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The Empowered Indian Voter Is Changing How Politics Is Done

30/01/2017 12:26 PM IST | Updated 31/01/2017 8:58 AM IST
Mukesh Gupta / Reuters

We recently surveyed a small village, Khaati, tucked away in a corner of Uttarakhand. It takes two days to get to Khaati from Delhi and electricity is yet to see light here. When we asked residents what they most wanted in the region, they said electricity and television. The consistent mention of television took us by shock. "We want to be a part of the world," one villager cited as the reason. The desire to get television marks not just the need to be connected but also a demand to be a part of the information age. We live in times where news about what is happening in other parts of the world is accessible, and connectivity is essential. And the information age is influencing everything around us, including politics.

Voters are challenging the status quo of ineffective leadership and looking for newer models and promises.

The average voter of today has terrific amounts of information available through smartphone, television and radio. The flood of information is changing the way in which voters think and make decisions. Politicians and political parties are directly facing the effects of this changing thought process through unexpected election results, shift in governance priorities and/or rise of collective movements. Recent years have seen a particularly strong increase in such voter responses and parties should study these closely.

In Delhi we saw the rise of a new party that had a non-political class of people take centrestage. The Aam Admi Party's leader is an ex-bureaucrat whose strength was his non-political and corruption-free background. Similarly in Bihar we had an unexpected alliance of two arch nemeses—and the voters believed that their combined capacity to bring success to Bihar would be much greater than others. Their alliance defied past political predictions. And finally, PM Modi was able to run an unprecedented presidential-style campaign and convince an overwhelming number of voters to support him.

These historic decisions are pointing toward a larger trend amongst voters who are looking toward a different kind of leadership. With the deluge of information, voters are challenging the status quo of ineffective leadership and looking for newer models and promises. This is coming in to governance policies as well.

Education wasn't given much attention by political parties. The budgetary allocations for most states and the central government reveal it as one of the more neglected policy areas. Yet the Aam Admi Party decided to put education at the forefront of the agenda. It was a bold move and something that could have backfired. Interestingly the focus on education policy resonated strongly with voters. Parents have applauded their decision. The AAP took a risk of focusing on a new policy arena and it benefitted them.

Along the same lines, the unexpected demonetisation of ₹500 and ₹1000 notes has shaken up the Indian economy. In a time of political and economic calm, the decision to pull back notes to fight corruption issues is jolting. And while there are questions around the merits of the move, there is unanimous agreement that it is a bold decision taken by the Prime Minister. Both these examples show that the electorate is no longer content with business-as-usual. Instead they are looking for an active government working to improve their lives. And when this fails they will not hesitate to express their discontent.

From the Anna Hazare movement to the Hardik Patel campaign to the JNU protests, people have been unafraid to express their anger and discontent to the government...

The last few years have seen some major movements. From the Anna Hazare movement to the Hardik Patel campaign to the JNU protests, people have been unafraid to express their anger and discontent to the government by organising promptly and in numbers. Social media and communication tools (such as WhatsApp) have empowered people with the capacity to organise and unite quickly. The information age has instilled a fierce confidence and sense of equality in each voter as they have come to know about their own world and the one beyond. And in a more connected India, such events are likely to increase with time.

Political parties that are seeing the change in voting patterns, as well as the push for shifting policies and increased movements and protests, are changing their election and governance styles quickly. They are realising that the voter is changing and that the media is exposing them to the world beyond their households. However those who are continuing on the same path of playing caste politics and disregarding the changing world around them are inviting failure.

Female Indian Politicians

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