Skip to main content
Part of international coverage of

Why India longs for an American election

By Manu Joseph, Special to CNN
May 22, 2012 -- Updated 1416 GMT (2216 HKT)
Ask India's youth who they'd like to see as the next U.S. president, says Manu Joseph, and the answer is Barack Obama. Ask Delhi's academic class, however, and they'll tell you Republican presidents are a better fit for India's interests. Ask India's youth who they'd like to see as the next U.S. president, says Manu Joseph, and the answer is Barack Obama. Ask Delhi's academic class, however, and they'll tell you Republican presidents are a better fit for India's interests.
Election 2012: Postcard from Delhi
Election 2012: Postcard from Delhi
Election 2012: Postcard from Delhi
Election 2012: Postcard from Delhi
Election 2012: Postcard from Delhi
Election 2012: Postcard from Delhi
Election 2012: Postcard from Delhi
Election 2012: Postcard from Delhi
Election 2012: Postcard from Delhi
  • Many admire Obama, but Delhi academics say Republican presidents are better for India
  • Regardless of the outcome, Manu Joseph says India envies America's two-party system
  • Joseph says Indian media will find it hard to deny their love of Obama in lead-up to election

Editor's note: This is the fourth in a series of dispatches exploring how the U.S. election is seen in cities around the world. Manu Joseph is editor of India's Open and a columnist for International Herald Tribune. His novel "Serious Men" won the PEN/Open Book Award 2011 and the Hindu Literary Prize. His second novel, "The Illicit Happiness of Other People," will be released in August.

Delhi, India (CNN) -- There are more elephants in India than Mormons. Five of the rare Mormons are in a Bible class in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which occupies a portion of a red residential building in south Delhi.

The class has just been disrupted by me with a weird question. All the five Mormons are adolescent girls, almost modern at first glance in jeans and skirts and t-shirts. For some reason the question has made them burst into giggles and to make eyes at each other.

Only one of the girls knows the answer. "Mitt Romney is a presidential candidate," she says in a mumble. Others nod to indicate that the name is now familiar. But they look surprised when they are told he is a Mormon.

Manu Joseph
Manu Joseph

In this church, as in the rest of Delhi, there has been very little interest in the American presidential primaries. In the last several months, the Indian media has been joyously preoccupied with substantial domestic scams, scandals and political tremors. Even after Romney emerged as Barack Obama's challenger, the Indian media has viewed the presidential battle as peripheral news.

Tokyo postcard: Enjoying the U.S. political "matsuri"

No doubt, as the campaign escalates, the U.S. election will become the predominant news in India but for now it is not a popular topic of discussion.

In Sheraton Hotel's Pan Asian restaurant, an upper middle-class family of about 30 people has arrived to consume the buffet and celebrate the birthday of a woman who is a doctor trained in both Western medicine and homeopathy. (Almost every Delhi family has at least one loveable homeopath, usually a woman, who will diagnose the ailing relative over the phone and home-deliver the sugar pills.) An elder lights up a cigarette even though it is against the law to smoke in any of Delhi's restaurants. The waiter pretends that he has not seen it because he knows he will be abused if he tried to stop.

The young, many of whom have studied in America, flock together and chat about an impending wedding in the family. They are very aware of American politics, and they admire Obama, but the elections do not interest them yet, probably because the media is yet to show them the way.

Open Mic: New Delhi

But one of them, who is an executive with a healthcare firm, is interested. "I can't stand Indian news channels anymore," he says, "they have no news. They just scream all the time. So I have started watching CNN and BBC. So I can't help it, I follow the American elections."

Paris postcard: Marvelling at Obama's "coolitude"

You ask a crowd of this type, the young especially, who they would like to see as the next American president, and their answer will be unambiguous -- Obama. For them, the American presidential election is somehow a war between good and evil. Democrats are good, liberal and very New York and California. Republicans are evil, too Christian and Texas.

