Indians like to put their country in the same category as the USA, that is, at least on one ground. And that is the ground that the two of them are the largest democracies in the world: one in terms of its geographical area (not to forget its power) and the other in terms of its population. This may seem like a strange idea these days (especially in the West), but it is based on a sound premise: That democracy is about the population, the public, the masses, the janata, i.e., the human beings living in the concerned country.
I said especially in the West, but in India too the premise is making many people uncomfortable, because, well, what is so great about having the largest population. More importantly, population? so what?
The US elections, as some others have pointed out, might seem amusing to Indians. For different reasons.
One school of thought compares them to Bollywood movies, “produced by money and media, spin doctors and vested interests”. This causes amusement because of “non-stop talk shows, turns and twists, farce and entertainment”. They are also “puzzling”, as they tend to be seen as a strange form of direct election for the post of the President. There is a President in India too and he gets elected through a kind of election, which is only very slightly more indirect than the US presidential election. But the president in India is just a figurehead, more like the British monarch. For historical reasons, you know.
This indirectly direct election of the US president amuses people in India, making them feel better, because, by comparison, Indian elections (of people who are not just figureheads) seem to be more direct.
They are also not as protracted as the US presidential elections, henceforth referred to as just US elections (as the other elections, senate and houses, are not followed much in India, unless a member of the India caucus, or a candidate of Indian origin, is involved). In fact, Bollywood movies, known for their too-long-to-endure lengths, win hands down when compared to the US elections.
People outside India may find the amusement amusing, and when we say that, we usually mean people in the Developed World, the West. Who cares about those who are as undeveloped as the Indians. The Indians want to be developed by 2020. More on that later.
(There are also those in the West who have decided, for reasons of their own convenience and moral confort, that India is already developed. I will refrain from commenting on that.)
They might find the amusement amusing, or even offensive, because, to rely on the above (dissident) commentator (and, for the most part he is reliable in this respect), Indians find equally “laughable” the right-wing attacks on Obama for his “birthplace and religion” and “the American obsession for issues such as abortion and same-sex relationships”. The latter of these deserves more explanation, and cannot be covered here, but the former can be commented on.
A few years ago, when the right-wind Hindu nationalist party BJP (the Indian People’s Party) was ruling India (the central government, it is still ruling many states) and the elections were around the corner (or, to be more accurate, and to be more New Yorkish, were only few blocks away) there was a campaign against the person who was heading the then opposition (now ruling) party, the Indian National Congress party, namely Sonia Gandhi, wife of the Late (former Prime Minister of India) Rajiv Gandhi, the son of the former PM Indira Gandhi, who was the daughter of the former PM Jawaharlal Nehru (none related to Mahatma Gandhi), who was the son of Motilal Nehru, a prominent upper class Indian in the British era and later a moderate leader of the nationalist movement.
The campaign was of such viciousness that all the right-wing attacks on Obama would look mild by comparison. There were strong similarities though. For example, the attacks targeted long-dead parents and grand-parents and children of the leader of the opposition, the presumed Prime Ministerial candidate for the Congress party. They also targeted her birth place and religion. There were (to a lesser extent still are, as in the Obama case) the most cutting (though not funny) jokes and the wildest stories about the whole family. The Internet was then just achieving more penetration (as they say) in India and it was used to the maximum effect, along with cell phones.
I confess here that during early childhood, when I was only exposed to the official text books and ‘secular’ media, and was fed on stories of the great role that the Congress party had played in the Indian Independence Movement, I was somewhat pro-Congress. But I was pretty soon fed up with the fact that only one party was ruling India all the time and its record did not seem so impressive. But let it be said very clearly that I did not at all, at any time, become a supporter of the BJP, just as I never became a communist. I just had independent political opinions. It is necessary to write this, as it might help you in working out how to read this article. While I am at it, I might as well add that my independent opinions became more and more inclined to the left, but they remained completely independent.
Even so, the vicious campaign found its way into my (still not that isolated) email inbox. I even came across it in the physical world, directly through human beings. (Just think! I had those days! When human beings frankly debated with me! Instead of spying on me, finding my weakest points, and then hitting me where it hurts the most! With a great amount of glee! And with a lot of self-satisfaction! With even a lot of self-righteousness! Those were the days!).
