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FIGHT CLUB

American tango vs Indian tandav

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DESI WAY: Campaign timetables in India are short but brutal

The clean, antiseptic American presidential campaign can import some of the band-baaja of Indian polls. And India can, in turn, consider borrowing the idea of debating one's way to victory.

Faint of heart and light of pocket need not apply. The American presidential election is a marathon for the alpha types loaded with a special genome. Even a Lance Armstrong on steroids may have difficulty smiling fixed faced for a year and sounding chirpy at endless fundraisers while boning up facts on the bands of Benghazi and the bomb aspirations of Iran. By the time voting day comes around on November 6, the campaign has run so long and the candidates have sold themselves so hard, the voter can't but keel over. India will have to concede this Guinness Book record to the United States. But then Americans do everything king-size or "venti";it is a special love of the XXL. From the money spent on the presidential campaigns (estimated to be $2. 5 billion) to the reality show-like coverage, it is all about excesses. There is nothing the voter doesn't know. And if he listens to The Donald Trump, he knows even more - about Barack Obama's "past" as a secret Muslim. He is also fed other dopey details - for instance, that Obama is really an Indonesian pretending to be American.

So evolved is the American campaign behemoth, it demands its own sociological category. How about the ethnology of social constructionism? Whatever that means.

It all started way back in early 2011 when what seemed like an army of Republican hopefuls began testing the waters. Anyone with a weird agenda qualified for the battle. The field was swarming with Sarah Palin-like men and an even more Palinesque woman called Michelle Bachmann. She etched herself on the national consciousness with her "crazy eyes" on Tina Brown's sly Newsweek cover, sending conservative voters and politicians into a rage.
Remember Rick Perry, the Texan who couldn't remember the government departments he wanted to kill or the number of people he already had - 234 state executions in 11 years as Texas governor? He was a Roman born in the wrong age. Then there was Newt Gingrich, the angry old man who went from promising Mars flights to floundering within a span of three months with his Barbie-like wife in tow. He deflated like a balloon, his professorial claims in tatters.

Pizza king Herman Cain, an African-American Republican, seemed to be catching fire last year but it soon became clear he was punching way above his weight. Running a country was not like running a food chain, you need to locate Tahrir Square, recall what happened in Tripoli at a moment's notice.

Funnily enough Romney was the least favorite of the party base and the party bosses. Stilted and relatively liberal, he seemed unable to connect with both the loony fringe as well the intellectual police of Republican op-ed writers. And he was a Mormon, a slightly fringe branch of Christianity, which the bosses thought could become a handicap. It didn't and here he is flying the Republican flag as Obama's challenger.

If you count Romney's last attempt to be president, he has been campaigning for five years. That is five long years of starched shirts, constant chirpiness with a leashed tongue and all that pummeling of donors for dollars.
America could certainly borrow a saner campaign timetable from India. Short and brutal, it would terminate the currently interminable one by half. While in the process, they could also buy the Indian electronic voting machines and upgrade their malfunction-prone methods. George Bush became the President in 2000 because the machines didn't count the hanging "chads" in the punched ballots. Just ask Al Gore about it.

And India could borrow the idea of the "debate. " Why not have the protagonists of the main parties lay out their vision and be questioned? It would be good to see Indian politicians being grilled on what they plan to do instead of delivering generalised lectures on poverty reduction.

In turn, frankly, America could also do with more band, baaja, baarat. Americans are electing the president of a superwuper power - to borrow Benazir Bhutto's snide reference to India - but they are downright antiseptic about it. The posters are tiny, the noise levels low. The rallies are like Sunday church gatherings. Lines, metal detectors, porta potties, traffic management - they even start on time. Politeness rules.

Where's the action, you ask. It hides in campaign ads and a monsoon of e-mail messages. Obama pleads daily for donations by e-mail. It is called "micro targeting" and what a fine concept it is. Everyone feels important even if they know that some lowly campaign hack wrote those e-mails in the name of the president. But it's still nice to be invited to dinner by the prez. At $5, 000 a piece. If India tried micro targeting, it would still be macro.

Before you start to think the American elections are all clean and efficient - far from it. It is just that the deviousness is American style. They don't quite "capture" voting booths - a la Bihar once or UP - they pass laws.

It is a standard Republican tactic ever since Bill Clinton made voter registration easier in 1993. Since Romney thinks 47 per cent of Americans don't pay federal taxes, are moochers and should be ignored, why bother with their vote? So the whole tamasha about "voter fraud. "

The Obama people say the whole shindig is to discourage, suppress and ultimately disenfranchise the poor and African Americans - solid Democratic Party voting blocs. In all Republican-ruled states, there has been a dengue-like outbreak of these laws to curb alleged voter fraud, Gangnam-style. Other tactics include sending letters to unsuspecting "seniors, " saying the polling day has changed.

In the end, it is a dance of democracy both here and back in desh but it can sometimes turn into tandav. So let the voter beware.

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