Is voting in India a lot like dating?

Published: May 22, 2019, 07:15 IST | Mayank Shekhar

Some armchair psephology before we can, hopefully, stop talking about the Lok Sabha elections for a while!

Is voting in India a lot like dating?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi being felicitated by Union ministers Rajnath Singh and Nitin Gadkari during a 'thanksgiving' meeting with the Union council of ministers at BJP headquarters, in New Delhi, on Tuesday, two days ahead of the election results. Pic/PTI

Mayank ShekharRule number one of dating -- so basic that it's left unsaid -- is that you hold your frickin' horses, and play it cool. The more desperate you look/seem/sound, the less likely you are of ever landing a date in your life!

Does the same rule reverse, when it comes to voting? Given that the more aggressively in-your-face a political party appears, in terms of campaigning for sure, the greater its chance of eventually wooing the voter? Charting the stellar rise of BJP in national politics, ever since 2012 in particular, one might be tempted to think so.

But looking at it this way, you might be missing the bigger BJP success story, in urban India at any rate. For, as a party, it's followed another maxim that perhaps applies equally to pursuing the opposite gender: constant engagement.

Wherein, like a seasoned Test player, you don't always look to hit a flamboyant boundary every time you face a ball (or go on a big night-out); but slowly, steadily progress towards winning the heart, mind, or the game.

An old grouse of citizens in any democracy is that the parties/candidates they vote for during elections simply disappear once they get into power, and reappear, half a decade later, only when they have to seek votes -- initiating a shoot-and-scoot sort of campaign, yet again.

Some of this is inevitable. It's hard to engage with voters of a constituency one represents on a regular basis. There're far too many of them to keep going back to, even while politicians are the most hard-working lot we know. They anyway have no life.

How does a political party solve this problem? I'm told Rajnath Singh once asked this question to his media advisor back in 2007, when he was BJP president, and social media platforms Facebook and Twitter were hardly a year old.

This is how BJP's IT cell was born -- engaging with the party's supporters round-the-clock -- spreading its wings, and gradually turning a huge mass of one-time voters into full-time followers, through the year, regardless of elections.

When the time comes, they don't vote for BJP. They are BJP. Clearly the offline world works no differently, if you consider that during the 2019 general elections there were apparently no less than 40 lakh BJP polling agents/karyakartas in one state, Uttar Pradesh, alone!

And yet getting a vote is obviously a lot harder than landing a date. To start with, there are all kinds of people to please. And in a country like India, every vote still spins around the most existentially fundamental question of 'em all: "What's in it for me?" There will never be anything in it for all. How does the voter solve this problem? He stands behind a group, more often than not defined by caste or religion, and hopes to extract a better deal seeing the candidate from his community through -- regardless of individual merit, let alone past performances. Favours follow. One hopes so anyway.

This plays out as coalition politics. The well-off look down upon it as cheap, identity-politics. But there is no other formula yet to ensure Indian diversity is adequately represented. At the ground level, such strong affiliations, chiefly centred on ethnicity -- sometimes going back generations -- make it harder and harder for the regular folk to enter politics.

Democracy is effectively a closed-door group. You're more likely to succeed as a rocket scientist than a newbie electoral candidate in India. The advent of AAP in November, 2012, was first seen as a fresh aberration/experiment. And so the rest or rather all of us, once in five years, watch the elections play out from the sidelines. Some travel to sense which way is the wind blowing. Others generally ask around. Surely you did too. The answer to that, my friend, is that it's impossible to get beyond the tip of the iceberg. Even the deepest sampling for the most expensive exit-poll manages to touch at best a handful of folk in little over a third of the number of constituencies in India!

Given the circumstances, what's a good way to gauge public mood? I suspect this follows a dating rule too. If he/she likes you, you'll know, right away. We call this the wave. If not, you'll be confused. How do people solve this confusion -- since, like with voting, as with dating, one wishes to remain hopeful still? Well, you let hope cloud your judgment, always. Yup, think that's what's been happening for the past few months, depending on who you speak to!

Mayank Shekhar attempts to make sense of mass culture. He tweets @mayankw14 Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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