To summarize some of the political opinions I’ve heard in India, the recent U.S. election was between a black guy who killed Osama bin Laden and another guy whom no one had ever heard of. Obviously, President Obama was going to win.
Many Indians had a better grasp of the situation, realizing that Osama bin Laden was not the central issue of the election, but I still found that perspectives on American politics were often distorted and oversimplified. Domestic issues like healthcare and the budget rarely came up. To be fair, we Americans have our own misconceptions about foreign affairs. But that’s another story.
By following the election from abroad, I learned several interesting lessons. One was that if it had been up to the rest of the world, Obama would have won by a landslide. People in India love Obama. So do tourists from places like Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom. But no one’s very keen on Mitt Romney, or conservative policy in general.
I also learned that outside of the political bickering, we have it pretty good in America. Just a week before the election, the largest Atlantic hurricane on record hit the East Coast, causing catastrophic damage, but the election went on as scheduled, with almost normal turnout. If a similar natural disaster had occurred in Mumbai just before an Indian election, I doubt things would have proceeded as smoothly. Here in Jodhpur, even a small rainstorm leaves roads flooded for days.
And I learned that the American voting process is very well organized. Despite long lines, the confusing logic of the electoral college, and the inevitable slate of problems in Florida, we are able to register and count tens of millions of votes in a 24-hour period. The most recent Indian election took place in five phases over a span of one month, with the votes counted three days after the fifth phase. The day after the U.S. election, I had an argument with someone about whether or not the results had been settled. He insisted that it would take another few weeks to know for sure, but I told him that Mitt Romney had already conceded. It was over.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I learned that elections aren’t always peaceful. The last Indian election involved many outbreaks of violence, leaving several people dead, and violence can get even more extreme in other parts of the world. In some countries, hundreds of people have died on and around Election Day. As the Republicans and Democrats squabble, we can at least be thankful that they settle their differences with words rather than weapons.
If you’re wondering what the billboard means, it’s Hindi for “Second time Obama.” Apparently, Obama believes that yes, you can buy Indian butter. The more pressing question is: what happened to Obama’s nose?