View: The growing interest in US politics

What many mighty Americans were unable to swing — and Jacqueline Kennedy came the closest to achieving — Donald Trump, even as he officially exited last night pursued by a bear and replaced by another very pale White man, managed: to get Indians get interested in American politics

With Joe Biden’s inauguration being watched on Wednesday night by sleepy desis overdosed on images of tractors and other ‘far too desi’ things, non-aligned, much-maligned India became what a succession of post-Cold War American administrations always wanted India to be: keen observers of American politics, and not just consumers of accents, university bumper stickers, Aviators, Hollywood and pop culture, vegan recipes, etc.

While Barack Obama’s swearing-in may have caught the interested Indian’s imagination in 2009 simply because Indians finally wanted to hitch their pony to the global zeithorse — ‘Dekho, a Black man in the White House!’ — it was ‘Doland’ who became matinee material for the self-styled thinking Indian. The vestiges of America as the neoimperialist State selling the snake-oil of globalisation while trying to get kids addicted on Big Mac or bombing countries west of Vietnam lingered. Apart from the accuracy of the description, US politics was not too interesting, except in patches and in graffitifriendly theory. Long queues outside ration shops were ascribed to American capitalism; the plummeting quality of higher education was attributed to ‘brain drain’. But American domestic politics was ‘foreign page’ stuff that one glanced through before doing the crossword.

Trump changed all that. First, he was not just the first first-world politician seemingly made ‘in our own (politicians’) image’ — a recognisable khap panchayat leader despite being from the land of HBO — but he was finally making it more than ok to be a straighttalker that Lalu Yadav would have been proud of. He made it fashionable for many Indians to stand up against smart guys in India. Hell, he made it fashionable and no longer a shame being an ‘idiot’ in the eyes of the politically correct. Finally, America’s chairman was our chairman.

Bugle Drowned the Trumpet

With Trump’s defeat — especially the not-letting-go-of-the-bone phase over — Indian interest in US politics may wane a bit with the arrival of someone who, for most folks, looks like Jimmy Carter but with more wrinkles. But for desi Trump die-hards — whether it’s BJP’s IT Boy Amit Malviya who described Twitter deleting Trump’s account so as not to risk ‘further incitement of violence’ as a ‘threat to our democracies’, or ‘RWA President Uncle (Retd. Gen.)’ who finally found a fellow tough, no-nonsense RWA president of the greatest gated community in Potus — the new, resounding interest in US domestic politics marks a departure from ‘only national interest’ issues. It’s another matter that such touching support, never mind interest, goes completely unrecognised for all those who want to ‘Make America Great Again’ sitting (or planning to storm the next government building) in America.

On the other side of the Indian living room are the woke lot, whose renewed interest in American politics — they have ‘crucial’ demographics of states like Georgia and North Carolina on their fingertips, but are iffy about whether Telangana holds democratic elections — is invested in their participation as a crucial bulwark against global fascism. Ghar ka murga being too daal barabar, it’s America that is their oyster. For them, Biden’s entrance marks the beginning of bigger things — in their lives.

Of course, Kamala Harris as vicepresident is a huge USP for desi weekend geopoliticians. She certainly has got urban Indians who think twice about the point of going out to vote much more excited than when Bobby Jindal put on his kit to give US presidency a shot. Harris as a possible American president may well, indeed, bring about a polarised nation — by which one means India — together. Simply thinking of the potential headlines and coverage in the Indian media, if and when such an event happens, makes the mind boggle.

Lassi With the Joe

The kind of Ekta Kapoor aesthetics that many of our intellygentsia found reassuringly robust (‘At last, America looks like us!’) and many found unfirst-worldly (‘My god, now America looks like us!’) in the last four years under Agent Orange, will take a back seat under Biden’s season. But the fact that it is now just a scratchable surface away will continue Indian interests in US politics like never before.

In a way, the new-fangled interest in star-spangled politics is akin to the choice that cable TV first presented to the Indian viewer. The Doordarshany desi politics, especially when all the channels seem to show the same faces and news (sic), may finally have found a supplement, if not alternative, in American politics. And the best thing is that not being able to participate in it, this will be pure spectator sport. Who says that local Milwaukee elections can’t be riveting enough for dinner talk in Malad?

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