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Demarcating the Indian and the US Democracies - Part 2

BY: Drabir Ghosh | Category: Politics | Submitted: 2012-12-31 10:42:03
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Article Summary: "Difference in US and Indian Electoral system. Another remarkable difference between the two democracies in their electoral process lies in the different ways of political campaigning, one such being the concept of debates..."


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Part-2

Another remarkable difference between the two democracies in their electoral process lies in the different ways of political campaigning, one such being the concept of debates. During presidential elections in the United States, it has become customary for the main candidates to engage in a debate. The topics discussed in the debate are often the most controversial issues of the time, and arguably elections have been nearly decided by these debates (e.g., Obama Vs Romney). While debates aren't constitutionally mandated, it is often considered a de facto election process. The main target for these debates are undecided voters; those who usually aren't partial to either political ideology or party.

No Such things exist in the Indian system. Once an election has been called in India, parties issue manifestos detailing the programs they wish to implement if elected to government, the strengths of their leaders, and the failures of opposing parties and their leaders. Slogans are used to popularize and identify parties and issues, and pamphlets and posters distributed to the electorate. Rallies and meetings where the candidates try to persuade and rhapsodize supporters, malign and asperse opponents are held throughout the constituencies. Personal appeals and promises of reforms are made, with candidates traveling the length and breadth of the constituency to try to influence as many potential supporters as possible. Party symbols abound, printed on posters and placards.

The 2012 Presidential elections in the US saw a huge amount of money being spent, almost $7 billion ( equally divided between the Presidential and Congressional elections ). But does spending gallons of cash really help the cause in gaining advantage in your favour ? The answer is a questionably doubt. If we take the example of the wrestling company tycoon Linda McMahon, she spent $100 million in two attempts (in 2010 and 2012) to become senator from Connecticut. She lost both times. The super-PACs (political action committees that came into being after a federal court ruling in July 2010 lifted the ban on corporate political activity and permitted wealthy donors to pool unlimited sums of money for election spending) who favoured Mitt Romney spent millions of dollars in campaigning and trying to sway votes in their favour. The biggest super-PAC, controlled by Republican Karl Rove, spent almost $450 million on harnessing the best brains in advertising and marketing to attack Obama with TV ads. But all those didn't yield significant results. The US has an Electoral College system where the winner in any state carries all its electoral votes. So the affluent super-PACS focused on nine swing states that held the balance of power in the Electoral College. Their spending in the final days was nearly $10 million per day. Yet Obama won eight of the nine swing states, losing only North Carolina, a traditional Republican stronghold. This clearly shows money doesn't matter a lot when it comes to popular or citizen voting.

In India too money is spent on platters with wings on them. Even after strict regulations and guidelines by the Election Commission on the amount of money that can be spend during an election (Rule 90 of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961) it is an open-secret that candidates end up spending millions. A recent article on NDTV titled "The Rs. 81,500 crore lie" ( posted on November 03, 2011 19:02 IST on www.ndtv.com ) sums up the mystery of election expenditure very well.

According to the article published on NDTV's website on the 3rd of November 2011"Association of Democratic Reforms or the ADR is a group which has helped to bring in greater transparency in the system. To look at it, one-by-one, ADR analyzed how much is spent in each of these different elections. In the Lok Sabha elections ADRs approximates 1600 serious candidates. There are 543 seats and an average of three serious candidates per seat. That is an average, and it could be more but we are keeping it a bit conservative. The average spending per candidate is between Rs. 3 crore to Rs. 5 crore, and so the total spent is Rs. 5000 crore to Rs. 8000 crore in one Lok Sabha election. But what they report, according to the affidavits submitted, is barely a fraction of that. ADR included two other election areas that don't get much focus - municipalities and Panchayats. For big city Municipalities the average spend is Rs. 50 lakhs to Rs. 1 crore - a very high figure for a small scale election. Looking at the last area, the Panchayat elections, is perhaps one that gets absolutely no attention but is the real sting in the tail. There are 71 lakh serious candidates across the three tiers of the Panchayat system; district, block and gram sabha, with an average spend of Rs. 25000 to Rs. 50000. The limits vary from state to state so while some districts, allow you to spend up to Rs. 1 lakh, in others the limit is only Rs. 5000. So this Rs. 25000 to Rs. 50000 limit has nothing to do with the official limit but is just an estimate of what an average candidate spends. The total spend then comes to a staggering figure, Rs. 17000 crore to Rs. 35000 crore for Panchayat elections in the entire country. When added, all these figures of the total amount spent, the final figure, which is the blockbuster number of is anywhere between Rs. 35000 crore to Rs. 81000 crore."

