Political debate based on facts and figures? B**ch please!
A year from now, India will have the opportunity to elect a new government, a different future, and the winds of change. Though if you’re going to elect a Scorpions song, Hurricane is a much better candidate. As we look towards the years ahead, we must ask ourselves which of the two dominant forces in Indian politics we’d rather be led by: AIDS or cancer. If that statement offends you, I assure you I’m joking; we live in coalition times, so it’s actually AIDS-Hepatitis-Diabetes or Cancer-Ebola-ThatThingFromWalking Dead. There is also the Aam Aadmi Party, but it’ll probably get three votes, or as we called it in school “Essay Prize”.
As a conscientious voter-in-waiting, I decided to find out a bit more about Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi. It’d gall them to hear this, but both men have a lot in common. They are both their parties’ respective Prime Ministerial candidates. Both look to revitalise the flagging fortunes of India’s two traditional power blocks. Most importantly, whichever of the two wins, we’ll have to deal with the fact that if our freedom was a tryst with destiny, this is the morning after.
All of us voters, or well, the 59.7 per cent of us that will show up, have an important job. We need to pick between these men, and this decision must be informed by facts, policies and, if you live in Tamil Nadu, the 40” LED TVs that Mr Karunanidhi will no doubt give you. However, I live in Maharashtra, where the only thing politicians hand out for free is quotes about peeing in reservoirs like a 17 year-old. And so I decided to take a more old-fashioned approach and scoured both men’s speeches for indications of policy, direction, and worldview. The good news is, there are plenty of speeches on both sides. The bad news is, they have the political complexity of a One Direction song (feat. Rebecca Black).
Prospective leaders in a functional democracy are expected to outline how they’ll use their power through statistics, growth plans and nuanced argument. So far, Mr Gandhi’s propaganda tells me that Narendra Modi is Dr Evil, and Mr Modi’s propaganda tells me that Rahul Gandhi is Mini-Me. I have also discovered, due to several hoardings, that Mr Gandhi’s agenda is “Happy Birthday Shri Baba Siddique”, while Mr Modi is
a) Hindu Nationalist, and
b) not a very good with an use of the articles.
I began my search at two speeches that were meant to be expressions of intent from these candidates. In one corner, we have Rahul Gandhi’s address to India Inc, the highlight of which involved his run-in with a painter named Girish. Mr Gandhi met Girish on a train from Gorakhpur to Mumbai, because the chief tourist attraction in Gorakhpur is “leaving it”. Girish the painter was off to Mumbai to look for a job because nobody had told him that being beaten up by the Shiv Sena doesn’t pay. Mr Gandhi asked him what he would do if he didn’t get a job there, to which Girish replied “I’ll get on a train to Bangalore.” This impressed Mr Gandhi greatly, because nothing says economic resurgence like large communities of homeless, unorganised migrant labour.
I also checked out Narendra Modi’s speech to female members of FICCI, in which he spends 71 minutes talking about women’s empowerment, without actually mentioning how he plans to achieve it. Both speeches had the believability of a Chacha Chaudhary comic, and the same amount of hard statistics and projections as one. The only statistic that emerged from a collective 110 minutes of speech-making is this: In 2013, the number of crude nicknames for Prime Ministerial candidates increased by 2 units, named Pappu and Feku.
Contrast this with a speech by Bill Clinton at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, which in 42 minutes, boasted ten separate instances of argument backed up by solid (if twisted for political gain) numbers. And he wasn’t even running for anything. Does this suggest that American politics is free of petty mud-slinging? Far from it. But I can cut through it all to find a gooey Nutella center of facts, stats and tangible ideas. All of them on the record, one Google search away.
But we get the leaders we deserve, and in a culture obsessed with tamaasha, gossip and ideological barnstorming, that is what we base our decisions on. A broke farmer in the Vidarbha doesn’t like statistics because he is one.
And a hipster on Twitter doesn’t care about them because #ReplaceMovieNameWithCatPictur. Which is why we’re doomed to infantile political debate for years to come, and which is why I must make my decision based on it. My choice is clear; I’m going to vote for Girish. Just so he can stop taking trains and sit in one place for 5 years that is not Gorakhpur.
Rohan Joshi is a writer and stand-up comedian who likes reading, films and people who do not use the SMS lingo.