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The Misplaced Faith Of The Irrational Indian Voter

It’s time to remove the blinkers.

12/04/2017 11:41 AM IST | Updated 13/04/2017 3:10 PM IST
Adnan Abidi / Reuters

Contrary to popular opinion, India at the moment is dealing with many gremlins simultaneously, from the elevation of Yogi Adityanath to the crackdown on research funding for universities. The overall trend is to try inject in the Indian electorate a sense of nationalism—an emotion which was fast dwindling during the twilight of the UPA II regime. The attempt is to use this sense of patriotism, nationalism and subservience to the Centre's cause not just to skew electoral biases in the favour of the Indian right but also use it as the base for the expansion of "Hindutva" in Indian polity.

The irrational voter is being made to see what he wants to see, but he cannot see what he should be seeing.

In this attempt at a psychological reorientation of the Indian voter, the BJP has outsmarted any opposition at every turn, with the occasional loss only proving to be a mere blip. In such a scenario, the overall modus operandi of the government can be analysed through a simple tenet of electoral studies: voter irrationality. Voters tend to vote not just for self-advancement but also on the basis of certain pre-conditioned psychological biases on the state and the economy. Any smart party would only need to skew these biases in their favour to win their requisite share of votes. The BJP did that very successfully in 2014, riding on a wave of anti-incumbency and a promise of "acchhe din". It has continued to do so through cosmetic changes and policies such as Make in India, Skill India, demonetisation and Digital India among many others.

The government accumulates the faith of these irrational voters through these policies with every passing election. What this does is give the government leeway to make non-optimal policies for the economy on account of the existing faith. Like a classic game of warfare, it has attracted public scrutiny and awe on these cosmetic, faith-accruing policies, giving it a free pass to make more structural changes in the political economy of India, beyond the understanding of an ordinary Indian voter. The process (as hinted at earlier) has been simple. Use cosmetic policies to show that India is en route to progress; use demonetisation to show that India is ready to battle corruption and gather electoral faith for 2.5 years. Once this faith crosses the threshold, use it as a cloaking device for more structural deteriorations in the political economy of the country—an active propagation of "Hindutva", a clampdown on free speech, slashing funding for research in universities and aggravation of opacity in the system through amendments brought in via Money Bills.

He can see the piecemeal policies announced with pomp and grandeur to win his support, but is unable to see what this support allows the government to actually initiate.

As an electorate, we are so spellbound and drawn to the policies and promises that we have ignored the underlying motives completely. Our faith has been skewed. However, the lack of political maturity in the opposition to pick up this simple calculus of faith in today's electoral politics has been shocking. The free ride that the government has been given is indeed a matter of comic tragedy. When the Prime Minister comes in with the rhetoric of "Hard work vs. Harvard", with the government attempting to clamp both critique and research across liberal arts universities across the country, seldom do people even realise the politics of electoral faith here in attempting to make an electorate comfortable with lack of education in governance. There is countless research on how education is essential for development and democracies, and how a market for free ideas is a necessity in a single market (which the government is trying to create through a GST bill) which no one seems to have picked up on.

We all placed unending faith on the government's demonetisation drive, which was touted as a crusade against corruption. The monetary fallacy was outshone by the rhetoric, and with a lack of powerful enough opposition, the faith scales tilted in favour of the government in the recent electoral cycle. Consequence? First, enter Adityanath and Hindutva. Second, the UGC gazette notifications on slashing of research funding (as referred to in the previous paragraph). Third, the dreaded Finance Bill amendments, which not only made political funding even more opaque but also bestowed the government with the power to raid anyone at any time. All of these belie the image the government is trying to create through its cosmetic surgery of the economy—it's vastly detrimental for the people of the country. This has happened under the noses of everyone, with no one smart enough to either link these processes or make them the base of a political resistance emanating from the opposition forces in the country. The ruling party has smartly waged a war on the citadel of India's economic and political democracy, while keeping the opposition pre-occupied in their own agenda-specific skirmishes. The last time that happened was in the 18th century, when there was no consolidated opposition to a rising political force in the country—what we now refer to as "colonisation".

The ruling party has smartly waged a war on the citadel of India's economic and political democracy, while keeping the opposition pre-occupied in their own agenda-specific skirmishes.

Every political process occurring in India today is a basic function of an astute politician dealing with an irrational voter. The irrational voter is being made to see what he wants to see, but he cannot see what he should be seeing. He can see the piecemeal policies announced with pomp and grandeur to win his support, but is unable to see what this support allows the government to actually initiate. Before it is too late, the irrational Indian voter needs to be made aware that his overarching persistence on indicators such as growth will prove to be very detrimental in the long run. More than policy frameworks, the voter needs to made aware of the underlying trends in the economy, which can have even bigger consequences. His decision-making calculus should be able to factor these trends in with a more prominent weightage—a process which can successfully be initiated by those who not only study but are able to make use of irrationality in political processes and of its ability to provide a counter-resistance to the evolving politico-economic trends today. Whether and how this is initiated and by whom is a different debate. The need of the hour for India today is a class of people who realise the applicability of this Machiavellian process and use it to consolidate a vibrant opposition in the fast-changing (rather receding) secular democracy we know as India.

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