This vicious campaign made me express my views about the subject quite strongly and openly: In the physical world and directly to other human beings. That was (in my case) probably one of giant red flags raised, as far as the right-wingers were concerned. For a long time after I heard myself being referred to as a Congressi. I was living and working among people who were mostly BJP-RSS supporters. Colleagues, bossed, juniors: most of them. In that atmosphere, a supporter, even if only a perceived one (as opposed to a real one), deserved no respect and no merci. Sorry, mercy. Times started getting harder for me. They were already quite hard, but they can always get harder, can’t they? They most certainly did. And continue to do so till this day, as I raised more red flags, some (or perhaps most) inadvertently.
But we were talking about the amusingness of the US presidential elections, as perceived by others. And as perceived by independent observers (like this writer).
Indians also realize that the two parties (in the US, they don’t realize the same about India) are not that much different. They are not very different especially when it comes to India. Here the said commentator rues the fact that only India is targeted for stealing US jobs, whereas the much bigger culprit is China. If you think this does not make sense, you are not alone. I am with you. I came across hardly any targeting of India for its role in the global outsourcing business. Therein lies another rub (and another super-giant red flag), but let us leave that too for another occasion.
Though the Indians want their country to be a Super Power (which people don’t? if there was a plausible chance), they now realize, after a period of more pronounced delusion, that they can hardly get beyond the Regional Power status. The region being South Asia: Not even South-East Asia included. Not even Indo-China included! Not a very enticing or motivating idea. And South Asia is one of the most wretched regions of the world that insists on making itself even more wretched by placing blind faith in the fundamentalism of the Market religion.
Even less so when you remember that, at the time of Jawaharlal Nehru and in the age of two Super Powers, India was one of the leaders of the influential (if not powerful) Non-Alignment Movement, comprising of a large majority of the countries of the world. A westerner might find this a strange statement, and rightly so, for what does the majority count for if the West is not included?
And while we mention Nehru, we can also say: So much for idea of Greater India. Brihattar Bharat. What do we do with dreams?
So Indians now realize that anything beyond the (meaningless) Regional Power (South Asia) status is nowhere near the nearest corner. They, therefore, find solace in an alliance with the USA. And as an ally, they (partially) rue the fact that the “US has lost its global supremacy in political, economic and technological fields while China is steadily and resolutely gaining strategic space”. And that it is a “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”. Which would be in the Indian interests. You can’t fight with that logic. Who can fight with national interest?
As I am not a nationalist now, I feel little (if any) sadness about the decline of the USA as (the sole) Super Power. In fact, I regret that it is taking so long. (Yet another giant red flag. Two of them, if you look closely.).
And since I am still an independent observer, to a large extent even in India, and am not an Indian spokesman, I have my own reasons for being amused by the US elections. Some of them are the same as those mention by the said commentator. Many are not. Let me repeat it: many are not, including the one I hinted at.
One which is not (and one which I did not hint at), is about (excuse me for putting it in strong words) the fake suspense about the results of the elections. It has long been clear (it seems to me) to any independent observer, that Obama was going to win the elections. Just as it was clear the last time that Obama was going to win.
Oh no, I am no fortune teller, though I am an Indian. I resent that suggestion as being (to put it mildly) stereotypical. As far as I can see, or could see long before the voting, it was almost certain that Obama was going to win on both occasions. Their is no punditry involved in this conclusion either. I resent the word punditry too, if you know what I mean. But most probably you don’t. Bad for you. And worse for me. (Another red flag, may be a small one).
There is a very simple explanation of this apparently magical prediction. The explanation has been pointed out by many already. To repeat it again here, because I arrived at it independently, it is the Establishment that decides who contests the US (presidential) elections.
Any one not to the liking of the Establishment is swiftly filtered out. Any one who is thoroughly pro-Establishment, but for some reason makes the Establishment uncomfortable by his or her actions is also swiftly filtered out. Filtered out means? He gets into more and more electoral trouble. He loses all allies. He loses the financial support. He becomes a target for one and all. But if he was a loyal Establishment supporter, once he goes through this Homo Sacer period, he will be compensated for that. In fact, most of the candidates are there in the primaries for that sole purpose. To be a noteworthy primary candidate is itself a reward, which might bear great fruits in the long term. Even in the short term, it is nothing to be scornful of, unless you are the anti-Establishment sort.
