During the past three weeks, I had the opportunity of watching the US presidential debates for the first time in my life. What struck me first, was obviously how different the system in the US works as compared with India.
Be it Obama or McCain, both the candidates have very commanding personalities. While McCain has an unbelievable track record, with serving 20 odd years in the Navy, Obama makes up with his razor sharp focus and amazing eloquence and clarity. Even though I would love to see a debate of the Indian prime ministerial candidates in the coming elections, u, it does not seem likely in the near future.Rajdeep Sardesai, a journalist from CNN-IBN whom I admire a lot, has been trying to initiate this culture in India requesting for the same but thus far these has been unsuccessful.
And unsuccessful he has been for obvious reasons. While India boasts about being a secular country, everyone knows that the primary propaganda of all parties is to reach out separately to different communities on the basis of religion. While with the BJP it is the Hindu’s, the Congress uses the idea of equality amongst religions to primarily target the Muslims and other religions. Hence, the absence of a candidate being partial to a particular sect at a debate aired throughout the nation would be catastrophic for its base voters.
The basic problem that is cited is that even when people are uneducated in the USA, there is a common language everyone understands– English. Hence, everyone can follow the debate and arrive at a decision. In India, of the educated, the people in the north speak in Hindi and are primarily weak in English. In the south it is even more divided as every state’s language is different from the others. Of course, there is the obvious solution of translating the debates in various regional languages, but somehow it is simply not considered.
Another aspect that I admire about the system followed in the USA is the focus on the topics to be discussed. The questions put forth by the press are clear, concise and cutthroat, leaving no room for error, while the answers by the candidates are equally eloquent. One of the questions which was put forth in the third debate (Obama vs. McCain) was – “Given the nature and effect of the present economic crisis, by how many years do you think the government can balance its budget with respect to debt?”.When the candidate did not give a number, the moderator quickly pressed, “Are you willing to give a specific timeframe or not?”.The beauty of the discussion was that the entire episode was extremely polite but equally firm and demanding. Is this not democracy at its best?
However, I do not think that having a prime ministerial debate would be of much help in our country just yet. The primary target audience of the debates like these is the educated middle class. The upper classes (who primarily consist of the business class) would already have decided whom they would support as they would have to be associated with politicians in order to thrive in their businesses (as these factors are of utmost importance while being in the business sector in India. For Example: The latest Tata Nano episode).T he problem is that the majority of the people who vote live in these rural areas and are uneducated. And most of the middle class in India do not vote. Hence, the political parties are just taking a logical decision when they use regional influence to obtain the votes of the uneducated. Because it works, and because they are the ones who finally go and vote!
But though the debates will not be feasible for the present elections, conducting them now may be the reason why it will be in the later ones.Debates such as these will be a investment to changing the culture of politics in India. Since the policies towards globalization and liberalization in 1991, the percentage of people shifting from the poor to the middle class is increasing at such a phenomenal rate that one can expect nearly half of India to be in the middle class bracket by 2050. The middle class would vote only on the basis of what they perceive is best for them and the country and would not buy any of the ideologies that are presently part of the political parties. Hence, the political parties will have to change their strategy as well.
But the question is, why not change NOW? The truth is that with the phenomenal growth of the middle class in the past decade, the parties should be implementing the changes right now! But they are not doing so only because the middle class is simply not voting. Ask any college undergrad about his favourite movie and most of them would inevitably name Rang De Basanti. In case of a war (for example: The Kargil War), millions of the youth will line up to stand up for our motherland. But the most important part is standing up not in times of catastrophe and radical change but ensuring that we cause the consistent and gradual improvement that our country always seem to lack. This is the primary difference between our country and developed nations and the Asian tigers. In terms of consistent growth, we have a terrible track record. We so love Sachin Tendulkar and adore the unbelievable hundreds after the 10 ducks but find the ever consistent Rahul Dravid boring (Note: I am referring to the Dravid of the 90’s).We loved the idea of massive reform is 1991 when we were at the brink of the economy’s collapse and had to pledge our gold but were mum for 50 years prior to it when the growth rate was dismal.
I think the press will have a huge role to play to bring about this change. Beautiful ideas like Lead India are definitely good initiatives in this direction. I find it hard to believe that given the number of public and private institutions coming up why has it not been made mandatory for every college undergraduate to compulsorily obtain a voter ID card yet. If discussions on politics are not encouraged at this age then it is very unlikely that one is going to take interest in the development of the nation in the future. Some of the talk shows like “We the People” and “The Big Fight” are amazing ideas but are watched avidly by people in their late 20’s and 30’s.If these shows are held in different colleges with students as part of the audience, different city halls of those cities that have been earmarked by the government to be the metros of the future it would slowly and steadily cause a change.
We are at a very interesting stage in our country’s history. Dr.Abdul Kalam’s dream – Vision 2020 could be satisfied only if decisions like these are taken on the nationwide level. No matter who is the next president of America, there are going to be huge negative impacts on the Indian economy due to the economic crises in the USA (more so if Obama becomes the president, as his plans include taxing huge companies – those that primarily are driving the IT boom in India by outsourcing to us and provide companies with tax reliefs if they employ US citizens).I think this is the kind of climate our country actually needed. With the US and other country’s trying to stabilize their economies, we will have to reduce our dependence on them and start looking at our fundamentals and improve job opportunities and conditions in India to provide for the ever growing Indian workforce. If done properly, I am convinced that this would be the deciding factor on how fast we develop into a superpower.