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A trite-and-tested theme

columns Updated: Jun 29, 2012 23:01 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya

Television viewers in India are fortunate in that they are spared scary attack ads every election cycle. That does have a drawback though - it leaves unemployed thousands of voiceover artists with scary baritones, the sort of person that can make a grocery list sound like a Lashkar-e-Taiba threat. Americans, however, are getting an earful of the fearful this election year. But in a stagnant economy like America's, every job created is a bonus, even if they are for voiceover guys.

The latest salvo is aimed at Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney by President Barack Obama. And it returns to a trite and tested theme that gets recycled each election year - outsourcing to India. One commercial carries this line about Romney: "As governor he outsourced state jobs to a call centre in India." That telling blow is delivered in a tone usually reserved for newscasters announcing an attack by al-Qaeda or the release of a Justin Bieber single.

As with 1970s India (and 21st century Mamata Banerjee), the foreign hand is scary, especially when it has its fingers in the American pie.

And the American president doesn't mind fuming over Romney's dastardly deeds. At a recent campaign event, Obama fulminated that the companies Romney's firm owned "were 'pioneers' in the outsourcing of American jobs to places like China and India - pioneers!"

If you thought that the Obama campaign brains trust has just discovered that nasty Indians were snatching food and beverage from American mouths, that's unfair. He was similarly positioned on this issue in 2008, when he complained: "Revolutions in communications and technology have sent jobs wherever there's an internet connection, that have forced children in Raleigh and Boston to compete for those jobs with children in Bangalore and Beijing."

It's a tactic he's used against opponents before. In a memo he later called a "dumb mistake", his campaign skewered his Demo-cratic primary rival in the 2007-2008 cycle thus: "Hillary Clinton has taken tens of thousands from companies that outsource jobs to India."

So, would you consider the new round of outsourcing criticism dumber? Given what the president said during his November 2010 visit to India, it may just leave you dumbstruck. Standing by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, he told a questioner: "I don't think you've heard me make outsourcing a bogeyman during the course of my visit. In fact, I explicitly said in my address in Mumbai to the Business Council that I think both countries are operating on some stereotypes that have outlived their usefulness."

Perhaps stereotypes can be reincarnated. 'Bangalored' has replaced 'Shanghaied' as the word denoting the Asian fear factor.

But mean Indians aren't just taking American jobs offshore, they're also invading the US and replacing the natives. That's the other tack of India attack. Like in 2010, when Obama booster and New York senator Chuck Schumer described Infosys as a "chop shop".

You will hear little about how companies like Infosys create employment in America. A 2012 Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) study of 36 Indian-origin companies with US operations found that they employed over 50,000 workers Stateside, with 3,400 new jobs expected this year.

The Washington-based American Ente-rprise Institute estimated that each job the Obama stimulus has created (or kept alive) could have cost at least $540,000. In the world of Obamanomics, that means Indian firms account for a minimum of $27 billion worth of American jobs. Not counting employment generated by Indians who arrived in America on work visas and continue to display a hot entrepreneurial streak.

Or that India itself provides Americans jobs. To rewind again to 2010, to another Obama response: "I want to be able to say to the American people when they ask me, well, why are you spending time with India, aren't they taking our jobs? I want to be able to say, actually, you know what, they just created 50,000 jobs."

But, in a presidential election year, soft targets are preferred since missing the hard targets to downsizing unemployment figures or the historic deficit is a fact that Obama would probably like to send offshore.

Currently based in Toronto, Anirudh Bhattacharyya has been a New York-based foreign correspondent for eight years.

The views expressed by the author are personal.