Field Notes: India

Editor’s Note: Just as I was getting ready to post this last night, Barack Obama clinched the presidency and I didn’t want to ruin the mood. But reality will set in soon enough, so here we go . . .

From Natasha Julius:

Most people in Jaipur do not care. They had penciled Obama in weeks ago and are more or less disinterested at this point. What does interest them is any prospect to separate you from your money, but that’s another story.

The big news is that the major press out of Delhi is aflutter over comments Obama made concerning terrorism in Pakistan. Apparently, he mentioned the need for a stronger presence in that part of world and seemed to associate stability in Pakistan’s tribal areas and along the
Kashmiri border with stability in Kabul. The fear here is that this will lead to some sort of US intervention in what India sees squarely as a domestic issue.

I gather Obama’s comment got very little attention in the States. Here, it has exploded like the Hindenburg and played about as well as the Detroit Lions, with stalwart news station NDTV running an hour-long special called “Is Obama good for India?” (conclusion: probably.) and papers devoting a good chunk of space to the reaction in India. Kashmiri separatists have been quick to welcome the comments, viewing them as tacit endorsement of their pleas for an independent state. This has made Delhi even less pleased. By now Team O has dispatched a few talking heads to sooth things over and assure the Indian government that Barack was only kidding, but the bloom has somewhat faded from the Obama rose.

Other than that, the coverage has been fairly one-sided as usual. There’s no pretense of a story here; the local pundits are satisfied musing whether this will be a landslide win or just a run-of-the-mill ass beating. There’s also a great deal of time and space devoted to explaining how our complex electoral system works. I’ve read and watched many the primer on the electoral college in the past few days, most of which I fear will succeed in confusing the populace more than anything else. The Times of India also ran a map of the various voting
systems available in each county – punch card, digital scan, pulling a damn lever – that was as colorful as it was hysterical. The point? American elections are ridiculous.

It’s nice to be over here and have this critical, slightly mocking viewpoint. This is obviously still a big deal for India, but they seem determined to sneak in a little teasing where they can. Most people here think America takes itself way too seriously and this is no exception.


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