US election view [2]: India – a collective yawn

On Wednesday Indians will wake up to see the results of the US presidential election rolling in – polls close in Ohio at 6am in India, so breakfast here may well see the anointing of the next president. But most Indians won’t even notice – and even for those who do, few believe who wins will have any effect on their lives.

As the International Business Times headlined it: Obama-Romney Campaign Elicits Big Yawn In India. There are a few reasons for this. First, and most obviously, India’s hundreds of millions of poor don’t have time to think about what’s going on outside their family and their job, let alone on the other side of the world.

But for those who are engaged or interested, ultimately there is little difference between President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney when it comes to India. Beyond the occasional “jobs in Buffalo, not in Bangalore” sloganeering, India has had barely a mention during the campaign – and that, too, may explain the country’s indifference.

As the WSJ’s Margherita Stancati pointed out after the third, foreign-policy focused, presidential debate, India’s neighbours China, Pakistan and Afghanistan were mentioned 32, 25 and 21 times, respectively. India? Zero.

Sadanand Dhume, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, told the WSJ’s India Real Times blog that “India is much less central to US foreign policy than many pundits in New Delhi would like to believe.”

“India is a large and inward-looking country and in many ways it sees itself as the centre of Asia whereas in reality as this debate shows it is not quite the case,” Dhume added.

To the extent that it looks at the global stage, the Indian media tends to play cheerleader for the country. It likes the “India shining” narrative – the government’s recent reforms rush, the general boosting of the corporate sector and the sort of day-to-day nationalism that other countries usually only display during occasions such as the Olympics.

The challenges that secure the most attention are mostly domestic, not least the repeated political scandals and the economic slowdown. The policies of other countries, even the US, pale by comparison.

“India has little to worry about as to who will manage United States foreign policy in the next administration,” wrote Pramit Pal Chaudhuri in the Hindustan Times. “Both campaigns, especially the Republicans, have expressed a strong commitment to India.”

Mahendra Ved, writing in the New StraitsTimes, said, essentially, that it doesn’t matter whether India is in the conversation, because “no matter who wins the presidency, America’s relations with India are set to soar.”

But J Srinivasan, in the Hindu Business Line, lamented India’s exclusion from the debate, and chalked it up to Delhi’s shortcomings: “Really, can the US, or any other country, be blamed for ignoring India? For all the big talk of our political class, the sad truth is forget a chair, we don’t get a stool at the world high table.”

So while the candidates seem to have other countries on their mind, India is responding in kind: it’s fine, aswe don’t care about you two either.

But Obama can take some solace. A BBC World Service poll of 21 countries released last month showed that 36 per cent of Indians prefer him, compared with 12 per cent for Romney. That’s up from 24 per cent who preferred the Obama in 2008, against 15 per cent who would have voted for John McCain.

Both candidates, however, would still be roundly trounced by those with no opinion at all.

Related reading:
Live coverage: America decides
, FT
US election – the Brics view, beyondbrics