the rescue of the corrupt…”
“Previous governments had to backtrack on such decisions. Earlier governments didn’t even think of doing so. But I have been taking strict steps to curb corruption and black money since day one. Didn’t they have any idea about what I am up to? I want to govern the country honestly. These people think that Modi is like any other politician and would finish his tenure as others did…”
5. It’s not about mocking and demeaning others
Obama: “We must uphold laws against discrimination… But laws alone won’t be enough. Hearts must change.”
Modi:“They have a young leader who is just learning to give speeches. Since the time he’s learnt to speak, there’s no limit to my happiness…”
“He never thinks before he speaks and he may not have realized that he has admitted the failure of the long reign of his own party…”
6. It’s not about bravado and self-pride
Obama: “That faith I placed all those years ago, not far from here, in the power of ordinary Americans to bring about change—that faith has been rewarded in ways I couldn’t possibly have imagined.”
Modi: “The people have chosen a government and they expect so much from it. In 2014 so many people voted to free the nation from corruption…”
“They think they can stop Modi by creating hurdles and harrowing me. I will not be cowed down. I will not stop doing these things, even if someone were to set me on fire alive…”
7. It’s not about creating an ‘other’ but standing together despite differences
Obama: “Democracy does require a basic sense of solidarity—the idea that for all our outward differences, we are all in this together; that we rise or fall as one…. Democracy does not require uniformity, but it needs for people to understand differences and work together to overcome adversity.
…Democracy can buckle when we give in to fear. So just as we, as citizens, must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are.”
Modi: “Some people never say anything in your face, but behind your back they poke other people to oppose and go against you.”
“I know the forces up against me, they may not let me live, they may ruin me because their loot of 70 years is in trouble, but I am prepared.”
For a leader’s words to the nation do not start and end with “I”.