Finally Claiming Legitimacy

Whether boycottists like it or not, Indian parliamentary culture has come of age. It’s a fact of life! It’s now truly market-driven in every respect. Market has the potential to decay social morality but that doesn’t stand in its way of creating a more favourable social atmosphere for market-dependent vote, as the on-going 16th parliamentary elections show. After all two major contenders in the ensuing poll—Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—are bania parties. The idea of election for market suits them well. That election-based parties don’t really need cadres was the observation by the late Chandrasekhar decades ago. But nobody took Chandrasekhar’s remark seriously then. Modi apart, the ensuing general election is replete with too many niceties and paradoxes. The growing tendency of fielding apolitical persons, particularly sports and film stars and retired bureaucrats, by almost all parties, big or small, is now an accepted norm in electoral business. It is spreading like epidemic. But the point at issue is deployment of public relations and political consultancy firms by major as also minor parties, to campaign for their respective candidates is on the rise. They can turn bad things into good and vice-versa. As a result their services are in high demand. This is the power of propaganda machine otherwise well oiled by moneybags. These consultancy companies are image-makers and for some people they are image-destroyers as well. About 150 political consultants, rather managers, are said to be charging from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 50 lakh for each constituency for 543 seats. A huge business indeed as their turnover for a brief election season is anything between 700 and 800 crore. They are the people who gather voters’ profiling and prepare right propaganda materials and send right message to the target audience. How big foreign public relations firms are being utilised by big parties in election, is now an open secret. And the days are not far when security firms and professional killers will be openly hired by parties to exhibit show of muscle power, hopefully to champion ‘liberal democracy’. These days no election is fought, right from village-level panchayet to parliament, without muscle-power. Like medical packages, political consultancy companies are said to be selling packages at ‘reasonable’ prices to small and regional outfits this year even in small towns and cities, not to speak of metros that dazzle with propaganda blitz involving huge investment. The hard fact is that even left parties these days field fabulously rich candidates as their assets declaration shows. And they too are not averse to the idea of owning electronic media of their own to manufacture biased news items as a propaganda tool to popularise their parties. Newspapers owned by big business houses are there to promote their business interests and serve those parties by propagating sometimes outright lies and false reports, as a measure of future ‘fire insurance’. What matters most to liberals and democrats is how parties frequently resort to a system of ‘paid news’ in electoral market.

In a sense these consultancy firms follow the popular dictum of Mao—from the masses to the masses. In Indian political scenario vote shares, vote concentration, demographical composition, casteist and communal factors—all these issues count heavily in swinging voting pattern or what they call ‘wave’. Even if there is no possibility of wave in favour of someone, they can always create one. And these firms are in a better position to analyse relevant data otherwise essential to contest poll in a difficult and hostile terrain and suggest prescription (or manifesto) for the gullible.

For one thing this new area of business seems to have potential to expand in the coming days. They have come to stay permanently as the parties that win or lose don’t want to take the elections as one-time affairs. Candidates irrespective of their party affiliation, would like to win next time while those losing would like to know their lapses from the consultants for their next outing. With number of voters increasing every year, this business of consultancy thriving on poll strategy and tactics is likely to grow both horizontally and vertically to integrate itself with the globalised mechanism of public relations exercise in the future.

No doubt corruption this time became a talking point among young and new voters, thanks to the emergence of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Surprisingly, of all persons Mantek Singh Ahulwalia, Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission, took special pains while addressing a distinguished gathering at India Business Conference at the Columbia Business School last month—to identify the perception of big companies’ secret understanding with government as a daunting challenge in policy formulation. It is one way to tell the world that companies really do cozy deals with the persons in authority. AAP during its 49-day rule in Delhi had ordered CAG audit of power discoms and initiated action against Reliance Industries and Oil Minister Veerappa Moily in February charging them with behind the scene arrangement in fixing, rather hiking, gas prices. What Mantek Singh said in so many words was not to go for a drastic change in policy matters and existing practice of not so transparent functioning despite so many scams for a new government—he was somewhat naive at the prospects of Congress winning this time—‘‘a broad continuation of these policies will actually produce better results’’. At the end he, however, remained vague as to how to fight against the perception that a small number of corporate captains could manipulate government policies in their favour.

It is unlikely for any new government to do away with past and existing policies in a situation where corruption is a way of life for so many people. In truth even left parties look reluctant to fight corruption in high places, they have left it to new comers and not so leftist outfits like AAP. It is a matter of time they too would depend on market managers, not politically trained cadres, to spread their political influence and mobilise masses in their millions to create a more favourable ‘social atmosphere and cleaner government’.

Vol. 46, No. 43, May 4 -10, 2014