This isn’t an election! Where are the posters? Where are the songs? Where are the massive rallies and rath yatras? Where are the music videos and film stars at the rallies? Where are the scandals and tears? Where are the election commission diktats? Seriously, we can teach a thing or two about elections to the Americans.
I attended an Obama rally in Virginia, and couldn’t help but compare the difference in covering an election rally in two countries. There were no crowds ferried in by truckloads by the local politician. Nobody had been paid to come. People had actually driven up in their own cars, parked in the lots and then walked to the open grounds where President Obama was addressing the rally. People queued and waited patiently to get in. Security was tight but nobody complained. There were porta-toilets, and drinking water available.
In contrast, our elections rallies, whether in a city or in the villages, are always chaotic. Women and men are segregated in separate enclosures to prevent any ‘untoward incident’. In America, such a thing is inconceivable. There are women who cheer aloud when Obama highlights his feminist-friendly policies. At the George Mason University in Virginia, Obama lashed out at his rival Mitt Romney for his bizarre ‘binders full of women’ comment, and poked fun at him for his flip-flop on many issues. Just like that, a new portmanteau was created: Romnesia = Romney with amnesia. The crowd loved it, they cheered, every man and woman. Among the women was Siri Sankara from Hyderabad doing her masters in telecommunication. Siri says, “It doesn’t really matter to me who wins but when I graduate and if I want to enter the work place in America, then I would rather have Obama as President than Romney.”
Standing cheek by jowl were women in hijabs, women with kids in harness, working women, stay-at-home moms, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians: many coloured people. To them, Obama continues to be the ray of hope. A black American woman of West African origin told me that she believes Obama promises an America that will not wage unnecessary wars. She, like many Americans, believes that the Obama administration has reduced the bellicosity that characterised Bush administration’s foreign policy. It seems Obama has been successful in portraying his administration as a war-ending machine. Even though Guantanamo Bay still has prisoners, drone strikes continue and the Patriot Act was reauthorised during his first four years as President. The next four, he promises, will bring home the troops from Afghanistan. And that is because, lest anyone forget it, Bin Laden is dead.
Another woman voter believed that the occupants of the White House are a kinder, middle-class, ‘work your way up in life’ family who are empathetic to people like her: middle-class Americans. But middle-class is the same everywhere, whether in Mumbai or in Florida. Immersed in the daily drudgery of routine, it has turned apathetic towards politics. Obama’s real challenge will be to get these people to come out and vote. That explains Obama’s exhortation to his supporters, “Don’t boo, vote.” With barely two weeks left for voting, Obama’s voice is hoarse from speech-making and sloganeering. But he has to still sound enthusiastic to get his supporters to the polling stations.
Since television penetration is nearly 100 per cent, the two candidates, their running mates and spouses are on TV almost every night. They meet the press, come to TV studios, engage with the audience, speak politely to the anchor, and answer questions intelligently, invariably laced with facts. The anchors themselves are armed with facts and figures, and are quick to interrupt if the guest tries to fudge his way through. Even though it is partisan, the questioning is done in a fair and transparent manner. Of course, there are biases — understandable where media organisations publicly endorse a candidate.
That has however not stopped both candidates from spending over $300 million each on media advertising. The battle for airwaves is fought with negative ads endorsed by the candidates, which run all day on TV channels.
And then there are the fact checkers! Minutes after a candidate has delivered a speech, on-line research groups are out with their fact checks. What is good is that a lie is caught immediately. But what is not so good is that one learns how blatantly and how consistently politicians lie to us.
Imagine how our politicians would react to being fact checked. Well, no point imagining. Because some facts are better not faced.
Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on twitter @smitaprakash