THE recent assembly election in Delhi helps the Congress Party in ways other than a simple electoral victory for the party in one of 28 states and 7 union territories of our country. The election has certain lessons that the Congress Party must learn and can apply as we head into an epochal national election. The Delhi voter stands out as a particularly insightful proxy for the national voter across India. The behavioural and voting patterns of the Delhi voter, therefore, should be analysed and utilized more broadly for the purpose of the forthcoming national election.
Lesson 1: The single most important lesson is that the Indian voter, regardless of how literate or educated, behaves like a rational consumer and is fundamentally aware of his or her own best interest. The voter, therefore, must be treated like a discerning consumer. This can fundamentally change the focus away from electoral arithmetic based on religious, caste and regional lines that the Bhartiya Janata Party and other groups are seeking to exploit.
Lesson 2: There was no alchemy in what the BJP achieved in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. The public perception created and fuelled by the BJP that the BJP has concocted a magic election formula is a fallacy. Were this the case, the Delhi election result should have been entirely different. What the BJP has done in the political sphere is exactly what every sophisticated investment bank and strategy consulting firm would like their clients to believe true of them in the corporate world. Good politics is not rocket science. Neither is good investment banking. Both are hard work.
Lesson 3: Unemployment is perhaps the single most important election specific issue in India today. The BJP performance on this front has been abysmal. The Opposition will reap great dividends if they can satisfactorily make public opinion aware of this colossal BJP failure. With the unemployment rate as a metric, India is in deep trouble. No shine whatsoever.
Lesson 4: The mechanics of an election during the advance preparation stage are comprised of a great deal of ground level work which is both time-consuming and tedious. This includes ensuring that voter lists are in order and that vast numbers of voters (some holding voter identity cards issued by the Election Commission) have not been ruthlessly struck off the electoral rolls. The large size of individual assembly/parliamentary constituencies in the Indian democratic system makes this endeavour a lengthy and cumbersome one. However, the potential benefits to be reaped from this are substantial. This is low hanging fruit that must be picked. Voters who do not need to be canvassed and simply would like to exercise their constitutional right to adult franchise can make a difference in election results.
Lesson 5: There is no dearth of local political workers or karyakartas in the Congress. However, there is a painful absence of guidance and training. This group of individuals is largely under-utilised and its energies can be far more meaningfully channelled. In addition, this is not by default an expensive or mercenary proposition. Motivation, morale boosting and faith in a vision or dream go a lot farther than a daily wage that can be earned by a political worker during the brief period of an election campaign.
Lesson 6: Elections in India are not merely a return on investment (ROI) calculation. The magnitude of a party’s election spend does not determine the outcome of an election. The Congress must not be distracted by the BJP’s effective yet notorious fund-raising skills.
Lesson 7: In the past, the Congress Party had done a disproportionately high share of dreaming for this country. Leaders, karyakartas and voters need to be constantly reminded of this. Public memory is not as short as the BJP may like to have the Congress Party believe. Rajiv Gandhi had the capacity to dream. He also believed in the need to articulate and communicate his Indian dream to enthuse and motivate the people. This formula has been hijacked and is being used with abandon but without acknowledgement by the BJP. The Congress must once again project a dream.
The Congress Party is emblematic of the best things in India. As a young Indian, it is an institution that gives me great hope for the future of the nation. All liberal Indians who aspire to maintain, preserve and promote a pluralistic, cosmopolitan, multifaceted, democratic society and polity must neither forget nor ignore this fact.