Einstein, Biswajit and Indian elections

Einstein, Biswajit and Indian elections

By M.J. Akbar | 29 March, 2014
West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee looks on as party candidate Biswajit sings a song at a rally in Ramlila Ground, New Delhi on 12 March. PTI
If there is a wave, the candidate will be swept in; if there isn’t, he will be swept out: E [Election]=MC [Minimum Concern] Squared.

If Albert Einstein could not pass his college entrance examination at the first attempt, then there is surely hope for us lesser mortals.

Biswajit Deb Chatterjee, the Hindi film star from Bengal, who warbled his way across the Seventies with songs like Humdum mere, maan bhi jaao, kahna mere pyaar ka, and now, at the impressive age of 78, has become Mamata Banerjee's candidate for New Delhi, is unlikely to pass his first entrance test for the Lok Sabha either. But his future reputation could also rest on an impressive theory. Biswajit's subject is a political science rather than nuclear science, but genius is genius, no matter where deployed.

Just two weeks before polling day, Biswajit told the Hindustan Times that he knew nothing about his opponents, had not even entered his constituency, and could not be bothered about the problems and demands of voters. "I am now socialising..." he said. He did add that he could soon step out. He promised to resolve all local problems once elected. He was confident of victory. Why? Because his leader Mamata Banerjee's fame and popularity was not restricted to Bengal; it had reached Delhi.

Biswajit may have got his practicals wrong, but give a thought to his Sanguine Wave Theory, by which a campaign travels at the speed of light, and energy is irrelevant to outcome. If there is a wave, he will be swept in; if there isn't, he will be swept out: E [Election]=MC [Minimum Concern] Squared.

More politicians believe in this theory than would care to admit publicly. They have evidence. Who knew the names of most Aam Aadmi Party MLAs in Delhi before they were elected? Politics is a human business, and human beings are magnets for controversy. Candidates absorb the minor storms that rise and fall in the course of daily events, convinced that they will eventually be subsumed by larger issues before the electorate.

An election becomes truly tough for any candidate who challenges a tide. For instance, Biswajit's rival for the people's affection in New Delhi, Ajay Maken of Congress, is distancing himself, as discreetly as possible, from the black hole of corruption that is swallowing his party. His radio advertisement, after affirming that he helped city professionals, ends with the charming claim that he has a "Bedaagh naam", or spotless reputation.

This, however, is not the only advertisement within hearing range of voters. Congress should probably worry more about ad spots from neutral sources like radio stations, urging citizens to go to the ballot stalls, if they want to end corruption. The fancy price for toilet paper bought during the Commonwealth Games years ago is still good enough for a laugh. There is a pretty effective ad in which children are asked what has been happening in our country. The rich are getting richer, they say, and the poor poorer. And what have our leaders been doing? Nothing, claim the kids in three sing-along Hindi syllables ["Kuch nahin!"]. So Ajay Maken has to explain why he did nothing, and indeed defended a soiled regime.

Every issue remains relevant for a voter, but every election also slowly rearranges issues on a graded scale of importance depending on what the election is all about. The drain outside your door logically rises to the top of the agenda in a municipal poll; water and electricity demand huge attention when the vote is for a government in a city-state [literally] like Delhi. But a general election sharpens the focus on national issues. Corruption and rising prices are a nationwide phenomenon. And most voters from Ladakh to Kanyakumari want a stable government in Delhi.

The reaction to such concerns cannot be uniform, or every constituency would deliver the same result. Local sentiment, or sectional hopes and fears, affect results as well. India is a fascinating mix, and the strength of our democracy is that there is space for every viewpoint in the great halls of Parliament. There have been Parliaments so fractured by differences that governance became dysfunctional. But that process has been reversed, step by step, and the idea of stability is acquiring critical mass once more.

So is our hero, Biswajit, right? Can any candidate afford to be indifferent to municipal problems? As that ageless cliché goes, yes and no. As accountability becomes a legitimate weapon in the armoury of the electorate, the MP has acquired a schizophrenic responsibility. He might be elected for macro reasons, but once he gets the tag he is held responsible for micro ones as well. That is what makes incumbency a double hazard, if you are on the wrong side of the swelling tide.

MPs are targeted not only for what has gone wrong in Delhi but also for the mess at the doorstep.

The second entrance examination, in politics, is so much tougher than the first one.

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