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Why the world is watching

Why the world is watching
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First Published: Fri, Apr 03 2009. 12 30 AM IST

Updated: Sat, Apr 04 2009. 12 47 PM IST
An election in the world’s largest democracy would usually arouse global interest and curiosity. But this year, there’s the added intrigue of being a country with one of the few stable governments in an otherwise volatile region, and also one which has been able to sustain economic growth during a global downturn. While foreign correspondents have to take the big picture back to their audiences at home, they also have a front row seat to the election as residents of India. We asked seven seasoned journalists to tell us what excites them about this election and why it matters to their readers. Here are their edited answers.
It hardly bears mentioning that India is an increasingly important country in the American imagination. So at one level, these elections are important to ‘The Times’
because they will decide what kind of government will rule this country and which way India will go on issues such as terror, climate change and not least, how it will steer its way through the global economic crisis. A wobbly or fragile coalition could obviously make it more difficult for the next government to take decisive action, and this is worrying at a time when India’s leadership is vital. Yes, Indo-US relations have undoubtedly deepened. But the road ahead is paved with delicate issues, from India’s position on greenhouse gas emissions to how to deal with Pakistan. But having said all that, for me, the value of these elections is not simply their currency to the American policymaker or investor. All politics is local, and these polls present an opportunity to take stock of what matters here and chronicle how democracy actually functions on the ground.
Somini Sengupta
India Bureau Chief, The New York Times
Our newspaper is very interested in the Indian election, and India in general, because there is such a large Indian and Pakistani population in the United Arab
Emirates. Thirty per cent of the population is Indian; it’s the largest non-Emirati percentage of the population. And there is so much business between India and the UAE. Some of our readers move back and forth between India and the UAE, so some of them will actually be voting in the election. We have to keep that in mind when we’re writing the stories. We need to give them enough analytical content to be well-versed in the election. I think the big theme of this election is the possibility of the end of the BJP and the Congress party’s two-party hold on Parliament. And BSP’s Mayawati is one of the most interesting aspects of this election. She’s such a fascinating character, regardless of how she does. The fact that she could lead the Third Front and possibly become prime minister—given her background—says so much about India.
Hannah Gardener
Staff writer, The National, published in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and the UAE
Gobally, India is being looked at as a power that will help the rest of the world get out of the recession because its economy will grow faster than a lot of other places
in the world. So every investor worldwide should be looking to see what the new government could do to make sure India is a stimulant to economic growth rather than an obstacle to it. I think the two national issues that keep coming up are the economy and national security, but I think those are, to some degree, easy labels. I think that more than ever this election will be determined by issues at the local and regional levels. People will be voting on issues that are very important to their particular place. This is tricky to cover, and makes it extremely difficult to predict the outcome. We’ll have to see how this kaleidoscope of regional issues come together to determine the election. For the US, strategically, India is absolutely vital. Potentially, the election will make a huge difference to (US President) Obama’s goal of South Asian security. As of now, India is viewed as a helper to the US in levying pressure on Pakistan and Afghanistan. I think US and Indian interests are very closely aligned, and that likely won’t change. But the prospect of a very weak government or a constantly changing government could alter things. If that relationship deteriorates, it will be a big setback for the US.
Paul Beckett
Bureau chief, New Delhi, The Wall Street Journal
I don’t think that my readers are much interested in the Congress coming out with a better or worse majority. They’re more interested in the mechanics of the world’s
largest democracy in this vast country that represents a sort of imperfect democracy in a region where democracy has not flourished. Compared to, say, Pakistan, there isn’t a cast of well-known characters in Indian politics. In the case of India, they’ll know the name Gandhi, the name Modi, maybe Advani—but beyond that, the politicians don’t have an international profile. That’s a compliment to India more than an insult. It means that India has a steady democracy with avenues for change, whereas in Pakistan the political turmoil is always in the news. I want to know about the people in the election. Who are these candidates? I want to know about the movie star in the south who gets two million people to come to his political launch, and yet in Delhi, people don’t know anything about him. Is Chiranjeevi the Ronald Reagan of the south? I’m interested in the spectacle of the election. We don’t need to be looking for an Obama here; what’s going on in India is just as enthralling. The outcome of the election likely won’t affect India’s relationship with the UK. The relationship between the two countries seems to be broader than any individual. Although India and Indians are rightly glad to see the back of us, what I’m actually amazed about is that there is still this sort of warmth towards us. There still is a strong bond between the two countries.
Andrew Buncombe
Asia correspondent,The Independent
Generally, in Sweden the awareness of Indian politics is quite low so the election is
a good opportunity to highlight the Indian political scene to Swedish readers. There is a growing interest in India, its economy, how the country is dealing with its national security and how it is battling poverty. Another thing of interest is that in India the middle class is not as interested and involved in politics as the middle classes in other countries are. Sweden is a small country with nine million people. The gigantic task of holding a general election in India is different from the electoral process in Sweden. From the Swedish political side, there is an interest in India. Many parliamentarians and ministers have been visiting India over the past year to learn more about the country and the political process here. Sweden will hold the EU (European Union) chair after summer and there will obviously be quite a lot of exchange between the EU and India.
Karin Lundback
Freelancer, writes for Svenska Dagbladet a Swedish daily
Our most loyal listeners and viewers are in countries with a chequered history of
democracy, or none at all. So an election in the world’s largest democracy is something that many of them have an intense interest in. India, when it comes to the electoral process, serves as an example they would like to see followed in their own countries. Covering an election in India for a non-Indian audience is challenging. The domestic media seems to cover it as a kind of sporting event, focusing on the daily horse-trading among parties, with little examination of the big picture, the key issues. We have to be careful not to get sucked into that. Talking about the BJP and the BSP can be confusing to a listener in, say, Liberia, so we have to step back when we do our reporting and try to explain what is really significant overall for India and the rest of the world.
Steve Herman
South Asia bureau chief, Voice of America, an international radio broadcaster with a global audience
These years, the bilateral relationship between India and China is on a good
trajectory, and it has been improving. The commerce between India and China has grown quickly. Both China and India are developing countries; they share the same interests in many areas. So the two countries should cooperate. They need each other. In addition to that, the border issue still exists between China and India, though they have formed a framework to resolve this issue. So China attaches great importance to the foreign policy that India’s new government will adopt and what kind of effect it will have on our bilateral relationship.
Michael Wanglei
Correspondent, People’s Daily, China
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First Published: Fri, Apr 03 2009. 12 30 AM IST