Google+ Consumer Psyche: Indian Politics

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Indian Politics

Politics in India is still substantially driven by identities of caste, subcaste, subcommunity within that. Elections are like chess games, with each major party watching whom the others are nominating in each constituency like hawks and then working to break the numbers: getting relatives from the opposition candidate’s family to stand, incentivizing some independent candidates to step up, buying off others who could swing key blocks. With each move, the calculated aim is to splinter the electoral math and nudge the needle by the barest minimum margin for victory.

Cash and crime are increasing determinants of success. Aspiring candidates need to bring their own kitty; only the rare honest worker can expect to win with little money. Elections are times of massive cash transfers across the chain, with middlemen lopping off their share of the grease that is lubricating our democratic machinery. The same is happening with criminals—those who can use strong-arm means to sway the vote.

Seat by seat, block by block, this same process is repeated: a complex, multi-dimensional jigsaw puzzle that changes with every passing day as the nomination deadlines close in. Senior politicians’ homes and offices are besieged by potential candidates demanding “tickets”, supporters are rallied from constituencies, mobiles buzz continuously.

After the Mumbai attacks, we saw many states going to the polls. I have seen some of the post-poll interactions among senior politicians, both winners and losers. One was with a political scion. This young parliamentarian told me disparagingly, “Your columns with their elegant ideas, all the media talk about a new wave of development and governance—all romantic nonsense. We are still working the same political equations on the same age-old formulae. I can show you one district where I spent months bringing development to the areas and we won just one seat. And another district where we played the most cynical form of electoral politics and we won a majority of the seats.”
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