Elections have a way of reminding us that the gap between India and America is not quite as big as we sometimes perceive. American Presidential candidates don’t wear white kurthas and Indian Parliamentary candidates don’t need to bother with primaries—but that is where the main differences end. Both spend an unhealthy amount of time trying to out-demagogue their opponents, powerful vote banks grapple for influence, sloganeering is heavy while vision is frequently light, film stars have far more clout than they ought to, candidates will try to paint opponents as elitist, and in the end the outcome is determined by a few strategic geographic regions.
Stateside the mudslinging is starting to exaggerate itself to ludicrous extremes, looking almost like a Bollywood movie where party proxies trip over each other to get before cameras and pontificate, melodramatic speeches at the ready, lacking only background musical score. What’s troubling about this scenario is that it leaves us with no sense of how either candidate will approach South Asian affairs over the next four years, at a time in which subcontinental politics are having an increasing effect on American domestic prosperity. India has borne considerable collateral fire in the President’s attacks against his opponent, who, has not made much inroad in demonstrating he has a tangible India policy.
Continual belligerency has been the de-facto if not de-jure policy of Pakistan for well over a decade, and the cost to NATO of governments in Islamabad and Kabul being controlled by an ISI cadre, either overtly or through a parade of civilian paper tigers is immeasurable. The Pakistan issue, directly linked to matters of nuclear security, Chinese military development and industrial espionage, terrorism and narco-trafficking, has unfortunately been lost in a fruitless, counterproductive election battle over outsourcing where emotion and rhetoric have outweighed reason and facts at every possible level.
In defense matters India, still a key player in geopolitical outcomes in Iran and Russia, has been slowly moving away from the Russian camp and showing increasing favor towards the United States and its major allies such as Israel and Great Britain. This means not only billions of dollars in export orders and thousands of American jobs, now and for the future, but a major American foreign policy coup left unfulfilled during the cold war. The fate of major geostrategic issues cannot be left to chance over sophomoric electioneering tactics. That is truly un-presidential.
Each candidate and their respective party ought to take the high road, get beyond slogans and platitudes and do what the American people truly want them to do: outline a real vision for the future, inclusive of America’s key geo-strategic priorities around the world. In the heat to win an election it is easy to remember that indifference or insensitive campaigning can do real harm to America’s important relationships overseas, who are becoming more intra-linked to American prosperity at home.