Elections in India, US: Similarities and differences

Elections in India, US: Similarities and differences

By JITENDRA K. TULI | WASHINGTON D.C. | 5 June, 2016
Republican US Presidential candidate Donald Trump gestures to supporters while speaking in North Dakota, US, on 26 May 2016. REUTERS

As most of the Indians do, I take a lot of interest in elections held in India and the United States. Recent Assembly elections in India and primaries in the US brought out to me the similarities and differences in the elections in both the countries. No one ever thought that Donald Trump would even get the nomination. Not only he is going to be the Republican Party’s nominee, now, in most of the polls, he is in dead heat with Hillary Clinton and in one poll, he is even leading Clinton. Although, I was also one of those who doubted his chances of getting the Republican nomination, I had not ruled him out.

There are two major similarities between the elections in India and the US which come to my mind. First, the American news media had blasted Trump more than anyone else I had seen since I came to the US in 1966. They pointed out all the deficiencies of Trump, some true, some half true, and others false. All of the news media people, liberals as well as conservatives, predicted that Trump would stumble with his own “foot in the mouth” style and would eventually be forced to pull out of primaries. They have been proven wrong. This tirade of news media against one candidate in the US reminded me of a similar media tirade against Narendra Modi especially since 2013 when it became apparent that he would be the BJP’s leading Prime Minister candidate. News media joined by a host of Congress leaders such as Sonia Gandhi, Digvijay Singh, and Manish Tawari, uttered venomous statements against Modi and declared that the BJP wound never win the national election under his leadership and he would never be the PM. A number of foreign funded NGOs and so-called “activists” also joined the tirade against Modi. Even some of his party members of so-called “160 Camp” hoped that the BJP would not get more than 160 seats in Parliament and then they would stop Modi and would have someone else as the PM. To their great discomfort, they all were proven wrong. Trump has succeeded in spite of the opposition by the Republican Party establishment. Similarly, Modi succeeded in spite of stiff opposition from a number of BJP leaders and others and had only a very few supporters like myself. The BJP won an absolute majority and Narendra Modi became the PM. Now it seems that Trump may repeat this history to the dismay of the US media.

Another similarity is the voters’ frustration about politicians. Trump, who never ran for any public position before, defeated all the traditionally established Republican politicians. Is he popular with general voters in the US? No, and nor is Hillary Clinton. In a recent poll, 60% of Americans had negative opinions of both the leaders. Hillary had a -16% rating and Trump’s rating was -17%. I do not know how low can and will that rating go? When the actual voting is held in November, American voters may face three choices: vote for the lesser evil or vote for a candidate to stop the other or stay at home and drink beer watching sports and not election coverage. Generally, the voting percentages in the US elections have not been high and the next time it could be the lowest unless Trump succeeds in raising the anger of the common man against politicians. Indian voters also have behaved similarly. Generally, they throw the current rulers out and bring the new rulers in to be thrown out again the next time. Indian voters also have the choice to vote for “NOTA”.

Now, coming to the differences in the elections of the two countries, the biggest difference is in the number of political parties. In the US, although, theoretically there are many political parties including the Communist Party, two parties have dominated the political scene almost since independence in 1776. In India, a number of political parties have mushroomed especially after the Congress lost its old grip in the 1960s. Even the Congress split into two and the original Congress became non-existent. The existing Congress has a new name and election symbol after Indira Gandhi split from the original Party. Most of the regional parties have been created by individuals and still are being headed by the same individuals and their close relatives. Even the Congress has become a “one person” party. There are only two exceptions, the BJP and the CPM.

In the US, there are no party bosses who decide and nominate candidates. Candidates are nominated by party members through secret balloting in the primary process. In India, party bosses select candidates at all levels, federal, state and local. Nomination process starts from party offices and bosses which results in favoritism, corruption and blunders. As a result, parties sometimes lose elections. In the BJP, until the leadership of Atal Bihar Vajpayee, the influence of the party bosses was not great and a majority of decisions including the candidate selection was generally done on consensus basis. Although, as stated above, there are no bosses in the US political parties, however, the “establishment” still exerts some control but nowhere close to the bosses’ control in India.

The big question Indians ask is, “Who, Clinton or Trump, will be better for India?” My answer is “both”. India is in a good position and no matter who becomes the next US President, the relationship between the two countries would be very good because of the changing geopolitical and global economic conditions. Clinton’s campaign and Clinton Foundation are heavily funded by Indians. Both the Clintons are good friends of India and if Hillary gets elected, like Obama, a number of Indians will get good positions in her administration. Trump is a businessman (incidentally, he has a number of Indian employees) and will deal with India on business terms which would be good for both the countries on long term basis. Will he do it at the cost of China? Absolutely not. Again, as a good businessman, he cannot and will not ignore China. There are some stories in the news media, probably intentionally planted, that Trump’s election as President would push back economic reforms in India. First, Modi is not subservient to US and the election results would not change his goals. Second, as I stated, Trump is a businessman and he would vigorously support economic reforms in India and everywhere else.

No doubt, the US election campaign will be dirty, fiery and long. The result will depend on who is able to turn off more voters enabling the other to win. Either way, history will be made in the US. If Trump gets elected, he would be the first multi-billionaire and the first one to be the President who never contested any election before. If Clinton wins, she will be the first woman President and she and Bill Clinton will be the first husband-wife pair to have this honour.

 

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