How Covid-19 has changed the outlook and approach of many people towards life and living is talked about of late. That is expected to be evident even more in the case of larger phenomenon like electoral politics. But that is not evident in the case of complex electoral campaigns even among eminent personalities known for their concerns and familiarity. To my curiosity I had a firsthand experience of such a situation in the Hyderabad ASCI- Primepost meet on my latest book, “The Next Big Game Changer of Elections in India” organised on Saturday (August 21) in Hyderabad.
Galaxy of experts
The meet was attended by a galaxy of experts and analysts. The key participants were provided with an advance copy of the book a week before. The Covid phenomenon apparently has made no difference in the outlook about poll campaigns more specifically. In fact, the rhetoric was same as before, general and grand view of poll politics. An elderly participant was an exception to think ahead and talk of newer technologies and their potential towards rationalising poll campaigns and get over a scary stalemate. However, the double edged potential of newer technologies in manipulating campaigns cannot be ignored. While some others were introvert instead of introspective. A couple of academics with hands on were also focused and specific about the topic of the occasion, That is model of poll campaign the country is riddled with. They have reminded rightly criticality of civil society’s oversight.
Reversing the trend in poll campaign
It was intriguing to me to understand why a few reputed experts do not realise the significance and urgency of reversing the trend in the poll campaigns. One expert even justified the continuity of symbol system in voting by confessing how symbol had helped him vote without knowing the name of candidate or anything about any of the candidates when it is time to think of voting for a candidate based on virtues rather than for a symbol or even a party perpetuating uninformed voting as some decades ago and consolidating domination of political parties. This expert may be aware of what such passive voting meant but surely is not sensitive that is a root cause for the sad state of affairs in the current pattern of representation of people and the composition of legislatures.
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Gradual change is no solution
We now have ample data based evidence (data provided by candidates themselves, both winners and losers) on scope and source of campaigns, to think beyond and do something about. This is what this book tries to do first time specifically on poll campaigns without sorting out these, no “poll reforms” make sense nor we could better people’s representation. Continuous talk about funding in elections alone is not enough as the mindset of activists about the very outlook on reaching voters and voters’ perspective about governance. This is a prerequisite for the larger change. Continuous talk about “democracy” and its decline even when experts and analysts meet with facts at their disposal will not bring much needed change. A Covid lesson is that “gradual change” is no solution for the deeper malice. Hanging on to cliches and more of the same outlook will not change the paradigm. It perpetuates.
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The book in context, ‘Next Big Game Changer of Elections in India,’ focuses on fallacies and myths in elections at a time when things in the country are going from bad to worse not only with each general election but also for the assembly and local governments. The scary aspect is not just in the case of election campaigns for the legislatures but for every other level, village panchayat up word, particularly where ever elections are party based with symbols. I have seen last twenty years how desegregated data and analysis helps change in the outlook and even prompts initiatives in the case of corruption in the country involving citizens. it was the annual studies in the recent years on corruption in the course of citizen availing some 15 to 18 public services that brought sensitivities and specific measures( like citizen charter, social audit, public hearing and open house) to deal with at the roots. It was also these studies which brought out the linkage between corruption in voting (described as “mother of all corruption”) and governance and development and the divides. This book is a focus on basics in the electoral system that we are riddled with. . Going beyond, this book proposes an alternative approach for electing peoples representatives and suggests that this process could be without the kind of campaigns that we are familiar now which political parties rely on and would like to continue with.
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Rhetoric and fury
Some analysts at the Primepost meet remind me of how we hang on to macro level articulation in the absence of reliable micro level data and case specifics from independent sources. That is what propels rhetorics and even fury without taking us anywhere. What also curious is that those, who are aware of the kind and extent of deviations and distortions in the way campaigns for 2014 and 2019 general elections were held and for state assemblies thereafter, do not see the criticality and urgency to reverse the trend. No wonder then the news media coverage too is either general or vague repeating about democracy as coverage of ASCI meet on poll campaigns was. This could be because never before poll campaigning was the focus and analyzed in a desegregated way as this book does in a serious way suggesting alternative ways of electing people’s representatives.
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This Primepost meet last week convinces me the need to enlighten political leaders, news media and analysts equally about scope, structure and implications of poll campaigns and why I consider this ‘Next Big Game Changer’ of not only the Elections but better the trajectory of development, democracy and governance.
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Dr N. Bhaskara rao is a New Delhi based public policy analyst of over 50 years standing.