So Obama was almost certain to win both times, because he was a perfect choice for the Establishment. After the two terms of the Junior Bush, the Establishment decided in favor of some ‘hope and change’. No one knows better than those who run the Establishment (and have done so throughout the history, and I am not referring to an alien race of reptilians) that some ‘hope and change’ for the masses is needed occasionally to ensure that things do not get out of hand. In other, words, to ensure that things remain the same, hope and change have to be given some room from time to time. These words are not my original contribution, but that does not make them false.
The Establishment wants its own kind of change (as opposed to the change that the masses might want). But such change has the drawback of being potentially very unpopular. It might be made popular by setting up a narrative (through the mainstream media and, more discretely, by the Establishment intelligentsia) that blames the immigrants, the minorities, the ‘losers’ and so on for all the problems, and then introducing the anti-masses measures under the guise of neo-populist measures targeting those who have been set up to take the blame.
What is neo-populism? Good question. Populism (and not just that with the capital P) is largely a product of the Industrial Revolution. It is, by definition, pro-masses (this is a very simple idea if you want to understand it, so I will not bother to explain it). However, most of what the Establishment has always cherished and wanted is, almost equally by definition, anti-masses. Therefore, there is a need for all the anti-masses measures to be disguised in pro-masses clothing. It can be explained and illustrated very simply by just one sentence: That is the purpose that Romney and others like him serve. This part is almost obvious, but there is another part. This is also the purpose that Obama serves, albeit in a different way. The two parts can again be explained and illustrated very simply by this short and well known phrase: Good cop and bad cop.
Most of the electoral strategy of the Establishment revolves around this question: This time, can we have a bad cop or do we need to bring back the good cop, so that he can placate the prisoner somewhat. The prisoner has no alternatives. There are only two people who seem to matter (and who are in some kind of touch with him). The prisoner cannot help being relieved when the good cop comes back. Nor can he (or she) help being wary of the bad cop coming back, even if he knowns very well that they are both serving the same purpose.
The Establishment had the bad cop recently. Twice. In fact, they had significantly more of the bad cops in the last few decades. Tougher measures need to be enforced. And they require a transition from the good cop to the bad cop or vice-versa. The good cop (or the bad cop) stay till there is time for another transition. So Obama stays, just as Bush stayed, even after becoming a joke throughout the world.
There you have it. It is wrong to say that there is no difference between the good cop and the bad cop. The good cop has to maintain the appearance of being intelligent, compassionate, caring, fair, humane, kind, and above all, very good with words. The bad cop can be, indeed has to be, the opposite. They are constrained by their roles. If their real personalities were to come out, it is not inconceivable that, in some cases, they might turn out to be playing roles very different from their individual (private) personalities. It may or may not be true in this particular case, but it is true in general.
There is another difference. The bad cop is more effective when the Establishment wants to ensure that things that are in its interest are implemented, even against popular opinion. The good cop is more effective when the bad press brought in by the bad cop (and/or the public opinion) necessitates measures for ensuring the stability of the Establishment. The good cop provides some (even if nominal and temporary) concessions.
Is this all just my opinion? The answer is, as they say, yes and no. It is, of course my personal opinion. I am not the leader of anything or anyone. I am not a corporate big-wig. I am not even a public intellectual. I am, what they call, a non-entity. I do not (and cannot, and have no wish to) force anyone to have the same opinion. However, the opinion is based on some grounds and those grounds I have partially explained, Others have explained them in much more detail elsewhere. Therefore, you can (if you so wish) make up your own mind as to whether the opinion has some validity or not.
For me, it is not only amusing, but even a source of unending wonder that so many people (who apparently should know better) can pretend that there was any real contest.
I am aware of the objections that could be raised to this. If the contest was not (and never is) real, how come so much money was poured into the campaigns? The Rich (who make up a substantial part of the establishment) only put in money where it can pay. The Return On Investment thing, you know. ROI, the king of everything. If the contest is rigged, why would they put so much money into it? The amounts have broken all the records, haven’t they?
There are several answers to that. First of all, you have to have an appearance of a real contest, otherwise the whole thing will lose credibility and the (Establishment’s) purpose will be lost. Second, some of The Rich simply put in money for speculative (rational) reasons. The candidates are like stocks. Putting money on them is like investment. The stocks need not necessarily pay back in the near future. If they seem to have potential to pay back in the medium term, that is good enough for those who can afford the wait. And The Rich can.
But more importantly, the money invested is not just for the current presidential election. A lot of it is invested for more local and more narrow goals. Special purpose goals. Such as to ensure that the Oil Lobby maintains its power. That the Gun Lobby (and, more generally, the Military-Industrial-Security-Intelligence-etc. Lobby) maintains its importance and influence. That the good cop does not get carried away. The cops are human too, you know.
