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India and US have 'state' bias in common

November 17, 2012 09:41 IST

If prejudice can form the basis of election and governance in the world's largest democracy, the case is no different in the world's oldest democracy as well, writes Bikash Mohapatra. 

It is a phenomenon which every Indian, even if not politically inclined, will identify with.

The double standards ingrained in us might refrain us from admitting the same, but we can't deny a state 'bias' does exist, not only in the Indian polity but also in our day-to-day life.

Without taking a moral stand, it will suffice to say a handful of states like Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Gujarat receive more attention owing to the fact they elect more members to the Lok Sabha.

In a bid to keep this electorate happy the leaders frequent these states and try to influence the vote bank in different ways. Amid all this focus, states like Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Assam and the other north-eastern states, are conveniently neglected before, during and after the elections.

If prejudice can form the basis of election and governance in the world's largest democracy, the case is no different in the world's oldest democracy as well.

In fact, in the United States the bias is far more glaring.

While states like Hawaii and Idaho (four electoral votes each), Alaska, Delaware, Montana and North Dakota (three each) are conveniently ignored the focus is more on the 'swing' states, or what they call the 'toss ups.'

So while President Barack Obama embarked on a tour of Nevada, Colorado and Ohio in the final stages of his campaign, trying to convince the voters in a last ditch effort, his rival, Republican candidate Mitt Romney turned his attention extensively on Florida and Ohio, in case of the latter even making an appearance on Election Day.

With the 'toss ups' again proving crucial in the final outcome, the fate of the other states remained as it was before the campaign began.

Considering all but two states -- Maine and Nebraska -- use a winner take all electoral system, this kind of discrepancy seems a bit out of line.

"The politicians spent time and human capital in 16 of these 'swing or battleground states' in the 2004 Presidential Elections," points out political strategist R. Justin Day, Director (Advocacy Group).

"The number came down to four - Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia – in2008," he adds.

There's albeit a diversion. Out of this equation goes California. The state has 55 electoral votes but is perceived as a 'Democrats' state. The Republicans, therefore, don't bother to spend time and energy. One can easily fathom what attention these states would get after the elections.

Experts have their own theories regarding this 'small state bias.'

"We have had significant geographic shifts in the last few decades," explains Al Cardenas, Chairman (American Conservative Union).

"We know six months in advance how 30 states are going to vote," he continues, adding, "In most such cases, it is a pre-determined outcome.

"Therefore, more attention is paid to those states which will affect the eventual outcome."

The fact that the US President doesn't require a popular vote to get elected adds to the bias.

"It is not about worrying to get the popular vote but the attempt to secure the 270 electoral votes - the number required to win," explains Cardenas.

"That is what every campaign strives for. So, in reality we have about 12 of the 50 states getting all the attention," he adds.

Whatever be the reason fact remains, the country notwithstanding, national interest gets sacrificed for vested political interests, with the elected representative not exactly bothered about the nation as a whole.

And therein lies the irony.

 

Bikash Mohapatra