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US election: Why there are no bumper stickers in Indian politics

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about why there were no debates in Indian politics.

Let's examine today why there are no bumper stickers in Indian politics.

If there were, what would they say? In Uttar Pradesh my guess is the line would be — "Samajwadi Party: Yadavs unite". It couldn't be in English of course. Let's try again. "Samajwadi Party: Yadav ek juth". This is better, but meaningless. This is because Yadavs aren't divided and have no cause to be. Their votes, combined with the votes of Uttar Pradesh's Muslims, have brought Mulayam and his son to power in India's largest state. The father represents Yadav power. And so our sticker (or hoarding) should only show the Samajwadi Party's symbol and Mulayam's face. And so they do.

The principle difference between India's political signage and hoardings and America's, is this.

A bumper sticker of a dog reads "I Ride Inside" on a vehicle in Washington. Reuters

In America, it's pure text. Yard signs will say things like "Proxmire for Senate" or "Romney-Ryan 2012". Bumper stickers often have a humorous political view and might say "GOBAMA" or "NOBAMA".

In India, as we can observe, it's photographs and names of people. Many faces, including neighbourhood, state and national leaders all lumped together. No message is given, and none is needed. It is tribal affinity, and not the candidate's policy or character, that determines the voting pattern of Indians and I wrote about this in that previous piece.

Mohammed Ali Jinnah communicated the idea of Pakistan to Indian Muslims who did not understand his words (he only spoke English). Pakistani commentators often reminisce warmly on how attentive and silent the crowds he addressed across India were. What is remarkable about this image is that it does not strike these writers how bizarre the whole thing is. People who wonder why Pakistanis didn't live up to Jinnah high ideal have a starting point right here.

Words are unimportant, because there was nothing of the intellect Jinnah's audience wanted to receive. What they wanted, and got, was faith. This Jinnah promised through his stern figure not his words.

A second aspect of American politics is instructive, including for those in America. This is the myth of the 99 percent. Regardless of who wins today's election, it is forecast that Obama and Romney will split the popular vote, which means the total number of votes polled. If the Republican Party's determination to lower taxes on the rich and to deny Americans universal healthcare were as unpopular as the 99 percenters claim it is, it would be an easy victory for the Democrats. America would not be divided down the middle as the result will show it to be.

The fact is that many Americans, and perhaps even most, have a revulsion towards state intervention in their lives, even if it is for their benefit, as Obama's healthcare law surely is. Small government, and limited intervention, are things that are unthinkable where we live.

Again, this separates America from India, where the government is permanent provider and the citizen permanent recipient.

Our national bumper slogan should really be: "Ask not what you can do for your country, but what your country can do for you."