12:00 AM, January 27, 2013 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, January 27, 2013

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Second Wind

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Milia Ali

There is nothing exceptional about a US Presidential Inauguration Ceremony -- at least in terms of pageantry. It is a formal, somber occasion where the newly elected president is sworn in.
However, as I watched the Inauguration on television, sitting in my home only a few miles from the actual event, I became increasingly aware of the fact that democracy is not only about the peoples' right to elect a leader of their choice; an important part of the process is the peaceful and smooth transition of power.
The January 21st Inauguration coincided with the day that Americans honour Martin Luther King Jr. The overlap conveyed a poignant message: that the reelection of the first black president is in a way the realisation of the civil rights leader's prophetic "dream!"
However, the perpetuity of Dr. King's legacy is not the only reason I was inspired to write this piece. What resonated with me most about the Inauguration Ceremony was that it was a "celebration of democracy." An event where the elected representative of the people took his oath in a peaceful and transparent manner, in full public view.
In his inaugural speech, Obama stated his future vision and agenda with conviction and the confidence of a second term president. The remarkable thing is that there were no accusatory comments and no attempts at taking credit for the success stories of the past four years.
On the contrary, the president spoke with a measured degree of humility. He addressed issues affecting all segments of the population -- women, gays, gun-control activists, climate change proponents. His reference to the Proclamation of Independence that all men are created "equal with inalienable rights" aptly captured the diverse composition of the country.
However, while asserting that these rights are "self evident," the president pointed out that they are not "self executing" since citizens must continuously strive to preserve them.
What was truly amazing was the absence of acrimony on both sides -- partisan politics was masked by a degree of civility and tolerance. In giving the president his moment of victory, the 48% who did not vote for him actually paid their tribute to the democratic system.
The bipartisan mood of the ceremony was a testimony to the fact that, while there may be ideological differences, the democratic process must be allowed to thrive, no matter what.
Some may consider this to be hypocritical because the political battles will continue to rattle the country once again when Congress reconvenes. However, I would term it as "hypocrisy for a greater purpose," since it is a reminder that politics needs to be played out in the House of Representatives and not in the streets.
The message assumes greater significance for many of us who have been exposed to the politics of disruption in other parts of the world.
Lest I give the impression that the US is an idyllic country without any problems, let me clarify that I do not suffer from any illusions that this is a Utopian State. With two wars weighing on her shoulders, the economy still fragile, employment figures falling short of expectations, gun violence and racial tensions fracturing social cohesion, the country has much to reckon with in the next four years.
In addition, the president is faced with a somewhat hostile world; seething with instability. He has been criticised, by both liberals and conservatives, for not delivering on his first term promises. A second term provides him with the opportunities to tie up the lose ends and confront new challenges with more determination and resoluteness.
Other than exceptional situations, second terms are about a president's "legacy" and his place in history. Barack Obama does not have to worry about history since he will always be known as the first African American President. As for his "legacy" only time will deliver a verdict.
In terms of pointers about the future, the president's inaugural address was both pragmatic and idealistic. With characteristic deftness, he linked his vision to the ideals of the founding fathers and the civil rights movement.
At the practical level he touched upon some controversial, hard-core issues that he is willing to tackle in his second term. Whether the rhetoric will be followed by actions remains to be seen.
For me, personally, the inauguration brought a closure to the negative campaign rhetoric leading up to the presidential elections. As an ordinary citizen, I felt the inclusiveness of the system when the president affirmed, that "freedom is (not) reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few."
And at the risk of seeming gullible, I wish to believe that President Obama will try to balance economic growth and social justice on the domestic front and the show of force and judicious negotiations in dealing with foreign powers.

The writer is a renowned Rabindra Sangeet exponent and a former employee of the World Bank.

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