This presidential election year, the politics and politicians in the United States share a lot of similarities with the scenario which has unfolded in India over the last few years.
Particularly, the growing significance of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination makes a strong statement about the changing currents in America's politics. Sanders often speak about the "political revolution" during his campaign, something which the Aam Aadmi Party leader, Arvind Kejriwal, also does so often in India.
USA's populist brand of politics
Is the American politics undergoing a change which people like Sanders symbolise? Even in the Republican camp, there is a new political style which is challenging the traditional form in which politics is played. This new style is a populist one, which has been given birth by the common people's dissatisfaction with the liberal and elite brand of politics which has put it beyond the reach of the members of the free society.
The influence of big businesses and corporates on politics and the results that have cost the common US citizens dearly in the recent past has encouraged the rise of a fresh populist brand, both right and Left, and this may usher in an entirely new dynamics in the world's most powerful state.
Kejriwal's rise in India was a similar phenomenon
Kejriwal's rise in India, too, has been a similar story. Just like the ordinary Americans were left helpless by the reckless establishment which went on with military adventures abroad, leaving Americans dead and the lives of more vulnerable just like the nation's economy, India, too, was left angry with the hopeless situation caused by the inertia created by the country's ruling elite of the day.
Yes, it was Narendra Modi who finally benefited at the expense of the hapless Manmohan Singh's government, but the growth of Anna Hazare's crusade against corruption which was followed later by Kejriwal's electoral debut and forming the government was a phenomenon in itself. The rise of the apolitical in the arena of politics.
Sanders, like Kejriwal, has added a third dimension to regular bi-party fight
Sanders, on the other hand, is not apolitical but despite being a Democrat, he has added a third dimension to the usual Republican vs Democratic contest in the US presidential polls (just like Kejriwal brought in an element beyond the routine Congress vs BJP fight). Since individualism has a significance in American politics, hence Sanders could prevail despite being a member of an established party. In India, parties overshadow individuals and hence Kejriwal had to float a new outfit to make himself heard.
Republican presidential aspirant Donald Trump, too, is one who has attacked the establishment though from the right, but while he has opted for a negative way of capitalising on the people's anxieties, Sanders is trying to revive people's hope on a fair and just society. This is again where the leftist Sanders resembles Kejriwal more than Trump, who is acting more like Modi to defeat the establishment, though in a far less sophisticated way.
Both Sanders and Kejriwal practise simplistic politics for people's easy consumption
Sanders's style is also simplistic, much like Kejriwal. He promises free healthcare, free higher education and decent minimum wage for all.
The latter also responds to such simplistic political impulse, caring little for the complicated establishment rules, so much so that he even begins protest as a chief minister against his government after finding it difficult to get control of the Delhi Police or passing the Jan Lokpal Bill.
Sanders targets the rich & influential, just like Kejriwal took to expose them
There are other socialist-minded politicians in India who are masters in populism but Kejriwal resembles Sanders the most because like the former, he too doesn't hesitate in launching a Robin Hood-like attack on the rich and influential to score high in the voters' notebook. Both Sanders ad Kejriwal, thanks to their simplistic populism, have a major following among the urban, educated middle-class, including the youth. Their styles of funding through donations to keep things transparent are also similar.
Both offer fresh alternative to dynastic politics
The American voters, too, have an experience which their Indian counterparts face now and that is the fatigue with political dynasties. Just like almost all political parties in India today have imitated the Gandhis in conducting politics as a family business, the Americans too have grown a repulsion towards the repetitive faces and politics of the Clinton and Bush families.
This is a potential advantage for Sanders in his fight against a tough opponent like Hillary Clinton, just like Kejriwal and Modi had against Sonia and Rahul Gandhi in the 2014 Lok Sabha election.
But the ‘simple' is also a limitation for both
But Sanders, just like Kejriwal, also has limitations that can seriously derail the chances of a new global order being initiated by the US under the socialist leadership of Sanders. He perhaps harbours too idealistic principles while trying to stress on humanitarian values.
Sanders, like Kejriwal, is perhaps naïve on foreign policy issues
His take on foreign policy might just be too naïve to be easily defeated by a seasoned politician like Hillary Clinton who also faces uneasy questions over her support to former president Bush's unnecessary war on Iraq. In the AAP, too, such lack of experience on sensitive strategic/diplomatic issues became obvious when one of its leader suggested to hold a plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir, leading to much uproar.
Over-simplistic takes may find it difficult to defeat seasoned politicians like Hillary
Sanders's take on the Wall Street who he has attacked fiercely while criticising the influence of money on the US politics can also find itself turned ineffective by a shrewd Hillary's Obama card which she has been found using to appeal to the Democrats' sentiments to divert attention from more serious issues like corruption and money power. This is a shortcoming that Kejriwal also faces in India. He tries to oversimplify problems and their solutions to remain populist while the more serious issues that he had vowed to fight against remain unaddressed.