What Lessons Do the US Elections Teach India?

The long drawn US elections drew to a close on 4th November 2008, with people overwhelmingly opting for a change of power. The day went down in history for many reasons – the US elected its first black President, the end of the eight year rule of George W. Bush led Republican government, and many more. The elections were watched closely by millions of people across both sides of the globe. The ‘campaign trail’ got the maximum print space and air time in Newspapers and TV respectively, and its aftermath- the victory, was analyzed hair splittingly in the editorial pages and academic debates, frequently aired on TV. In short, the world got a blow by blow account of the US elections expostulated by experts, so that the lessons derived from the elections become pristine clear even to the king of the dumb.


What lessons does the world extract from this elections will be at variance across the continents. It will be altered by the circumstances prevailing and the intelligence of the people inhabiting the piece of the land. Some of the lessons are nothing more then the


Conventional pearls of wisdom at work- need for a coherent vision and consistency in articulation of this vision. A pantheon of experts and loyalists who share the vision and lastly, the meticulous planning and immaculate execution of the campaign strategy, which is the anchor for any successful campaign conducted till date.


These are the lessons which hold weight for any organization and institution, but it is only the tip of the iceberg. Beneath this facade, we will find some factoids couched in the garb of lessons which may profit the Indian democracy and by extension, the people of it too.


India and the US have few commonalities (there is an abysmal gap between the economic prosperities and contrasting cultures) ,except the democratic form of governance which is enshrined in the constitution of both the countries. These lessons will therefore have to be tempered according to the ground conditions at work. Firstly, India and the US have a party system, but in India, we have multiple party systems which promulgate regionalism and are a major divisive force in many parts of India. There is a need to take cue from the two party norm which is at work in USA and adopt it with slight variations. The multiple parties purportedly address the causes of minorities, who have apparently no say in the formulation of the government, especially at the centre, but it is a self defeating claim. The presence of multiple parties gives leverage to minorities, but it is used not to obtain advantages for the community, but as a bargaining instrument. The support goes to the highest bidder, promising the maximum advantages and benefit.


Secondly, the perpetuation of dynasty rules in India. In India, politics is considered as a legacy passed on from one generation to another. The political landscape is dotted with several examples demonstrating this point. It makes politics an insider activity; a privilege restricted to few and an area which is off limits for an outsider. The ascent of Barack Obama- a proclaimed outsider, as described by many in Washington, lays down the infirmities ailing the Indian democracy. It should come as a wake up call for politicians who cling on to the antediluvian notion of politics as their personal possession.


The Indian people should take a leaf from this election and begin the process of finding the suitable candidate and judge him on the basis of his qualification, not on the pedigree which is advertised so tenaciously.


Lastly, the ideology supported and followed by the political parties is the only distinguishing factor which separates the wheat from the chaff. The Indian political campaigns are allegedly fought on the basis of a well defined manifesto. The only sting in the tail is the conspicuous absence of these manifestos in the speeches delivered to the masses. The political discourse scores high on overstatements and oratory, but fails to outline the policies and issues which affect the lives of millions of people. The promises are limited to free electricity, distribution of liquor and other such paltry fringe benefits, which is effectual bait for majority of them. It is in absolute contrast to the US presidential debates, where the candidates are coerced to sketch their policies and view points on critical areas like health, defense and economy. People are given a crystalline picture with no grey areas.


It can only be hoped that Indian democracy will emulate the education received from the US elections. It will be a tall order to demand instantaneous realization of these ideals, but if it starts, the thought process which is a pre-cursor for any drastic change- then it is a lesson well learnt. Let’s hope that the next general elections will inaugurate the new dawn of change which we desperately seek and desire.


Geetu Batra



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