Saturday, October 10, 2009

Obama and Nobel

Let me be blunt. I felt let down by the Nobel Committee that decides on the prize for peace.

Let me make it clear. I am an admirer of Obama. Then why the feeling of having been let down?

When a colleague hurried to my desk to announce that Obama got the Nobel Prize for peace, my first reaction was, "It must be a hoax". He insisted that he had seen it on a reliable news channel. Until I saw it on the Official Nobel Website I did not believe it.

I talked to colleagues and friends at random and the reactions were uniform - "What?", "What for?", "Rigged?", "Nothing is reliable any more" . .

I told a friend, we will read the reports and the citation and then decide. The citation on the Nobel website reads " . . . for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples". Not too bad.

I thought about the whole thing and realised that most of the previous laureates had a life time of achievement behind them before they were honoured. Many had contributed significantly for a number of years before they were awarded. The Fact that Obama gets the prize when he has not really been in the international scene for more than a year seems to be the reason for the disbelief and all the other emotions.

I recalled another fact now almost forgotten that the will of Alfred Nobel reads as follows.

"The whole of my remaining realizable estate shall be dealt with in the following way: the capital, invested in safe securities by my executors, shall constitute a fund, the interest on which shall be annually distributed in the form of prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind. . . "

The words in bold italics above (both mine) has been a problem for the Nobel committee and has been flouted than followed. The greatest scientific discovery of the preceding year would not have been peer reviewed, replicated and tested enough for the prize to be awarded this year. Hence someone like S Chandrasekhar gets a prize five decades (?) after his discovery. (Well, that is a long story but, good enough for the present purposes) Because of this, we are used to seeing prizes being awarded to recognise and honour life time achievements.

Suddenly, the Nobel committee decides to stick to the clause in bold italics and we feel let down.

Nobel peace prizes often seem "political" in the sense that the committee is trying to promote a movement or a line of thought. Quite often, anti-communist writers and activists have been honoured and most common people had not heard of them. Al Gore's is another case in point. In this case too, by awarding the prize to Obama, the Nobel committee seems to be saying - "What this man is doing is good" and quite often a Nobel laureate has an invisible aura that may help "him" in doing what he wants to do.

With all these things in mind, do I still feel disappointed/let down? No. Not as much as when I heard it first.

I am still thinking . . .


  1. Timely post, Anil. I think poor Obama did not need this. The Nobel peace prize, has always been a political tool. If I recall correctly, Henry Kissinger, and Yasser Arafat are amongst the recipients while Gandhiji is not. Bharat Ratna was slipping away too, till M S Subbulakshmi received it.

  2. raghunandan3:59 pm

    good post.thanks for throwing light on the possible thinking of the people responsible for awarding the prize.

  3. Thanks Ravi and Raghu. Ravi gave words to my thought - Obama did not read this. Here are links from the Hindu that you might like to read. Some views are extreme!

    The fact that Gandhi did not get it, is indeed a glaring lapse. The Nobel committee has regretted it. I have a strange feeling that the Nobel prize would have diminished Gandhi in the eyes of the world. Imagine the media referring to him as the Peace Nobel Laureate Gandhi. Could he be contained in those words? Gandhi not being honoured is definitely the loss of the "Nobel Prize" and not Gandhi's. Knowing him, who knows if he would have accepted it!!!!

  4. Anonymous8:13 pm

    I thought about Obama and his prize. It irked me at first.

    I felt a bit sad for him. He will now get his share of garbage thrown at him... for all I understand he did not ask for it. He isnt big enough to even refuse it...he would have seemed arrogant...

    Hope, he will strive harder now with this...

    One can't start a war with a nobel prize on his head...can he? :-)


  5. Rightly said, an award as a precautionary measure and to popularize the award itself.