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An obscure Indian author claims to have steered Obama's campaign strategy.
NEW DELHI, India — As U.S. president Barack Obama makes his way from Mumbai to Delhi, an obscure Indian author is waiting for redemption. His name is Inder Dan Ratnu, and he believes that he deserves credit for the president's stunning landslide victory in 2008, as his third self-published novel, "First Lady President," outlines in detail the strategy behind Obama's "Yes, We Can" campaign.
Written in a month-and-a-half long torrent in 2003, "First Lady President" tells the story of the unlikely election victory of Beverly Hilton and her African-American running mate, Charak Sudama.
In the novel, Hilton selects Sudama as her running mate because she is impressed with an anti-war speech he delivers early in the campaign. But Ratnu believes that the real life inspiration for his African-American character lifted the ideas from that pivotal fictional speech to alter the outcome of the polls.
"He [Obama] was using these two, most powerful points mentioned there — in one of the most important chapters of the book, and underlined portions he was using — so I'm convinced that he used it," said Ratnu, who argues that Obama must have received his novel before forming his campaign strategy because it was sent to him by registered mail in April 2007 and not returned by the postal service.
Now, with Obama on his first trip to New Delhi, Ratnu hopes to get confirmation. Over the past two weeks, he has been trying to arrange meetings with Indian and foreign journalists to draw attention to his story. Obama's visit will focus on U.S.-Indian business relations and cooperation in counterterrorism efforts, but Ratnu hope to focus attention on his book.
"My aim is that somebody here, while he is here, should ask during the press conference this question, and let us see what is his reply," Ratnu said. "Most likely is he will say, 'Well, it is a news for me.' Because he's not that naive that he will say I have drawn inspiration from this book. No politician can do that. But who knows, he may say yes. That would be a blessing for me."
A former bank officer who worked for 23 years at the Bank of India, 60-year-old Ratnu hails from a small village near Jaisalmer, in the bleak Thar Desert of Rajasthan. Educated by a government teacher in classes held under a tree, he describes himself as "a topper, right through college," where he studied agriculture. Having attended Hindi-medium schools, he taught himself English by listening to BBC radio and memorizing the speeches of Winston Churchill — five hours of which he could once recite "word by word." He has not made a penny from the sale of his three novels and one non-fiction book — burning through his life-savings of around $10,000 to see them published and promoted. And he admits that "First Lady President," too, has so far been a commercial failure, even though he did prevail upon American Michael Burchett, who was at the time trying to start an editing/publishing business, to do a 100-copy test printing in the U.S.
"Fortunately, Inder himself was able to rouse sufficient advance interest in the book to allow me to recoup my costs," Burchett said in an email.
Whatever the merits of the author's story, the story of the author is remarkable.
With nothing more than a political intuition sharpened by Churchill and the BBC, Ratnu claims, he crafted a crucial campaign speech for Charak Sudama that bears striking similarities to the rhetoric of the Obama campaign, including its central message.
"The call for change is very famous, you know," Ratnu said. "That was the lady's speech in the book, which he [Obama] also adopted for himself. She said, and that is underlined, she says, 'It will not be a mere change of the gender of the White House, it will be a genuine change of the quality of life of the American people.'"