And also, which is important to understand if you are (even mildly) the anti-Establishment sort, in order that the social-justice-wallahs and the human-right-wallahs know how much endangered they are, how much under threat of being wiped out by the Romney-Gingrich-Bush kind, and, therefore, how much dependent they are on the good cop, who will try his best to get them a fair deal, bad as the bad cop is, and hard-hearted as the Law is.
There is an interesting example that can given from the Indian context (where the elections have their own amusing, very amusing, aspects, but that is a different story). Foreign policy is one of the key election issues in elections everywhere, and so it is in India. And one of the key matters about the foreign policy in India is the state of India-Pakistan relations. And while this is usually a very touchy and sensitive matter (especially when there is a terrorist attack: How bountiful they are for the Establishment anywhere!), there are still enough number of people who realize the sensibility of having normal friendly relations with Pakistan. There is no need for the blood and gore! It simply makes more bloody practical sense! But the matter being so touchy and sensitive, how to get the masses to agree to a long-term peace with Pakistan, especially as it might involve some concessions on the Kashmir issue. Who can dare that?
Whether it is fair to put all the blame on the masses or not is another question that needs detailed explanation, but we will leave it for now.
Who can, then, dare to make concessions to Pakistan, especially on Kashmir? It turns out that there is a wise opinion that says that only a BJP-led government can do that. Why? Isn’t the BJP the most anti-Pakistan, the most hawkish on foreign policy? It is, say the supporters of this argument, but it can do so precisely because of that reason. Since the party is known for its no-nonsense stance towards Pakistan, it can actually make concessions without being accused of selling out to Pakistan. In the macho terminology, the BJP has nothing ‘prove’ and it has nothing to ‘compensate’ for (as did Congress in earlier times). The Congress, on the other hand (now) might be a sitting duck, what with all the (somewhat unfair) charges of its ‘minority appeasement’.
So, you see, the bad cop can sometimes be the right cop to do the things that you would usually associate with the good cop. The good cop has to maintain his credibility as the loyal and devoted cop. The bad cop, on the other hand, has too much credibility on that point.
The explanation is simple, but its implementation is not as straightforward as you might think. That is a key lesson to learn.
It is like an inverse Greek tragedy. The Establishment (the Gods) keep stealing the Hope Diamond and Fire of Change from the masses (the men, the prisoner) with the help of the good-cop-bad-cop team, by staging the specatacle of a fair game being played. The Gods know that relatively fair voting is a fairly safe concession that they can make to the men, to keep them from stealing back the diamond and the fire. The men, nevertheless, do sometimes succeed in doing that. Other times they just think they have done it, being fooled by the Gods into stealing the fake copies. Diamond that is worth less than iron and fire that neither gives heat nor light. The Gods have even stranger copies. Those which can only be used by the Gods. If men use them (after stealing them) they either destroy themselves, or, they themselves become Gods. Or at least they become the priests.
Anyway, the spectacle (finally!) nears its end. Victory, this time, is soon going to be declared for the good cop.
So not surprisingly, and amusingly, there is surprise at the results. (Unsurprising things can be a source of wonder). We all need self-deception (to differing degrees) just in order to continue to live. The writer very well understands why it is needed. It is usually a bad thing, but sometimes it simply is needed in order to just plain survive. Where you put the limit on your self-deception is your own business.
In the end, let us be thankful that the bad cop has gone away.
For a while, at least.
And let us hope for some concessions.
What about stealing back the real Hope Diamond and the real Fire of Change? What can I say? I am just a non-entity, nearing the Exit door and being pushed very hard towards it. There is no one even to talk to, as I move towards the door. But what about you?
Or are you too busy lynching Todd Akin? Karl Rove might help you.
Who is Todd Akin? Fair question. Well, he is one of the smaller bad cops gone rogue. You know what I mean? The Establishment wants him out. Anyone from the Establishment will help you. If you don’t lynch him, can he rehabilitate himself? It is possible. Time can heal wounds, they say. So you better make a good job of it.
By the way, when the good cop and the bad cop leave the prisoner alone, what do they do? They work together, of course. That’s the whole point. And they study how the prisoners can be more effectively prevented from working together. In fact, they study how the prisoners can be made to work against themselves (the prisoners, of course).