Barack Obama has won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize for “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples”. Going by the Nobel jury that sat over some salmon and schnapps in Oslo (this award being the only Nobel that’s decided by Norwegians instead of Swedes), if the trust put in Mr Obama translates into action, he should easily win the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize also. Usually, an award marks an institution recognising the worth of an individual or entity. But there are occasions (usually flagged under the overused term, ‘historic’) when the institution itself can bolster its own standing — or should we say public image — by awarding someone whose clout in terms of brand equity is much larger than its own. The Nobel Committee’s decision to award Mr Obama this year’s Peace Prize can only be explained along these lines.
Even in ‘traditional’ circumstances, the Peace Prize is considered the doctored Vegas slot machine among all the Nobel categories. The fact that past winners have included missionaries of peace like Henry Kissinger, Yasser Arafat and Shimon Peres, makes the Nobel Peace Prize the darling of the op-ed pages. Mr Obama is yet to generate such controversy. In fact, he is yet to prove anything. In office as the leader of the (still) most influential nation on Earth for less than a year, his reputation has preceded his actions. One would have thought that the nuanced and noble jury of the Nobel Committee would wait for a while before deciding whether Mr Obama makes the grade. It seems they have preferred the pre-emptive method. His campaign for nuclear non-proliferation finds mention in his Nobel citation. Many in India would like to see whether the prize will now nudge him to get more proactive on this front — and thereby make New Delhi think seriously from now on about posting lobbyists in Scandinavia.
We congratulate Mr Obama. After all, it is no fault of his that he’s been foisted with an award that he doesn’t deserve — at least, not yet. If nothing else, the Nobel Peace Prize now can be seen for what it is: a brand-building exercise for the Nobel Committee. The award also makes us understand at last, even if indirectly, why Mahatma Gandhi, among a few others, did not get the precious honour.