But the scholarly view in Delhi has long been different: Democrats may be handsome and clever, but Republican presidents suit India better. Not surprisingly, last month, an editorial comment in the largest English newspaper in India, The Times of India, announced:

"Barack's got a bee in his bonnet about India - the current president does go on a bit about India being, ahem, a threat to American professionals, Indian children studying maths earnestly while the Yankees doodle their days away, the US getting 'Bangalored', supposedly losing jobs to harder-working Indians. To charge his people into action Barack's not above reviving the Injun spectre once again, targeting this time the Punjabi rather than the Shoshone. In contrast, Romney doesn't say much anyway - and when he does speak, it's not about India. Surely that's a blessing. Traditionally too, the Republican leadership doesn't care overly much about kid stuff like school grades - their business is with business, so a Mitt in the White House might mean more dollars for Delhi. But then, there's a flip side - we may need to learn robot language."

For Indians, the elimination of Osama bin Laden last year by U.S. Navy SEALs was as significant as where he was found -- in a mansion in the heart of Pakistan, in the happy company of his large family, including a wife who has been frequently described as "young."

The subsequent collapse of the arranged marriage between Obama's administration and Pakistan's military leadership, is viewed in Delhi as a good development for India's security. Yet the general perception in the capital is that Republicans will be tougher on Pakistan than the Democrats.

It is a view that will be repeated many times this year by political experts in the newspapers, on chat shows and in the nocturnal congregations of journalists and think-tank scholars, of whom there are many in Delhi. But even they will find it hard to deny their love for Obama, the articulate non-white from Harvard. It is an affection they share with the capital's powerful, including politicians.

A Mitt in the White House might mean more dollars for Delhi. But then, there's a flip side -- we may need to learn robot language.
Times of India

When Obama visited India for the very first time, in 2010, a senior politician personally supervised the design of the new uniform that the Parliament's security officers were to wear, and she also briefed the members of the parliament how they should behave in Obama's presence so that they looked elegant. (There was a near stampede when Bill Clinton had visited in 2000 and it was all very embarrassing.)

Cairo postcard: A cynical eye on the U.S. election

Indians look at the two-party system of America with the ache of longing. Indian national elections, which are due in 2014, unless the government lead by the Indian National Congress falls before its time, is a festive circus of dozens of parties, most of which are actually family businesses which will be transferred by the elders to their children.

There is probably not a single political journalist in the country who can name, without looking at reference material, all the political parties that contest in the national elections.

But there are some similarities between the American system and the two major political rivals of India. The Indian National Congress has overt and covert socialist tendencies. It is willing to help the poor at the expense of the middleclass. The party is, in theory, liberal. In fact, it has interpreted secularism to mean equal opportunity for thugs from all religions.

The other major party, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, is largely a conservative, capitalist, middle-class force that is often baffled over why it is so hard for people to accept that India is fundamentally a Hindu country.

There must be something about human nature that divides the species into Democrats and Republicans.

