Dr Jay Dubashi
I always believed that Barack Obama would come back as US President, not because he deserves the job but because the alternative, Mitt Romney, was too scary a possibility. During the four years Obama has been in the White House, he tried his best to do what he could do, and although the best was not good enough, the circumstances were such that had he tried to do more, he would have got himself and his country into a bigger jam. And this is precisely why he was re-elected and Romney, who had fancy ideas about his job, was rejected.
The voters were actually too scared of Romney. Here was a real-life tycoon for whom running America would have been like running an ailing company. He would have turned the whole country upside down, as Margaret Thatcher had done in England a few years earlier, firing people right and left, and creating havoc all over the place. He had everything planned to the last click of the computer, and being the kind of man he was – an MBA – he would have had no hesitation in going by the book, as management students do, and what the Harvard Business School said he ought to do. This is precisely what scared the daylights out of the ordinary voter who feared that the man from Harvard would really go by the book and would care only for the bottom line, no matter what the consequences.
Obama, on the other hand, was a lawyer,—and a briefless lawyer who had never practised in any court – and certainly not a businessman. This is the reason why throughout the depression of the nineteen thirties, voters preferred a non-businessman like FD Roosevelt to men with business links, and preferred to keep businessmen out of the way, for it was the later tribe which had got them into trouble in the first place. Romney used to go about saying that he loved firing people and which fool will vote for a businessman who instead of creating jobs would give pink notices to harried people begging for jobs!
As far as India is concerned, we have reached a stage when it does not really matter who runs America. America is still a big power but its shine is wearing off. That maybe one reason why the US election did not create much of a splash in our newspapers, except the usual English-language newspapers who, not surprisingly, went to town on the day the results were announced, as if it was an election of their own president!
Neither of the candidates, Obama included, had much to say about India, apart from bracketing it with China in a future economic and political scenario. Pakistan, of course, did figure in the debate, mainly because of the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s role in it. Americans have no idea what is going to happen, or not happen, in Pakistan, where they are spending nearly ten million dollars a year, including two billion dollars paid directly into Pakistani treasury as a kind of bribe for permitting it to use the territory for its use. But all this money has not helped Pakistan stand on its own two feet, economically or militarily, and the money has almost certainly found its way into the accounts of Pakistani leaders in Switzerland. The Americans will do in Pakistan, and Afghanistan, what they did in Iraq, namely abandon them to their own fates, which means almost certainly to anarchy.
On the economic front, America is not the country it used to be, but India remains a huge market for its goods as well as investment. With the opening up of India for investment, American companies are expected to come in, in a big way, including, of course, companies like Walmart which have been waiting for a foothold in this part of the world for a long time. This should please the middle class in India, which is always “mad for foreign” as Naipaul once put it, but at the same time almost certainly antagonise small farmers and lower middle/classes who may not be able to take advantage of facilities offered by Walmart and others. Neither Obama nor Romney dwelt much on the likely impact of coming economic changes on Indo-American relations, possibly because they themselves had no idea about the changes to come. Their problems at home naturally come first, but even then, at a time of growing globalisation, other problems cannot be ignored.
Personally, I feel that globalisation has come at a wrong time. We are just not prepared for it. Globalisation means churning of the economy and also large shifts in economic sectors, the kind of shifts we are not prepared for. Take agriculture, for instance. On paper, the farm sector is not doing too badly. Production is going up, exports too are growing, and farmers’ incomes are improving. But farmers continue to commit suicide in large numbers as before, though some farmers are getting so rich that some consumer goods companies are making special plans to cater to their requirements. Foreign consumer goods companies like Hindustan Lever are selling more of their stuff in rural areas than in cities and towns, and even some cars are selling more in small towns than in big cities like Mumbai and Delhi. This means, if it means anything at all, that there is now more money in villages than in towns, which has enormous implications for the future growth of the economy as well as its political ramifications.
This is happening in China too, to a much bigger extent than in India, because China is that much ahead of us in economic terms. This is where America comes in. America can neither ignore China nor be too friendly with it. In ten or fifteen years time, the Chinese economy will overtake the US – that is what the pundits say – which means that China will begin to dominate the global economy in the same way, though not probably to the same extent, as the US has been doing after the end of World War I, that is, for nearly a century. This big shift in power will naturally be accompanied by other shifts, including, almost certainly, in the importance of national currencies. Both America and India will be affected, as, course, the rest of the world.
All this is going to happen in the course of the next few years, but the changes will begin to be felt during Barack Obama’s presidency. It will also impact India, exactly at a time when India too will witness a shift in political leadership. It is too early to say how India will respond to the changes in an environment charged with multiple uncertainties.
But all this is in the future, and well after Barack Obama’s presidency. China is already preparing for the changes with a brand new leadership announced in Beijing last week, within days of the result of the US presidential election.
How will India react to all these changes? We have only a few months left for the next general election. It seems unlikely that the shifts in the US and China will not affect India, but at this stage, we can only cross our fingers and hope for the best!