The US elections - as seen from India

In India, people are amused and puzzled, depressed and disinterested and occasionally inspired by the long and loud, colorful and typical American show that goes by the name of the presidential election. 

Indians are used to Bollywood films with predictable storylines evoking the entire range of emotions with lots of laughs and tears. We see the US elections as longer versions of such movies, produced by money and media, spin doctors and vested interests.

Indians are amused by the two years of non-stop talk shows, turns and twists, farce and entertainment. Two out of the four years of the presidential term is consumed by the primaries and the campaign, forgetting the important long term national interests - such a waste of energy, resources and time. Issues such as Obama's birthplace and religion, raised by some right wing elements, are simply laughable.

Indians are puzzled by the electoral system, which is so difficult to understand. The electoral college vote prevailing over the popular vote and the holding of elections on a working day instead of a weekend do not make sense.  Indians are perplexed by the American obsession for issues such as abortion and same-sex relationships. They are amazed by the strength of the gun lobby despite the hundreds of killings of innocent people in high schools and college campus and shopping centers caused by the free availability of guns. 

Indians are frustrated with their own political leaders and parties who sacrifice national interests for the sake of winning elections by pandering to narrow communitarian and group interests. They are depressed by the fact that even in a mature democracy like the US, the Democrats and the Republicans make similar style decisions. Obama's victory in the last election was an inspiration for India's large and diverse democracy. The fact that an inexperienced, young middle class African-American outsider could challenge the system and win the election to become the President renewed the confidence in the authenticity of the American democratic system. The bottom-up grassroots mobilization of support using the power of Internet by Obama was remarkable. 

One of the election issues which directly concerns India is outsourcing. Indians are surprised by the American noise against the outsourcing of services (mostly in IT and finance) to India, in contrast to a timid silence on the larger issue of outsourcing of manufacturing to China and Mexico. The large scale and irreversible shifting of American manufacturing has cost the country millions of jobs, in contrast to the loss of just a few thousand jobs through outsourcing to India. The wholesale shifting of American manufacturing to China has hollowed out the American industry in the long term and has led to a big loss of intellectual property, technology and the whole ecosystem of component makers, suppliers and service providers. Yet Americans seem to know what sectors of service are outsourced to India but they have no idea about what products are made in US even though everything from iPhone to toys are now assembled in China. The Fourth of July and Christmas are more celebrated by the Chinese manufacturers of fireworks and gift items than by the American consumers. 

Ultimately, Indians are somewhat indifferent to the US elections since they know that, no matter who wins, the policies will remain the same in most areas. Presidents come and go. But the lobbies are permanent. Indians are used to a predictable American policy towards India: Democratic presidents repeat the rhetorical solidarity between the biggest democracies but are insensitive to India's concerns on security, terrorism, Pakistan, Afghanistan and China. Republicans presidents, on the other hand, see the opportunities for business in India and are willing to accommodate India's interests, overlooking ideological differences. The most recent example of this was President Bush's initiative to sign the Nuclear Agreement with India and the dilution of the spirit of the Agreement by the Obama administration. 

In the past, the American election was the most watched show in the global theatre. Not anymore. Now the Chinese leadership transition is watched with equal interest here in India if not yet in the rest of the world. The US has lost its global supremacy in political, economic and technological fields while China is steadily and resolutely gaining strategic space. The pity is that the Democrats and Republicans focus more on hurting each other and polarizing the society rather than addressing the fundamental causes of the continuing decline of US leadership.

This article is part of the 'How it looks from here' openDemocracy feature on the 2012 US elections. For more worldwide perspectives on the presidential race, click here.

About the author

R. Viswanathan is a retired Indian diplomat. He tweets @AmbViswanathan.

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