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September 28, 2008
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September 28, 2008

Page: 38/43

Home > 2008 Issues > September 28, 2008

Think Pad

Ideological utilitarianism and winning election

By Ram Chandra

Consolidation of a majoritarian vote bank calls for dislodging the existing interest-groups and bringing-together of hitherto apparently heterogeneous groups, breaking barriers of caste, community, regionalism and other umpteen factors.

The forte of Indian democracy is in the fact that one can?t predict the mind of the voters. Voter?s mind is a perennial mystery. He would have his own personalised reasons to vote the way he voted. In India, with the ?first-past-the-post? system of elections, and low voter turn-out in elections, the ?general mood? of the nation is not necessarily reflected in electoral outcomes. Yet Voters? verdict is ultimate in a democracy. Eminent economist Kenneth Arrow writes ? ?In a capitalist democracy there are essentially two methods by which social choices can be made: voting, typically used to make political decisions; and the market mechanism, typically used to make economic decisions.? Social choice theorists establish inherent dichotomies between individual choices and the collective outcomes, and one of the theories that emerged is the Median Voter theory.

An average Indian poor and middle-class voter, not tied down to any ideological or political commitments, is a median voter. Rather than the core-supporters of political parties, it is these ?floating voters? who determine the electoral fortunes. Any agenda or Public Policy has to necessarily appeal to their interests and concerns, and should be aimed at mobilising them into a committed vote bank. Social scientists state that ?the median voter model can be regarded not only as a convenient method of discussing majoritarian politics and a fruitful engine of analysis, but also as a fundamental property of democracy.?

How can we address the needs of the median voter in our political discourse? A typical median voter is utilitarian to the core, thanks to his life-long struggle to make ends and means meet. Not to say that symbolisms, emotive-issues and ideological dialectics have no value. But basically, man can think beyond the day only if he is assured of that day?s meals.

It goes without saying that amelioration of financial constraints and social compulsions of middle-class and the poor should be at the core of any Inclusive Majoritarian Vote Bank Agenda. Good governance, enhanced opportunities for employment, consistent purchasing power of money, affordable housing, efficient public utility services, improved infrastructure, social equality and good law and order situation are primary pre-requisites of any political discourse to consolidate the Vote Bank by mobilising the Median Voters. If we have a credible and committed leadership for the vote bank, these are the things that should be bargained from political parties, through competitive market strategies. It should not be limited to rhetoric but substantiated with concrete, time-bound, implementable action-plans.

Consolidation of a Majoritarian Vote Bank calls for dislodging the existing interest-groups and bringing-together of hitherto apparently heterogeneous groups, breaking barriers of caste, community, regionalism and other umpteen factors. Unity is at its best in adversity. Nothing can be a more cementing force between people and groups than commonly shared aspirations and commonly hazarded threats. For this we don?t need another Chinese invasion or the Kargil war. What we require is a strong bond of allegiance between constituent groups of the society strengthened by common aspirations to eradicate the threats of poverty, ignorance, and socio-economic backwardness.

The only way to break the barriers of caste and regionalism is to strengthen ?pressure groups? within the vote bank?the youth, the women folk, the urban poor, and the farmers. Their concerns and challenges are trans-regional and trans-communal. Problems of unemployment and lack of opportunities for the less privileged youth, problems of surplus purchasing power without consecutive quality of life and standard of infrastructure for the employed youth, need for identity and empowerment for the women, increasingly aggravating problems of urbanisation and consequent issues of urban poor, and the still vulnerable and un-reached agriculturists and rural poor should be the core of the agenda for the larger vote bank. And if we succeed in giving voice to their concerns, with due bargaining leverage with political parties, we can emerge as champions of these groups.

Sociologist K.L. Sheth introduces an interesting social phenomenon of ?Classisation of caste? in his essay ?Secularisation of the Caste and Making of New Middle Class?. He states that changing social dynamics have ?in their cumulative impact?made it possible for individual members of different castes to acquire new economic interest and socio-political identification and earn class-like and ethnic-like identities. Thus secularisation of caste, brought about through its de-ritualisation and politicisation, has opened up a third course for change. For lack of a more appropriate term I call it Classisation.? This is exactly a social movement towards consolidation of heterogeneous groups into an organic entity. And this is what a Majoritarian vote bank should be looking at. Just that it should be inclusive enough, representing even those who missed this bus of ?Classisation?.

Ideology is at its utilitarian best when it speaks about the basic necessities of man. Nothing appeals to a hungry man like a ?Garibi hatao?. The shift from ?Bhay, Bhookh aur Bhrashtachaar? slogan to ?India Shining? was indicative of changing priorities, and shifting the goal-posts before scoring the goal. And that proved very costly. The engine had definitely progressed much towards the destination. But somewhere on the way a few bogies were disconnected. At any given point of time, millions of Indians would be facing innumerable and indescribable quagmire of problems. What they require is a shoulder to cry on, a towel to wipe their tears, and a loving touch of reassurance. Elections are not carnivals to celebrate ?achievements?. These are occasions of charging up a weakening morale, helping up a sagging body and reassuring feebled hopes and dreams. And for the Parties and promoters of vote banks, occasions for introspection and auto-correction.

A typical median voter today is indifferent to the democratic process. His abstention from voting is leading to distortion in the voter market due to shift in the median line to either of the sides in the ideological spectrum, pulled by vested interest; thereby distorting the political agenda of the parties. In an increasingly bi-polarised politics today, a vibrant vote bank should ensure fullest participation of these masses, so as to actualise the median voter theorem which says that ? ??if all voters vote deterministically for the politician that commits to a policy-position closest to their own preference, and if there are only two politicians, then if the politicians want to maximize their number of votes, they should both commit to the policy position preferred by the median voter.? The median voter gets exactly what he wants- to the extent that the elected candidate will have to deliver on his promises. If only he can be awakened and asked to vote, thinkingly.

An enlightened leadership can play a very constructive role in converting the ?neither-nor? dilemma of the presently indifferent Median Voter to ?either-or? preference and choice, and then in capitalising on the huge bargaining power it gives in the Voter Market. Nothing can be more effective in making our development agenda effective and result-oriented.

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