The Wise Indian Voter?

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Disclaimer: I am sorry, this time round I shall not be able to tell you whether I am being serious or comical? I myself don’t know.

In 1907 Wilhelm Von Osten, a German mathematics teacher demonstrated the numerical skill of his horse Hans - Clever Hans as it later came to be known throughout Germany - and caused a minor sensation.

But diligent scientific investigations proved that the horse was keenly observing his trainer and responding to the cues from his body language to nod at the correct answer.

The Clever Hans syndrome had its brief period of fame, but it did provide an important methodology in conducting animal intelligence experiments. Observer-expectancy effect is widely used in studies in animal cognition.

JD-U leader Nitish Kumar campaigning in 2014. (Top photo: BJP leader Sushil Kumar Singh canvassing for 2014 Lok Sabha elections in Aurangabad in Bihar).JD-U leader Nitish Kumar campaigning in 2014. (Top photo: BJP leader Sushil Kumar Singh canvassing for 2014 Lok Sabha elections in Aurangabad in Bihar).

Every now and then the Indian voters vote one way or the other and the results naturally go in favour of one party/group or the other. Predictably, the results throw the commentators, analysts, strategists and believers in democracy into raptures. A lot of inspirational verbiage, heavy jargon and statistical tools like bar graph, pies, chart and scatter diagram are all yoked by violence together to establish, scientifically, the wisdom and the perspicacity of the voter.

The act of unseating the ruling charlatan is taken as an evidence of the maturing of democracy just as installing him five or ten or fifteen or twenty years earlier had then been declared an act of great maturity. It seems that the primal state of immaturity is the default position of the Indian voter, the state of equilibrium, the state of maximum entropy to which having shown its maturity on election eve, he quietly retires.

The fact of the matter is that the voters’ choices are no more intelligent than that of Clever Hans or the roadside fortune telling parrot.

The high costs involved and the mammoth organising capability required to make an all India presence, has already narrowed the choice of acceptable alternatives to the two major political alliances. The paid media has ensured that you don’t know a thing about them for sure and you have to vote by blind instinct or prejudice. Those who know both could describe them only in the memorable phrase of Stalin: “they are both worse.”

The voters respond to certain inducements, blandishments or subliminal appeals. Loan waiver, free electricity, free laptop, free liquor, freedom to smooch in the Echo Park or Sanjay Gandhi Udyan (a great vote catcher among the young in Bihar sometime back), Mandir, Masjid, Mandal, Kamandal, caste, community, are some surefire formulas.

At the end of the day long association with power has the same effect as living in the same underwear for long: they both stink and need to be changed, purely in the interest of hygiene. Nothing clever or exciting about that! If you take elections for what they are – a farce, a masked ball, a carnival, you can enjoy them as the most memorable show on earth.

"Free elections", says the maverick thinker, commentator and polemicist Slavoj Zizek, "involve a minimal show of politeness when those in power pretend that they do not really hold the power, and ask us to decide freely if we want to grant it to them."

For full participation, the pretense must be taken very seriously. You must prattle in your dunce’s cap pretending it be a crown. (I remember a line of a song I heard as a child: "Mat kaho ki sir pe topi hai, ye kaho ki sir pe taj hai."

My generation was indoctrinated in this business of topi pahanna and pahnana as children. The would-be tormentor/oppressor/excoriator would appear behind the mask of a servant, a chowkidar, a benefactor, a reformer, a pauper and beg for your vote. The electorate must play his role of prince with all the seriousness at his command and having granted the supplicant – pauper - his vote be prepared to be heard no more. Those like me who can see the tree for the wood enjoy democracy as a farce, and those many who don’t, suffer it as tragedy.


India Today magazine once referred to Manoje Nath, a 1973-batch IPS officer, as being fiercely independent, honest, and upright. Besides his numerous official reports on various issues exposing corruption in the bureaucracy in Bihar, Nath is also a writer extraordinaire expressing his thoughts on subjects ranging from science fiction to the effects of globalization. His sense of humor was evident through his extremely popular series named "Gulliver in Pataliputra" and "Modest Proposals" that were published in the local newspapers.

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