By Tarini K.
Today was an important day for the United States of America and the world at large. President Barack Obama remained in office after a hard-fought battle against Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. The US Presidential Election has been in world news for many months now. In India, the news has focused more on domestic politics, a strategy that makes a lot of sense. Still, the attention on the US elections, particularly from the youth, has drawn comment. Why, people wonder, does anyone care? Ultimately, India is not particularly high on the US foreign policy agenda. There are a lot of people who passionately support Obama, who with bated breath, spent Wednesday morning glued to live coverage, waiting for the official announcement of Obama’s presidency.
Given the watch parties, the interest, the hope for change that seems to have travelled across the world, there is one lament that rings out; “If people cared as much about Indian elections, politics in India would be different.” This complaint is problematic. At the most obvious level, it is an oversimplification. Political events which generate the massive world attention that the US election did are bound to have people interested whether they are American or not. However, the interest in the US elections expresses a deeper sentiment amongst Indian youth (and some more mature citizens, too). There is a profound desire for hope, and, more importantly, for inspiration.
There are, naturally, practical reasons to pay attention to an election like this one, much in the way that there is merit to paying attention to China’s upcoming change in leadership. Why, then, are we more glued to the US election? The fundamental issue at stake is choice. The democratic process in the US, flawed though it may be, provides us with a concrete and ever-so-visual (thank you, CNN) example of a people making a choice. Even in the case of a hotly contested election such as today’s, a choice was made. That choice, the choice for more evenly distributed opportunity, a woman’s right to her own body, a move toward a more inclusive society, one in which healthcare is not a luxury but a right — was broadcast to the world. Now, the question remains, why are we captivated?
It is fair to say that Indian politics leave something to be desired, and after experiencing both 2008 — the heady euphoria of history in the making, and 2012 — the reaffirmation of faith in a man’s ability to lead, that lack is inspiration. Today, we saw a country put themselves behind a President who many have criticized. A lot of their criticisms were fair, whether they were regarding his ability to deal with the economy, his not standing up to opposition, or his foreign policy. As we in India inch toward elections in 2014, what are our options? More accurately, who do we look to in the hopes of reform?
Surely a well-spoken statesman from any party could generate the type of interest we’re seeing for and in the rest of the world? We are, as a people, mesmerized by the possibility of change, of decisive action. There are those in Delhi who would argue that the Obama administration is the wrong one for India, that Romney’s policies would bring more money into the country — and this might even be true. However, President Obama’s backing of India’s bid for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, and his hardened stance on both Pakistan and Israel could be more than enough advantage in the foreign policy field. Ultimately, in watching the elections, here is what we are forced to think about;
India is the world’s largest democracy. It is also perhaps the most unruly experiment in democracy in the world. The sheer diversity of our people is staggering on every front. After uniting to gain independence, we have spiraled into a state of what some call “functioning anarchy.” Whether this is a factor of the flaws of a multi-party system or not is up for debate, but the fact remains that unity has been scarce.
After fighting for autonomy from the British, the United States of America formalized their union and created an enfranchised population. Civil rights were denied to the Black population, and the very country in which that was the case rose to the occasion and elected a Black President. Twice.
Why is it relevant now? Because it is inspiring.
There were two Republican candidates for the Senate, Akin and Mourdock, who both made statements on the topic of rape (in connection with the issue of abortion) that were both blatantly false and offensive. Today, we witnessed the consequence; neither of them was elected into their Senatorial positions. In both their states, there was a long history of voting for Republican candidates. What they were shown is that regardless of their connection to a regionally favoured party, they would still be held accountable for their statements. These men were affected where it matters – in their bid for power. They were shown unequivocally that they were wrong, and that as a result, they would have no say in the functioning of the country.
That is inspiring.
At home, we have been forced to hear male and female rape apologists. We’ve heard every excuse there is from politicians faced with a rising number of (reported) rape cases and increasingly dangerous environments for women. The police force has been absent — more of a hindrance than a help. What have we been told – that Chow Mein must have something to do with it, or that when men and women interact freely, rape is a reality that we must learn to expect? Rape victims are ostracized by society and their families, they are not protected by their own government, and statements like the ones that have been printed and reprinted and aired on the news are a further violation for the victims, and of women everywhere. What little agency and consent they are afforded is stripped away again, this time by institutions supposedly built for them to rely on. For a roundup of these horrifying statements, check out our last blog post , or this fantastic article.
We need to get real, this state of affairs is decidedly uninspiring.
Now, this is where people start to roll their eyes. “We are not the same as the US.” “We aren’t as developed.” “We’re going through growing pains, we’re young, every country does.” We’ve all heard it before. There is a regrettable amount of Continue Reading