Part of complete coverage on
Get all the latest news in Campaign 2012 at CNN's Election Center. There's the latest news, a delegate counter and much more.
From Cuba to South Africa to Japan, people on five continents tell CNN what they're looking for in a U.S. president.
November 7, 2012 -- Updated 1640 GMT (0040 HKT)
The dead-even U.S. election race reflects the nation's deep political chasm across the country. CNN brings you the best election day pictures.
As Americans head to the polls Security Clearance takes one last look at some of the most pressing foreign policy issues facing the candidates.
They represent a sliver of the electorate, yet their choices on Election Day could make a difference.
November 7, 2012 -- Updated 0259 GMT (1059 HKT)
The Chinese artist and political dissident says the American system has flaws -- but that China's system is "inhuman."
October 10, 2012 -- Updated 1053 GMT (1853 HKT)
Afghans fear the silence over the bloody 11-year-old war during the U.S. campaign means it is no longer a foreign policy priority.
October 26, 2012 -- Updated 0928 GMT (1728 HKT)
Memories of his father may be fading in Kenya -- but from the clubs to the teeming barrios for which Nairobi is notorious, his son is widely admired.
November 6, 2012 -- Updated 1105 GMT (1905 HKT)
A look back at CNN's election night coverage, going all the way back to 1980.
October 24, 2012 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Hugo Chavez has endorsed Barack Obama, calling him a "good guy." Is there hope for a fresh start between the U.S. and Venezuela?
Predict which candidate will win each state and see who reaches 270 electoral votes first.
November 5, 2012 -- Updated 1343 GMT (2143 HKT)
CNN's Tom Foreman explains how the Electoral College works and what would happen if there were a tie.
October 24, 2012 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Nigerians were thrilled when a "son of Africa" won in 2008. The luster has worn off, but has any of it found its way to Romney?
November 5, 2012 -- Updated 1332 GMT (2132 HKT)
If there's one thing that would have struck a chord with Hong Kongers, it was Barack Obama and Mitt Romney using China as a political punching bag.
October 23, 2012 -- Updated 1753 GMT (0153 HKT)
China bashing has taken center stage in the U.S. election, where everyone seem bent on casting China as the bad guy.
Christian Amanpour says the chance to transform Afghanistan is slipping away -- and that the election won't make a difference.
October 17, 2012 -- Updated 0937 GMT (1737 HKT)
Obama's "Yes we can" message has long faded away amid plummeting relations between the two countries, writes Masud Alam.
See where the nation stands on one of the tightest races for the White House in years. Follow the numbers as Americans flock to the polls.
November 6, 2012 -- Updated 2120 GMT (0520 HKT)
With the months-long campaign finished and the presidential election under way, CNN brings you the best pictures from the campaign trail.
October 12, 2012 -- Updated 1052 GMT (1852 HKT)
For many in Iraq following the U.S. election, the Republican party remains the party of deeply-despised George W. Bush.
October 11, 2012 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
After months of talking about each other, Obama and Romney finally go toe-to-toe. But do debates actually affect election outcomes?
Use an interactive map to explore the money game and the strategies of the Obama and Romney campaigns.
October 8, 2012 -- Updated 2151 GMT (0551 HKT)
Mitt Romney promises to take the U.S. back to a foreign policy based on exerting global influence through military and economic power.
October 2, 2012 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
Brooke Baldwin talks to Erin Burnett about foreign policy being a major component of the 2012 presidential election.
October 9, 2012 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
CNN fact checks Mitt Romney's claim that Barack Obama was 'silent' when anti-regime protests broke out in Iran in 2009.
October 9, 2012 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Yanis Varoufakis says some Athenians fear Europe is waiting until after the U.S. election before cutting Greece loose from the euro.
Get the latest political news, campaign stories, and Washington coverage from CNN's team of political experts.
CNN's Security Clearance experts take a country-by-country look at the differences between the candidates' approach to foreign policy.
October 9, 2012 -- Updated 1308 GMT (2108 HKT)
Whoever wins the upcoming U.S. election will find Cuba in a state of flux, says Nobel Prize nominee Yoani Sanchez.
July 29, 2012 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem tell CNN which U.S. presidential candidate is better for their cause.
July 21, 2012 -- Updated 0910 GMT (1710 HKT)
People in London step up to CNN's Open Mic and deliver their messages to the U.S. and its presidential candidates.
May 22, 2012 -- Updated 1416 GMT (2216 HKT)
Award-winning novelist Manu Joseph says there must be something about human nature that divides the species into Democrats and Republicans.
June 1, 2012 -- Updated 0604 GMT (1404 HKT)
Mexicans step up to CNN's Open Mic and offer their messages to the U.S. presidential candidates.
April 24, 2012 -- Updated 1038 GMT (1838 HKT)
The U.S. election race conjures up images of mud flying through the air for many Japanese.
March 5, 2012 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
With the amount of campaign spending in the U.S. projected to exceed $6 billion, we look at how this compares to other countries.