Given the fact the money spent is not equal to votes earned, and Indians and Americans both practicing the same mistakes over and over again, tells a lot about the approach undertaken by the candidates during elections.

The US has always been quite liberated in thought when it comes to giving opportunities to candidates of Indian origin to be a part of their political structure. It was after the Luce-Celler Act of 1946 that Indian Americans were restored naturalization rights in the United States. Presently they make up for around 2 percent of the entire population of the US and 16.4 percent of the Asian-American community. They are the third largest in the Asian American population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, between 1990 and 2000, the Indian population in the U.S. grew 130%, 10 times the national average of 13%. Considering these facts the Indians were not neglected as such when it came to their representation in US politics.

The names that invariably come into any one's mind when we talk about Indian origin politicians in the US are that of Dalip Singh Saund, Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley. Dalip Singh Saund was a member of the United States House of Representatives. He served the 29th District of California from January 3, 1957 - January 3, 1963. He was the first Asian American/Indian American elected as a voting member of the United States Congress.

Piyush "Bobby" Jindal is the 55th and current Governor of Louisiana. The first Indian American in Congress, he won reelection in 2006. Bobby Jindal won the Louisiana gubernatorial election, 2007, after which he handled disaster response to Hurricane Gustav in 2008 and delivered the Republican response to the Barack Obama speech to joint session of Congress, February 2009.

Nimrata Kaur "Nikki" Randhawa Haley on the other hand is the 116th and current Governor of South Carolina. A member of the Republican Party, Haley represented Lexington County in the South Carolina House of Representatives from 2005 to 2010.Haley received the highest proportion of the ethnic minority vote in South Carolina gubernatorial history. Haley is the first woman to serve as Governor of South Carolina and the second Indian-American governor in the country, after fellow Republican Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. She is also the third person of colour elected as governor of a Southern state, after Jindal and Virginia's Douglas Wilder. At the age of 40, Haley is the youngest current governor in the United States.

Even this time around Six Indian-Americans were trusted with confidence by their respective parties to win a seat in the US House of Representatives. Out of them only one succeeded and became the third person of Indian-origin to be elected to the US House of Representatives, attesting to the incremental progress the thriving community is making in politics and public life in America. He is Dr. Ami Bera, an Indian-American physician from California. Dr. Bera, a Democrat, had a lead of 184 votes against his Republican rival and incumbent Dan Lungren, when all the votes were counted for the Seventh Congressional Disctrict in California. According to the Office of Secretary of State, California, Bera had received 50.1 percent of the total votes counted.

Considering that the US makes it possible for so many people from different ethnicity to join and be in the limelight of politics, it still tells a sorry story when it comes to the actual turn out of voters. The 2012 Presidential Elections actually saw a dip in the percentage when compared with 2008 which was around the 57% mark. It was perhaps in the mid 1800s when there was a strong presence of voting population that staged a powerful democracy in function. When we compare the same with the India, it is remarkably higher. The Indian citizens who are eligible to cast their votes actually take pride in voting and in showcasing their right to constitute a democratic Government. The recent Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat elections are living examples of the same, which saw a whooping 70%+ turnout in the number of voters, showing the interest and faith among the citizen still being strong when it comes to voting for political leadership.

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PART 1 : http://www.saching.com/Articles/Demarcating-the-Indian-and-the-US-Democracies-Part-1-16278.html

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