INDIA: Guess what was flashing as an important news item a couple of days before the Big Fight?
The number of people who watched TV in America! Yes, a Reuters report raised the pitch on how the number of American TV viewers who watched the last debate between U.S. President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney fell sharply. It cited some final Nielsen ratings wherein 59.2 million Americans were assumed to have watched the third match-up between the two men before the November 6 presidential elections. The rest, were probably busy in Football livecasts.
What was noted with interest was the fact that this figure had dropped 8 million below the 67.2 million who tuned in for their first encounter on October 3. The numbers for the second debate were some 65.6 million viewers.
A lot of brouhaha over nothing? How does it matter, one may ask, specially when TV and political fist-sizing has been brutally sidelined, thanks to other 'real' dramas? May be that explains another point noted in the report that said that none of the presidential debates this year have captured Americans' attention like the 2008 vice-presidential encounter between Republican Sarah Palin and Democrat Joe Biden. The reason - It was watched by 69.9 million people and ties as the second most-viewed debate ever.
For record, the most-watched presidential debate on U.S. television so far has been the October 1980 encounter between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter. It drew 80.6 million viewers, according to Nielsen, which began collecting debate data in 1976. Sounds like an alien feeling if you are in India.
Politicians arguing over real issues and that too without any footwear! Incredible and surreal! Impossible, in fact, if one adds the fact that this is happening during days running up to major elections. India scores high on many areas and fails in comparison on others whenever a dinner table chat over America and Bharat spices up. But the current US election spectacles show one major gap that is immersed deep, beyond the superficial electoral or constitutional inch-tapes.
Consider what B Sreekumaran V, Head IT at Jindal Drilling & Industries Ltd thinks. "Corruption levels in India have gone beyond all thresholds. US election system is so much better. Even now, candidates and parties here get busy only in abusing each other."
The factor of manipulations, riggings, leaks etc is another disturbing one in his estimate. Something that stands starkly ugly when one hears and watches the degree of openness and subject-focused oratorical fights in US elections, he feels.
Being open-minded and flexible, is what makes Obama his preferred choice, interestingly for Vipin Kumar, Group CIO, Escorts. Kumar interprets the fate of these elections from an India standpoint and finds that Obama would probably accommodate US policies in favour of emerging economies. "He is a man of good resolve. He has showed with all his actions so far that America means business."
Can India say that ever? Can candidates and manifestos here ever rise above petty mud-slinging, parochial issues and rifts? Can they be open and flexible enough for a bigger vision?
Obama for instance, as seen in Kumar's view would also be flexible on issues like outsourcing in future, at the right time. The cost advantage may soften the rhetoric post the elections, he opines. "His inclinations towards India when we think of South Asia also give India leverage over China."
Now there's more for India to pick amongst Obama's postures than atlas positions. Kumar prudently pencils out the sheer approach of US elections. "It's candidate vs. candidate and not the way it's party-oriented here. Lot of panels, lot of talks and discussions make sure that mindsets are challenged and opened up whenever possible."
Karur Vyas Bank's DGM-IT, Sekar S echoes Kumar, not only with Obama as his choice but also the bigger view.
This IT veteran who feels that Obama deserves a second chance, also feels we need second-thoughts when it comes to the abysmally irrational amount of money spent in elections in India. "Public does not need other ugly means. It can understand through simple mediums like these debates. In fact, such debates are much better, way simpler and far more effective."
Kumar quips the time when Indira Gandhi's single-opinion message was streamed on TV and it reflects the extent of links between election debates and TV.
As Sekar S, rightly reckons, "Arguments and counter-arguments give clarity and equip voters before they make the final decision. But it's all clean and not dirty as we have seen so far. So positive!"
Like Jill Serjeant reported a few days back how the two candidates turn to foreign policy for their third and last debate with a focus on the roughly 20 per cent of voters who by that time had yet to make up their minds or who could still switch their support.
The debate, as this Reuters analysis pointed out, was almost the last time opportunity for either candidate to directly appeal to millions of voters. The 90-minute debate, was purportedly designed around six segments: America's role in the world; the war in Afghanistan; Israel and Iran; the changing Middle East; terrorism; and China's rise.
So it really mattered if TVs in America were being tuned in or not. As to India, does anyone, candidates or even viewers; has the time to plug in to a new era of voting dynamics? No body is even asking that as of now.
Probably, as Ajay S, Head IT, Spice group correctly suffixed, "Who has the time to ponder over all this with so much corruption keeping people busy in India?" He is more worried and disheartened about the news of Rajat Gupta's verdict as he shared. "The man was an institution in himself and yet a scholar and eminent person of that stature was taken to justice. Compare that to India, think of Telecom scams or other scandals, and the corrupt are still roaming free."
‘Free', ‘Open', ‘fight', are indeed, words with many connotations. The dictionary changes in every time zone perhaps. And this argument is not up for debate.
(This article first appeared on www.ciol.com)