Ravi Kumar Pillai
Ravi Kumar Pillai
In Lighter Vein

An Election with A Difference

Ravi Kumar Pillai

Ravi Kumar Pillai

We are living in an age of blockbusters. The tagline for most of these grand spectacles coming out of Hollywood and in many cases followed up with imitations (or, diplomatically put, “inspired versions”) churned out by our very own multi “woods” such as Kollywood, Mollywood, Tollywood and the like goes something like, “Never Seen Before ----“.

For Elections 2019, which is indeed the Great Indian Festival of Democracy (or, Shall I say “democrazy” more aptly?), the tagline seems to fit perfectly well. Truly, going by the high-decibel shouts, shrieks and name-calling, this election is set to go down as the “Mother of All Elections”!

I am tempted to draw a comparison to the masculinity-centric battles of the foregone era. The legendary enmity between two clans, both believing themselves to be the divinely ordained rulers of the land, as told by Mahabharata, was marked two seminal events - a game of dice followed by a battle in all fury. In the contemporary political scenario of India, there is a replay of the same arch-rivalry resulting in a battle (apparently using ballots) and a game of chance, bet, intrigue and manipulation. The only difference is Mahabharata had the game of dice first and the war later; in the present scenario, the battle first and then that would in all likelihood be followed by the game of dice which will be played out with a vengeful fiery unseen or unheard-of till now. The warm-ups and practice sessions have been proceeding even as the grueling and creepy election schedule was inching to the final phase.

In the ancient wars, dharma was preserved above everything else. Decency, respect and ethics were not compromised for winning “at any cost”. Today the art of power politics (with plenty of science too thrown in by way of analytics and digital interventions) is getting entrenched in our electoral politics. It is in fact changing the name of the game. Politics is no longer for the weak hearted or the mild mannered!

While 2014 elections heralded the use of social media and digital technologies in campaigning, 2019 has not only continued the same more aggressively, but also seems to have injected aggressive marketing with power punches. In 2014 Narendra Modi descended on the scene with the freshness of a startup investor and led the way with power campaigning. For 2019, the Opposition, especially Congress and to some extent AAP, apparently crafted a game plan to “take out the thorn with a thorn”. The seemingly punchy barbs by a number of young leaders and not-so-young ones, who probably did extra homework to become twitter-savvy, for the past year or so indicate the hard preparations that might have gone in.

Personalized attempts to deride the opponent seems to be adopted from the brazenly crude election exchanges in the US Presidential Elections, especially in the past few years. Such personality-focused attacks are more aligned to presidential contest whereas for the parliamentary system that we follow, the Prime Minister is only the first among equals and not the persona principia of the American Model. Aren’t we in a bit of a mix up here in adopting the power play of the cowboy style? When an avowed nationalist adopts seemingly western style of power leadership, one is tempted to say, why not a more desi style?

Talking about the Elections, 2019 one must admit that we are indeed a cricketing nation and we take cricket quite seriously. In cricket our favorite format of course is 20:20. And we love the power play overs. We have therefore enjoyed every moment of the power packed punches delivered by the ruling and opposition honchos. When a Neta is on fire and his adrenalin rises with clapping, shouts and sloganeering of the audience, paid or voluntary, the excitement is nothing short of Virat Kohli all fired up in a game against Pakistan or Dhoni going for his third stumping in the last ball of the match. We seem to even ignore the pinch of unpleasantness when the oratory takes an ugly turn and descends to badmouthing of not only the opponents but also their family members. May be, the age-old strategy of a Muhammad Ali, Bob Fischer or John McEnroe to demoralize the opponent through aggressive posturing and faked anger is playing out in our electoral arena. While this could be a charitable view of the filthy depths of our contemporary political discourse, it is indeed retrograde and counterproductive for evolution of a positive democratic culture. What role models are our current crop of leaders setting for our future generations? A bit of politeness and mutual respect are definitely not spoilers in the Game of Thorns!

I think the current exercise is likely to end-up as a two-leg election with two distinct stages – the first, the voting per se and the second, which is more strategic, would be the confabulations among the various political interest groups that are eager to cobble-up an alliance, however tenuous, and take a chance at power. This second leg would be the real thing, balloting has been just the formality to finish and put away. Over the years political parties have splintered and re-formatted themselves based more on personality clashes and the treasure chests of sectarian goldmines they have discovered on the go. We have parties going by fancy names with prefixes and suffixes of democratic, revolutionary, socialistic, national flavor but in reality, behind the well-rehearsed smiles of many of the partisan leaders are the hidden fangs that can extract the last bit of political mileage from the hapless folks.

As the last vote are cast, the second phase comes centre stage from the green room where along with make-up for the grand finale, the knife-sharpening has also been going on.

Our politicians are indeed very forgiving and accommodative by nature. A pious lot. In fact, they also are keen to forget the bad blood that they spew or was thrown at them. Afterall in the high-stake play of power, privileges and perks, vanity can take a back seat. When it comes to the negotiation phase, our politicians turn good Samaritans - the only articulated life mission for them is service to the poor and the downtrodden. As for bitter name calling and hitting below the belt that ensued during the election, they vow by the biblical saying, “May the one who hasn’t sinned throw the stones”. Everything is fine in war and love, and elections too!

In fact, the post-verdict phase of Election 2019, I predict, could very well qualify to be added to the case studies in the Strategy Management curricula of any prestigious Business School. It is interesting to see how everyone sheds the baggage of the recent past and becomes single-minded and accommodative to succeed in garnering the one prize catch of it all - a toe hold on the gaddi. Those with criminal cases against them, those who openly declared their sectarian credentials and biased prejudices and even those who have indulged in acts bordering on dadagiri all become acceptable partners in post-poll attempts to stitch up a working majority, if opportunity arises.

If NDA fails to get a clear majority, the game of dice would be kicked-off almost immediately as the trend becomes clear. In the present scenario, the chance of Congress-led UPA on its own getting a majority seems to be next to impossible. So, the stage would be set for the Great Indian Tamasha. In the run-up to the elections, it was amusing to read about the obvious and succinct signs of Prime Ministerial ambitions aired by some old war-horses with not-so-inspiring accomplishment in their heydays. Stories are also afloat on tantric rituals and ayurvedic rejuvenation therapies taken up by some of these veterans, hoping against hope that God would take pity and roll the dice of luck in their favour one last time! “Look, I am game for another go at it, all for the sake of the people”, is the refrain we would hear from many of the over-the-dump Netas.

As the day of the reckoning nears, let us gear up for the ultimate show on earth. And may the smartest win!

*Ravi Kumar Pillai is CEO and Principal Consultant at Cherrypick India, Trivandrum and can be reached at