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Yanks play their politics in the Indian capital.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
On his overseas trip to Paris, Berlin, London, Baghdad and Kabul in July, 2008, Barack Obama didn't find time to visit Delhi. Is he aware that the route to the January 20th inauguration day is passing through Delhi's Khan Market bylane?
On a recent Saturday morning, at 11 am, about a dozen volunteers of Democrats Abroad-India, the overseas branch of the Democrat party in India, donned Obama tees, Obama badges, donkey hats and marched up and down in pairs at Khan Market, Delhi's first-world bubble, to catch anybody who looked like an American. The purpose was to register US citizens in the Capital so that they could vote in the Presidential elections in November. As the 2000 Bush-Gore face-off proved, every vote counts, which is why they were chasing US expats.
Although the volunteers were Democrats (donkey is the Democrat party symbol), this was a non-partisan event. "We welcome all Americans – Democrats, Republicans and Independents," said Carolyn Sauvage-Mar, a Safdarjung Enclave resident and chair of Democrats Abroad-India, in a conversation with The Delhi Walla.
However, as Khan Market is a hangout for goras ranging from Bulgarians to Belgians to Bolivians, it must not had been easy to guess who was American and who wasn't. "Because of the fliers that our volunteers carried, Americans approached to us by themselves," said Nick Robinson, a campaigner.
The Yanks were invited to Choko La, in the middle lane, and taken to the top floor, where they were assisted in requesting an absentee ballot. Then then sat down with fellow Yanks and ordered specially discounted chocolate shakes. No free food.
This 'voter soliciting' was a new sight for Delhiwallas but it's common 'back home'. It's a countdown to Obama-McCain contest and in the US, thousands of volunteers are thronging shopping malls, baseball stadiums, schools and other public places to enlist voters. Now their eyes are firmly set on the 60,000 here in India.
Indeed, Democrats Abroad-India, one of the Democrat party committees with branches in 44 countries, has started American-style polling right here in Delhi. In February this year, the committee put up a polling station in Lodi Colony's Ploof restaurant, where Americans cast votes in the presidential primaries – a first time here. In March, it held an election-special dating game at the American Embassy School where nuclear disarmament, climate change and other issues dear to liberal Americans were debated and dissected. In May, they gathered at Lodi Garden's Athpula Pul to participate in the worldwide Bridges for Obama campaign.
And then it was the turn of Khan Market. Why Saturday? "Many Americans do their shopping at Khan Market on weekend mornings," says Sauvage-Mar. "There are thousands of unregistered voters in this city and we'd hoped to catch a few of them," she says.
This desperation to grab every voter had sent the Democrats flying all over the country – from Chennai to Mumbai to Bangalore. But it's only in Delhi where they 'infiltrated' a bazaar. In other metros, the excitement was limited to parties at pricey restaurants.
However, you say what is there for Indians? Umm, digest the bitter truth: the entire world can't vote for the US President but that guy is likely to be the world's most powerful person. Better take an interest.
Catch them, catch them