US Media Ignored The Biggest Election Ever

This week, the largest democratic election in the history of the planet is going to end—and yet, if you were watching any major American news network, you probably wouldn’t even know it. American news outlets, The Spectator among them, may deserve to be called out for underreporting India’s elections, which have brought out 814 million eligible voters this year. This is strange, considering the amount of resources and time currently being devoted to the election. Almost a million polling stations have been set up all over the country to facilitate the five-week event, which began on April 7. There are 10 million people involved directly with conducting event logistics and over 200,000 security personnel in place to try and ensure a fair election. Outside of being a monumental event in the democratic process, the elections in India also have implications for the United States. India is a major player in the globalized economy and whatever outcome is achieved will invariably affect the U.S., both economically and politically. So why isn’t it getting any coverage? For Nalini Iyer, an English professor here at Seattle University and the Director of Research Services and Sponsored Projects, the lack of American coverage speaks to larger inadequacies in American media. Here, she says, media networks, which are driven by ratings, are interested in maintaining only a simplified narrative about India and other developing nations. “The stories that American media pitches are model minority stories. They’re less interested in the reality of what happens in India politically, so if you can showcase exotic India—the Taj Mahal—or you can talk about poverty, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ stuff, they’re going to do that,” she said. “We’re only interested in third world disasters in this part of the world.” John Oliver, the British comedian most known for his appearances on “The Daily Show” made a similar point on his show just a few weeks ago. In searching for coverage about the elections, all Oliver could find on Fox News was a story about a leopard attack somewhere in the country. This isn’t really that surprising, he jokes, considering that leopards are native to India. But even if the elections get the occasional passing reference on CNN, networks still lack any sense of the depth or complexity in regard to the candidates and their policies. Narendra Modi is the candidate currently set to win the election. He was once denied an American visa on account of protests from American-Indian immigrants, who considered him violent and xenophobic. The candidate, who made appearances around the country via hologram and is part of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is also campaigning on a platform of progress with some nationalist undertones. While he might have a few million people behind him and is strongly in support of neoliberal policies that would aid American markets, the media seem to be ignoring his complex past. In particular, there has been no reference in American televised media to the riots in 2002 that happened under Modi’s supervision, which resulted in the deaths of over 1,000 people, most of them Muslim. His pro-Hindu slant, many worry, will become state policy if he’s elected to prime minister. It doesn’t help that Rahul Ghandi and the Congress Party, the BJP’s opposition, have an unpopular history of nepotism and corruption. For writers like Priyamvada Gopal at OPEN magazine, the possibility of electing Modi might have disastrous ramifications for Indian’s democratic processes: “For all the ‘anti-commie’ rhetoric of his most devoted followers, Modi and ‘Modinomics’ are actually in thrall to the Chinese model—capitalism on steroids combined with Stalinist autocracy, no pesky democratic processes, popular protests or sub-nationalisms allowed to get in the way. Democracy is an idol that will be worshipped only to the point where electoral majorities swing in Modi’s direction.” This year also sees the introduction of the “None of the Above” (NOTA) opinion on ballets, which individuals like Iyer are hoping will allow

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the Indian people to voice their discontent over both political parties. Also, even if Modi wins, she predicts that he’ll have to form a number of alliances with different coalitions around the country that will moderate policies. Despite all of this, American media continue to have a fairly isolationist perspective on international politics. “We don’t live in isolated nations. Because of globalization, even if we don’t have a large immigrant population and so forth what happens one place affects somewhere else,” Iyer said. “I think right now that maybe the reasons Americans aren’t worried about [the elections] is because one, the neoliberal policies will likely favor our markets, and two, the lead candidate is easily Islamaphobic. And it sort of might play into our own mindset around terrorism. So maybe people might see him as a potential ally.”