So far, I’ve chosen not to speak about the US elections because…well, why waste time on it when you’re not a voter yourself? But now that we have less than a week to go, I can confess I’m scared. Maybe it’s the relentless, polarised media coverage getting to me, but I’m genuinely scared of what’s going to happen after November 8th. My fear stems a little bit from who’s going to win, but it also stems from noticing a political discourse (in both the US and elsewhere) that is turning away from global issues.
However important India becomes on international platforms, our futures are still linked to those of nations such as the US or China or entities like the EU. It ought to matter to us who leads these places because that’s who we will be negotiating with on matters of trade, climate change, or poverty. It’s with these leaders that we’ll be devising policies to tackle globally common problems.
Whether they admit it or not, large, powerful countries (including both the US and India) are responsible to a certain extent for global outcomes. Unfortunately, political debates across the world in recent years have seen politicians abandoning notions of common global responsibilities for national or local gains. There may be genuine reasons for this – economic decline, job losses, a post-2008 disillusionment with the globalisation promise – but while these need attention, nothing changes the fact that global challenges are not going away. The Syrian refugee crisis is only the latest example of how a local conflict can escalate into a worldwide catastrophe. There will be other such global problems to deal with in the future.
Therefore, it’s never been more necessary for countries to engage with each other. Catastrophes like the Syrian refugee crises need to be handled better. We need greater co-ordination on health issues like the Ebola and Zika outbreaks. Solutions need to be found for the current globalisation debacle, so that a free trade environment stops becoming a platform for exploitation. Poverty and climate change remain challenges, reminding us that whatever be the bickerings in Westeros, the white walkers are still coming through that wall. All of this means that international engagements between countries is more critical than ever before. Platforms like the UN need deep reforms but such platforms should only grow stronger and more vibrant.
Therefore, while I’m not interested in the intricacies of electioneering in the US, I do care about who finally gets elected. More importantly, I care about the issues they’re elected on. From what I know, this election has seen little talk of the US introspecting on its global role. Instead, the debate’s turned into a ‘Yes/No’ binary on whether the US should involve itself in world matters or not. The answer (for every country) is “yes”, but there’s little debate on exactly how that role ought to be defined. While there is criticism for the US’ international interventions in the past, there seems to be no attempt to find solutions (apart from just turning away). This is worrying, regardless of who wins in the end.
Meanwhile, it’s time for countries like India to engage with the rest of the world a lot more. I’m not just talking about governments but of non-governmental actors as well. The media for instance, could do with covering more news from outside India and analysing what it means for Indians. What does Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment in Brazil mean for organisations like BRICS? How do Chinese investments in Central Asia impact Indian markets for resources? What does the DA’s victory in local elections tell us about the future of democratic politics in South Africa and how might it impact IBSA? What do Indians gain or lose from a Hilary Clinton victory as opposed to a Donald Trump one?
Most importantly, it’s time for us Indians to start taking our global responsibilities more seriously than we have done so far. The Indian government has had a good record of engaging with global issues for decades, but such issues never percolate to public discussions or popular debate. Again, the reasons for these are good, but not good enough. International issues such as climate change, economic slowdown, automation growth, the emergence of superbugs, or the growing bureaucratic logjam at the UN will come back to haunt us. It’s best we acknowledge these rather than turning away.