Thursday, February 02, 2017

How to Vote

In the run-up to the Goa state elections, my Facebook feed was deluged - as was I am sure, everyone else's - with posts of different hues pertaining to elections and election campaigning. As I read through the posts and the views aired by people and their reasoning, I felt compelled to share my thoughts on what I felt should come into play when we make our choice.

Here are the parameters that will guide my final decision (blue are the ones that I will let influence my choice; red are ones I will make sure do not influence my choice).

Manifesto - sure, this is a quickly-forgotten document if/once elected, but it gives you an important window into the party's/candidate's thought-process and mindset. It  serves as a good measure of the pedigree & pragmatism of the claims. It gives you a fairly good view of the maturity of the party/candidates, how narrow or broad their horizons are, how genuine/deep or how artificial/hollow their claims are. It tells you whether there is a clear purpose of whether their goal is a mish-mash of suggestions stitched from different sources. This is much like the prospectus of educational institutions or hoardings for hotels on the highway or advertisements by real-estate developers. Educational institutions that "guarantee 100% placement" for instance are to be assessed closely. So would educational institutions that make claims of sprawling campuses in the heart of a large city - unless it is a really old and established institution, either the campus isn't sprwaling or it is nowhere in the city. Or a hotel that advertises "attached bathroom" or "24-hours hot water" or "cable TV" - if an attached bathroom, 24-hours hot water or cable TV is what the hotel thinks sets it apart from the competition, it says a lot of the statute of the hotel. Or real-estate projects that offer "guaranteed rent of Rs. x per month for y months" - how can any one fall for such claims, let alone make such claims? Of course, sometimes claims are bold or trailblazing and maybe a reflection of a bold vision - but if so, the party's/candidate's track record and/or a credible plan that they can show will come into play before I give them benefit of doubt.

If a manifesto starts by telling you why another party is bad, that would usually be a dead giveaway that the party/candidate has nothing concrete to offer.

Despite the apparently-low sanctity for this document within the party itself, I would still give it importance - in today's day & age, an elected Government will - even in the worst case - be compelled to do something to claim that they have delivered on their manifesto. If that is riddled with meaningless/misguided claims, then I will know whom not to vote for. 

Economics - I have two pet peeves on this one: freebies and inflationary pressures

Beware of Pandora's Box
(a) Freebies watch out for freebies, because there's truly no free lunch. Of course, one mustn't blame only the politicians - it is in our own psyche to celebrate and applaud the whole concept: grace marks, RTO agent, pulling rank to get our job done, unmetered electric connection through the local and so many more - we are wired to circumvent the system but hold others accountable to it. So freebies & populist measures have become a necessary evil in the arsenal of every political party and more so at election time - I get that and though I don't condone it, I am willing to live with it. What I will do however, is to look beyond the freebies and follow the money trail. Robbing Peter to pay Paul is bad enough. But if the whole arrangement is setup such that I get to be Paul today but have to be Peter tomorrow, the whole sham is going to unravel pretty soon. I find a lot of "welfare" schemes are just that - robbing Peter to pay Paul and everyone takes turns to be Peter and Paul. I also find a lot of claims about welfare schemes but no credible plan or even mention of where the money will come from.

(b) Inflationary pressures - it's amazing how many people want higher wages but lower prices. I just don't understand why people won't understand the fallacy in that argument. If my daily wage goes up 2x, so will the farm worker's, the lorry driver's, the garbage collector's and the postman's. Of course, I am over-simplifying it and dramatising but that's just the hard economic reality. 

Civics - let's not forget our high-school Civics - there are 3 branches of Government (Legislature, Executive and Judiciary) and a Seventh Schedule in the Constitution that defines a Union List (responsibilities of the Central Government), State List (responsibilities of the State Government) and a Concurrent List. Before we vent our ire or raise grievances, let's be clear about who plays what role. I have for example, seen Facebook posts expressing outrage on the Government for a decision of the Supreme Court. Or deriding a National Highway project (which is on the Union List) because some funds were not allocated for a project on the State List. This is both, sad and dangerous because it means we will not only make ill-informed decisions, but we will misdirect our ire with no consequence other than being an thorn in someone's flesh.

Administrative capability - focus objectively on the administrative capability or track-record of the candidate and not on whether s/he is nice to you, accepted your views, is known to your family. As with freebies, allowing sentiment, soft-qualities & political undercurrents to override objectivity & meritocracy is another malaise that plagues our psyche. And hence, the best-behaved boy becomes a group leader, you get to invited to judge a dance-competition (and you accept!) because you are a popular author, throwing garbage out of the window or parking badly is not okay unless it is done by your friend or family member and so on. This does not mean I expect every candidate to have some past experience in Government - we will never induct fresh faces with that criteria. Rather, it is important that they have had some sort of administrative experience or track-record somewhere - either in a corporate or some other institution.

Monkey Justice shared
from Curioso under the
Creative Commons License
Generalization & Hyperbole - we have of late become party to this very dangerous trend. The mining ban, the order on closure of liqour shops along the highway, the reactions to demonetisation, etc. are all results of this generalization without understanding the problem better and the propaganda around is a result of the hyperbole we have become experts at. It is not that there was no illegality and it is not that DUI deaths are trivial. It is not that demonetisation had no effect, nor is it that the demonetisation was implemented smoothly. But that does not mean every PIL is to be entertained and that does not mean you can put in jeopardy, millions of livelihoods based on half-baked shoddy Commission reports or PIL arguments. I find the media and we are happily indulging in the same kind of generalization - one misstep does not make a party or an individual incompetent or a criminal or a monster or a Hitler. Likewise, one brilliant idea or one well-executed project does not make a party or an individual a genius or a Nobel Prize winner or an angel or God.

If it is true that people get the Government they deserve, let's be deserving of a better Government! Vote wisely!