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Indian elections have evolved a lot like arranged marriages. Technology is the disruptor

Indian elections have evolved a lot like Indian arranged marriages. Family or village elders, puffing on the communal hookah, no longer seal the fate of a candidate. Technology has left the ubiquitous nai (barber), who traditionally brought leads for probable matches and had a high success rate, redundant. How many parents, worried sick over their ward’s insouciance, now ask their barber to find them a match or run a quick background check? Hardly any. Social media snooping is for millennials. Be it to shortlist potential alliances on a matrimonial site or to zero down on a local representative, a comparative analysis today is just a click away.

Similarly, technology has enabled voters today to share notes and build a consensus on who is ‘deserving’. Earlier, the lack of communication channels kept them clueless about the views of voters in other parts of the country. Hence, decision making largely remained localized, limited to a village, town, district or, at most, a state. The elderly, the socially empowered or the dominant caste/community could loosely be called ‘influencers’ back then, be it in an arranged marriage or an election.

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Till the early 1990s, during polls, we could interact only with our immediate neighbourhood—even landline phones were then a luxury. Our physical reach limited our discussions and deliberations over whom to vote for, who was a deserving candidate, the government’s performance, anti-incumbency and the like. Through tea shops and nai-dukaan addas (corner shops, barber shops), social gatherings and lunch breaks at the workplace, opinions travelled merely by word of mouth.

The arrival of smartphones and social media has collapsed all physical boundaries and instantly connected everyone at a national and global level. In 2019, India had 373.88 million smartphone users, a sharp hike from 2017, when this figure stood at 299.24 million. According to a Comscore report, YouTube had 325 million unique monthly users in India as of May 2020. In 2021, according to then Union Minister for Communications, Electronics and Information Technology and Law and Justice Ravi Shankar Prasad, India has over 530 million WhatsApp users, over 400 million Facebook users, and over 10 million Twitter users—all essential campaign platforms for political parties.

Voters have always wanted a strong government. I see it like selecting the head of a family or a company. Unlike the olden times, the seniormost or eldest is now no longer the first choice. Instead, one looks for a strong and deserving successor to sort out the myriad challenges that the post[1]modern world has thrown up. Of course, the definition of ‘deserving’ is entirely relative, and I am not getting into that.

On social media, ideas crystallize and trend, leading to uniform opinions being formed and thumping majorities for the winner and, conversely, absolute negation of the loser. Whether it is positive or negative publicity, it gets communicated across the board. Opinions are shaped not only by trending ideas and raging debates on social media but also by ground realities reported from across the country. Social media has truly become a melting pot where opinions are formed in an unorganized and spontaneous manner and quite effortlessly. Thanks to the platform, it has nudged, or rather awakened, the citizen journalist in each of us. Of course, some opinions are carefully crafted by political parties, which will be addressed shortly.

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The 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Assembly Elections in Delhi and Bihar in 2015, Kerala and West Bengal in 2016 and Uttar Pradesh in 2017, all gave clear, resounding majorities to a single party or an alliance. In Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP wiped out the opposition by grabbing 67 out of 70 seats in February 2015, just 13 months after Delhi threw up a hung Parliament. From bagging 28 seats in his electoral debut in December 2013 and a 49-day stint as chief minister, Kejriwal came back as a giant in early 2015, as consensus built over the months that he could deliver if he had the numbers. This was barely eight months after the BJP swept all seven parliamentary seats in Delhi in the 2014 General Elections. The same was repeated in the 2019 parliamentary polls and the 2020 Delhi Assembly Elections, where again the BJP and AAP swept the state respectively.

Voters today make informed choices. They know which way the wind is blowing—the general pulse of the people is right out there. No one wants to waste their vote on the losing team. This explains why the Congress party, despite Sheila Dikshit’s legacy, failed to better even its vote share in the Delhi polls. Instead, it dropped further from 9.7 per cent in 2015 to 4.2 per cent. Election after election, my interaction with voters during the pre- and post-poll surveys has convinced me that they know exactly what is on the table.

This excerpt from Who Gets Elected by Pradeep Gupta has been published with permission from Rupa Publications.

Source: The Print

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