Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, on his recent visit to New York, had a meaty one-hour meeting with Bush but did not connect to Kerry over the phone.
John Kerry, by contrast, is a relative unknown and Indian officials fear traditional Democratic concerns casting a shadow. India's nuclear and missile programmes could come in for questioning, blocking some of the gains made during President Bush's tenure.Kerry has made no major policy statements on South Asia during the campaign. The Democratic Party platform dismissed India in two sentences, one prescriptive, the other patronising. "We must also take steps to reduce tension between India and Pakistan and guard against the possibility of their nuclear weapons falling into the wrong hands," the platform said. The Republican manifesto not only devoted five times the space to India, but talked of a "historic transformation" of Indo-US relations under Bush, and envisioned a role for India in "creating a strategically stable Asia." And it did not mention the 'O' word (Outsourcing). Kerry has become synonymous with opposition to outsourcing, the one area where India is really shining. It has driven some Silicon Valley types to the Republican camp. Ramesh Kapur, the doyen of Democratic Party activists, counters, saying Kerry only wants to close the tax loopholes for companies (see Rand Beers interview) that outsource jobs.
While the Indian government may prefer Bush (so does Pakistan's General Pervez Musharraf) more Indian Americans, especially Muslims, are for Kerry while Pakistani Americans, who have borne the brunt of post-9/11 excesses and suffered midnight raids, are overwhelmingly plumping for Kerry. "It's McCarthyism the way Muslims are being singled out," says Mahinder Tak, a prominent Indian fundraiser. She talks of her Muslim friends and the indignities they suffer daily. Writer Suketu Mehta points out that President Bush's policies have led to an alarming rise in anti-Americanism around the world. "I live here and my kids are growing up here. I want America to be loved again, not feared and hated," Mehta says. Novelist Amitav Ghosh, equally appalled at the hysteria around Bush, says the Republican strategy for winning is to create a sense of fear and then ratchet it up. "The lesson here is that democracy is partly about techniques of manipulation." But the view from the perch of the wealthy is decidedly different. Super-rich Indian doctors and engineers lean toward Bush for one reason: lower taxes on their millions.
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