Beer Party of Barack Obama

obamaThe US president’s casual remark against the local police officer over the arrest of a black academic and subsequent beer party among the three had kindled a lot of interest in beer. It is the usual American style to utter casual remarks, get into casual problem and end it casually. The President’s below standard remark against the law enforcing officer is unwanted controversy. This cannot be replicated in non-western countries when there is a strict hierarchy and apathy to sorting out problems with the lower rung amicably.

The Times of India writes (3 August 2009)

Over beer and peanuts they talked about race. US president Barack Obama hosted this innovative peace summit to cool down tempers after Sergeant
James Crowly, a white policeman, arrested Harvard professor Henry Louis Ges who is black as well as an iconic public intellectual for disorderly conduct a week ago. The arrest had sparked off charges of racial profiling and threatened to upset delicate race ties in the US.

There is a lesson here for our political class. What if Mayawati and Rita Bahuguna-Joshi were to meet over tea and biscuits to discuss their differences? Days after Joshi made her controversial remarks about rape of Dalit women in the state, BSP and Congress leaders have kept the pot boiling. Joshi was arrested and her house set on fire while political leaders traded rhetoric and threats. Politics in UP, a state desperate for some governance and enlightened politics, has since revolved around this issue without serving any purpose. Politicians seem to believe that political capital can be made only by adopting aggressive postures to exaggerate differences.

The lesson from Washington is that there are better ways to debate an issue, resolve a dispute, and even make some political capital. The beer summit was not merely a photo op. The participants were not silent about their differences. Instead they agreed to disagree and continue their dialogue. To an animated public, it sent the message that dialogue is the best way to resolve tensions that are rooted in complex historical conditions. Gates and Crowly continue to differ in their views about race and social prejudices that influence policing in the US. These are not easily resolved and may take many crates of beer before people can settle for common ground. The conversation, however, has to go on.

Caste has a tortuous history in India, similar to that of race in the US. The wounds run deep. Years of political struggles, social and legal reforms have improved matters, but a lot more needs to be done. However, violence verbal and physical is unlikely to help while a patient dialogue among various stakeholders in the society could. Can Maya and Joshi agree to talk over, say, a glass of lassi or nimbu-paani?

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