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June - July 2004

Political News

India: A Neglected Superpower?

by Nikhil Gajendragadkar

If you think the largest democracy in the world is the USA, you are wrong. By all official records it is India with 650 million electorates choosing 541 representatives. The USA, sole post-cold war super power, comes second and the difference is very large. We Indians are very happy and also proud about this fact. For more than two months Indian media is printing and talking about the country's General Elections, now underway peacefully (from April 20th till May 10th). Indian media is also abuzz with elections in America. So we expect similar coverage of our elections in Western media. But what is happening actually? When we get e-mails from our friends - now NRI's- abroad, asking us fervent questions about the elections back home, we are surprised. They don't know anything about The General Elections here. The Western media didn't pay attention to our elections, particularly before the first phase of the elections. How come?

For the Western media, the 'Largest Democracy' is the USA. News items about the Preliminaries in the USA are filling columns and columns in Europeans papers. On the contrary, Indian newspapers, weeklies etc. devote much space to happenings in Europe. May it concern environment, fashion, politics, anything. USA is our favorite subject. (Remember how we flashed Bill Clinton's visit on front page?) Then why is this ignorance about Indian Elections? As far as Europe is concerned, one can understand their stand. Compared to USA and UK, very few Indians are staying in Europe. And perhaps Europeans are more inclined to live in their own world. But that is also hardly palatable or digestible. Going with the principle of journalism, media is supposed to cover all the important happenings around us. And yet, Indian Elections 2004 don't find much space in European media. Still, we can accept (with much effort) the reason stated above, for ignoring this vast democratic exercise.

But what about the USA and the UK? In the UK, there are almost 1.05 million Indian-British, which account for 1.8 percent of UK's population. Nearly five decades ago many left their home and homeland to reconstruct the post war Britain. In a desire for a better life, they swallowed bitter taste of racism, they tried to forget despair of being separated from their motherland and their own people; they coped up with an alien society, which was interested more in their labor than in their welfare in their evening years. Their children usually do very well in education, but hardly find a good job. The grim reality remains after so many years. Unemployment among Indians in the UK. is 7.5 percent, as compared 4.5 percent in white Britain. Many Indians are working on low wages. So the presence of Indians or those of Indian origin is 'felt' but ignored. It is perhaps a legacy of colonization.

In the USA, Indians are doing much better thanks to the IT sector. Indians settled there are now thinking of entering mainstream US politics. Few of them are contesting in the elections also. In sum, Indians in the USA are quite influential. And yet again, US media don't bother to report about the Indian General Elections. They are more occupied with their own elections, the 9/11 incident and the enquiry related to it, deaths of American soldiers in Iraq, etc.. And Indians themselves in the USA and the UK were busier with the India-Pakistan cricket matches than with the elections. They are not to be blamed entirely. Indians residing outside India cannot vote, so they do not participate in the process of elections in India (there is a large segment in India who rarely vote, the bulk of expatriates belong to this class, upper middle, rich generally). Another reason is, I believe, that the Indian media, through their internet editions, or net-based news services, have failed in creating a kind of curiosity about the elections.

The central government of India, in a run-up for the mid-term general elections, ran a big campaign called 'India Shining' (handled by an international advertising agency). The overt aim of the campaign was to propagate India's achievements and the covert goal was to promote BJP, the main party of the ruling coalition. These advertisements state that India is doing well on all fronts and is a good investment destination. People who are interested in investment in India, don't need this kind of a campaign, so they are not interested. Indians residing outside India are also not interested in it, as the issues are of local importance. So the campaign may have projected an improved image of India, but failed to generate interest in Indian elections.

The full version of this article is available in the print edition.

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