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Polls: Ours and theirs

As the excitement of the American elections fades away its time to ask what lessons can we learn from the way they handle the process of choosing a president. Karan Thapar writes.

india Updated: Nov 11, 2012 01:06 IST

As the excitement of the American elections fades away its time to ask what lessons can we learn from the way they handle the process of choosing a president. No doubt it has its flaws and even its comic moments but its highs are truly Himalayan. If an American election is inspiring this, I venture to suggest, is why.

More than anything else, I admire America's political rhetoric: the soaring speeches, the uplifting metaphors, the vision of hope and greatness. America's belief in itself and in its special future is not just striking and unique but also inspiring and encouraging. This is why an American election is reviving, renewing and revitalising. It digs deep into what is best in the country, burnishes and revels in it and goes on to offer fresh promise for four more years.

The most important thing about election speeches in America is the core central image of one people, one nation, one destiny. The American dream is the shared goal. People may differ on how you get there but the destination is common. Consequently, politics has a single theme even when the voices sound discordant. And all of this is expressed with hope and in glowing positive teams. The outcome is to unite, to re-inforce belief in a bright future and re-kindle the spirit of nationalism.

The second important thing about election night speeches in America is that it's not just the victor who impresses but losers do too. The concession speech is a tradition of remarkable grace but also wise strategy. It represents both political completion as much as emotional healing. Romney, on Tuesday night, but, equally, McCain four years earlier, put their personal defeats behind them and found both the words and the tone to try and bridge the divide an election campaign inevitably creates. And they won respect and admiration for how they spoke.

Unfortunately, we in India won't find it easy to emulate their language. But why can't we strive to implement their structured, intense and open political debates, which pit candidates against each other, so we can contrast, compare and truly judge between our prime ministerial contenders? Our politicians forget, or ignore, that its our democratic right to question, see how the answers match up and then choose between them. Only a debate makes that possible. But more than that, a debate is also a chance to see how the competitors for top office behave under pressure. Do we like them? Do we identify with them? Or do they leave us cold? That's equally important.

The truth is American politicians are not scared of being judged as individuals. They want to be compared to each other because they're confident they will come out on top. Ours, I suspect, hide behind their parties, not willing to be seen in competition with their rivals, because they lack the confidence that they are better.

Ultimately - but perhaps I should have begun with this - it's the positive charge of American politics that I find attractive. Ours seems embittered not just by rivalry but by pettiness and insularity, an obsession with the past and the singular lack of a dream.

In contrast, American elections offer dreams every four years and even if they're rarely realised they always create fresh hope. Our elections revive what we ought to forget and need to leave behind. Thus in America the process releases the past and opens the future. In India, it entraps us in a time-warp.

Views expressed by the author are personal