A sign up bonus is a term I have heard often in the recent years. I first heard it in the heady days of BPO in India when the too many jobs were chasing a few top graduates and then I heard it when I got to London, and heard it was standard practice in the City. Ofcourse then the economic recession happened and now there is no bonus to speak off at all. But I remembered this term again when I heard today that Obama has been given the nobel peace prize. I thought to myself that this must be a sign to the world that the economic recession is now easing and the Swedes usually have a good sense of the world’s pulse. Obama has been given a sign up bonus in form of the nobel peace prize.

I don’t know enough about the history of the prize to understand what it is about. I don’t know how many times in the past has it been given to people who have just started to talk about what is it that they want to do. The only prizes I have known are the ones that are given out of achievement. Unless I have been reading the news from Mars, Obama really hasn’t achieved anything spectacular. Yes he is trying, yes he is beginning to act to what he promised but then since when did that become a criteria to award prizes. Yes he should be supported and given all the political capital but this prize is the wrong way to do it.

To me this represents a committee clutching at straws and struggling to keep itself relevant. This prize has been given to Obama out of hope. It is hard for me not be cynical of this decision and compare the merits of the other nominees. I begin to wonder why was Tsvangirai not considered good enough. Maybe instead of getting up beaten up by Mugabe’s goons and trying to fight rigged elections and seeing his supporters going missing, he should have been giving speeches in the unique style that Mr. Obama has made it his own. Maybe in the style of African opposition resistance he should have taken up arms that I am sure some of his Western friends would have been only too happy to sell instead of joining the government and then going around the world with a begging bowl so salaries can be paid. It is people like him and the other beleaguered peace activists who got nominated to the prize who need the political capital that a peace prize can provide and not Mr Obama (even though about 50% of his country does not now believe in some of his reforms)

Obama in his acceptance speech looked as surprised as I was. He probably thought he had a better chance at the Olympic bid. He accepted the peace prize in his grand style as a call to action to confront the challenges in the 21st century. Call to which action Mr. President ? Is it the action that you demand of your own lawmakers for not passing the regulation on emissions while you lecture the developing world to control their emissions. Or is it the action to Israel to stop building settlements which it refuses to heed, or is it the good war in Afghanistan where you have just supported a rigged election, or is the world’s biggest hoarder of nuclear weapons lecturing the world again on a nuclear free world. And because your predecessor was so bad and because you can tell your Shia from a Sunni we listen, clap and nod our head in acceptance.

Obama often says that he admires Gandhi. Gandhi also said -be the change you want to see in the world.  And lets start with Copenhagen, one week from now.You’ve got the sign up bonus, its now time to deliver !


The handsome man pictured below is now the newly crowned king of the world. He hasn’t even shaken off the ‘elect’ bit from his title and leaders of the world are queuing up to call him. All sorts of top lists are being formed. Who is in the top 2, 5, 10, 15, and 20? Who called who? How long was the conversation? What was discussed and more importantly, what was not? Then there is the second class which has to satisfy them with letters only.  There is this entire spin around the whole thing as the world hangs onto every word of the new king.

This reminds me of the Delhi Durbars that happened in the early 20th century. All the kings, princes and people who mattered from all over India got together in Delhi to meet the new emperor and empress of India. It has now been a century since then and so much water has flown down the Yamuna, Nile and Amazon but this bit of queuing up to see the new king of the world has remained the same. The only thing that has changed is the mean of communication.  The heads of states across the world still continue to jockey for attention with the new king, draw his attention to their problems and to their version of the issues facing the world.

And then we wonder how the previous king thought he could get away with whatever it is that he wanted to do. And to be fair to him he did get away with it. Anybody whose first vision of world diplomacy is to see this huge line of world leaders queuing outside his door, dying to speak to him so they could show off to the rest of the world, would think like this.

But what worries me even more is that no one talks about this at all. This is all deemed to be all right and the acceptable view of things.