Friday, 16 May 2014

Two Cents of Electoral Wisdom

Very quickly, I'd like to give my take on the decisive mandate given to Mr Narendra Modi:
  1. End of the Coalition: As much as we'd like to talk about the benefits of federalism, one of the bigger reasons why India has faced stagnation, paralysis, even corruption (though that is more fairly shared among all and sundry) is the fact that parties have been shackled by the often unjustified and obstructionist demands of their coalition partners. This election ensures that all flimsy agenda fall back to the back burner. The country can finally breathe.
  2. The Power of Media and Perception: If not today the next Lok Sabha election will have an overwhelming number of people influenced by social media. A lesson in planning, pitching and strategic perception building - now called electioneering - was born. Brands were created. And the marginal effects of social media were visible this time too, especially for the urban voter. If other parties don't form a serious PR and media plan soon eventual irrelevance is guaranteed.
  3. Weight of Expectation: All eyes are well and truly set on Narendra Modi. He has been rewarded with an empowering mandate. The expectations are just as high. He will have the power to push his ideas onto the country at large but he also has no excuses for failure. It would be interesting to see if he will temper his nature now that he leads India and it would be important to know if he is ready to conform to the expectations of those voters who have reposed considerable faith in the hope that he will put equitable development ahead of ideology.
  4. Illusion of Left-to-Right Change: Politically and ideologically, the right of center party has won. I wonder though, if there'll be any significant change in the economic thinking towards the Right - the concept of limited government. It will be a huge call to take - the country is still predominantly dependent on our (dysfunctional) safety nets. Will radical changes be made? I wonder...
  5. A Two-Party System: I don't really buy the notion of the Congress being decimated for all eternity. One simply cannot forget the organizational strength of the party and its pan India presence. Vote share percentages also tell us that it received the second highest vote percentage, not only in India but in important states as well. The mandate is a timely reminder that just about anyone can be dumped onto the streets by the power of the ballot and that's good. The Congress would be expected to come out cleaner and lighter from this chastening experience. The writing is as stark as it can be - evolve or perish. And just as we need a strong party at the center, we also need a strong opposition. Let the country churn. Let the country grow.
  6. AAP Test: It's tough to call AAP's future. Hindsight tells us they spread themselves too thin and that voters were disappointed by their perfunctory treatment of the seats they received at Delhi. Forming a party on a wave is one thing. To carry the unit forward is another. It requires tremendous patience, a willingness to leave behind your professions and other ambitions, and also having a core principle of existence. Without these, it may be difficult to sustain the goodwill and trust they had managed once. The Delhi elections will be crucial.
  7. The economy is still screwed: The economy is going through a period of manic stress and it doesn't seem likely that it can be kickstarted in one or even two years. The policy solutions are more or less decided and in place. Vagaries such as the El Nino persist and it is anyone's guess how the many pending clearances can be delivered without making a number of grassroots people unhappy. It'll take a miracle to turn this ship around.
  8. Reading Habits: At any rate, it is heartening to see that people have finally abandoned the Bennett and Coleman stable (TOI & ET) to push forward arguments. The intellectual command of these two newspapers in particular is so abysmal I find it hard not to herd them in the category of tabloids. The quality of content in ET has deteriorated at a stunning rate. In the same vein, quoting the Kasturi and Sons' products (Hindu and Business Line) apart from other far more competent b-papers such as Business Standard and Financial Times is a welcome sign.  All is obviously not so well. In the mania of wanting to believe their biases (an overwhelmingly widespread publicly available example of confirmation bias), a number of people resorted to using blogs with no or shabby data back-up to argue their cases. The best model for us to emulate would surely be the debates on the blogs of even normal students of economics in the West, with reasoning backed by actual papers and data from accepted statistical institutions. Things have improved, however, in sum.
  9. Data: I wouldn’t call it a closed case but the debates finally did churn out discussions on facts. A discussion with data is always difficult – it being a hell lot easier to just give an opinion formed from your surroundings. Which is why politics is so popular. It gives people the illusion of arguing for economic policy, manifestos and social indices with as much knowledge as Hodor’s vocabulary. It gives people a sense of empowerment, of pseudo-intellectual stimulation. That, and Ayn Rand’s drivel. The latter stages did bring out people armed with facts and that made the debates worthwhile and surprisingly enriching
  10. It's finally over: It really is. The media had hijacked our lives with an incessant and often unnecessary cacophony of analyses. Newspapers such as the Economic Times forgot their raison d'etre and instead fed us tales of politics with unabashed and unhealthy glee. Facebook became a street for breathless, excited supporters who held us witness to all their biases and over-the-top proclamations of the weight of Destiny. By the end of it, I am glad it's over.
Let's sit back and watch our new government perform. My hope is for decisive and clean governance with focus on all sectors of the populace. My apprehension is over an increase in intolerance of our plurality (that is actually a concern; plurality meaning the ability to be yourself in different dimensions). I wish them the very best.

I have to end with a personal belief that stems wholly from Asimov’s Foundation series. The events and the relative importance of even a handful of elections will not deter the country from following the macro-level path set for it by long term indicators. That is not to change with any change in the ruling party.

At the same time, with a touch of realism and humility, I remember those famous lines of Keynes as he exhorted governments to act and not to expect that economics would save us in the long run:

“In the long run, we’re all dead.”


  1. Nice stuff - I was going to start a series on this myself on my blog, but more political of course.
    I do object to your description of Ayn Rand - what she says is meant to implement and not talk about. Those who only parrot her words and don't act on them are kidding themselves!

    1. It may have been harsh of me to invoke Ayn Rand in such a dismissive tone but I think a genuine debate on her among ourselves is missing and long overdue. With those only enamoured by her quotes (like you said) but especially with those having a higher level of involvement. A discussion would be absolutely brilliant!


  2. Great stuff. I'm relieved that the country voted in overwhelming favour of the best possible scenario in the present circumstances. I'm even more relieved that Facebook posts that could go from 'how can you even think of electing that Muslim-killer' to 'how can you even think of questioning Modi's character' will go away now. It's time for everyone to stfu and give this government a fair chance. Meanwhile, Kejriwal and co. can reflect on the golden opportunity they've blown in the last few months (they could have done a great job sitting in the opposition to this govt, you know, instead of going after the throne right away) and either come back stronger and wiser, or fade away tamely from public memory the same way others before them did, others whose names I do not remember on account of them fading away from public memory.

    1. Yes. It is time we quit speculation and give the government a fair chance. It is time for our battered and grievously injured opposition parties to take a breather...and a long hard look at their future. Eventually, it will be important for us to be reasonably critical of our new government - a sign of any healthy democratic system. That can wait for now. It has been a long and maddeningly drawn out election - in your own words, "A cesspool of filth". Plus, performance can't be measured in a month or even a year. I'd rather we fight over the Football World Cup.

      Only time will truly tell if this was the best possible scenario for our country. An empowering mandate can easily go the other way and there exist genuine doubts and worries, if sometimes overly alarmist. I am an optimist at this point but a cautious one. It's still best to keep faith.

  3. 'Cautious optimism" is exactly how I'd approach this, yes.