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Passing The Exam

Reports go that the above song, Mehangai Dayan from Peepli Live has had offers from the political parties in opposition. No wonder with the so called 'strike' requiring the opposition to put all its goons to force, it is clearly evident that the UPA-II is difficult to defeat in spite of the current state of affairs.

Is the UPA-II performing too well for a government to sit at peace cooling its heals. Hell no! UPA-II is definitely a different animal as compared to a typical Congress Govt. It is far more dynamic, its ministers have new ideas - yet, it is reaping benefits of a global wave towards investing in the developing world, not to mention the benefits from momentum of past governments, Vajpayee's NDA govt included.

But what is making the UPA-II govt tick and lie in peace is a fragmented opposition which is busy infighting - whether its the NDA or the BJP within the NDA or the communists or the SP-vs-BSP feud.

Politics in a democracy is hardly ever about performance - its about playing strategic moves to meet the numbers. Democracy is not like a competitive exam where you MUST score more than all your rivals to make it to the top. Democracy is more like the qualifying exam where you just need to get past minimum marks in each subject.

To make a analogy more perfect, consider exams which require you to answer 6 out of 10 questions. You never need to know your complete syllabus to pass such an exam - you simply need to know enough so that you know answers to at least 6 most likely questions. Similarly, in a democracy, the ruling party must manage to get past the 50% mark in the parliament. With each major party having its own stronghold state - it pretty much boils down to who is able usurp the other in its stronghold.
The master strategists in each state also realize that even the above does not require support of 50% population in the state. All you need to win more than 75% seats in a state, is make sure to get the caste equations right in just 50% of your non-traditional constituencies. More so, your candidate in each constituency wins even if he secures (far) less than 50% of total vote. This is helped further if you have more than 2-3 contenders for the constituency - contenders who shall not win the election, but shall definitely snatch votes from the nearest challenger to your candidate.
Congress for years had some master strategists in it, who were able to exploit this "political strategy of pass marks"* to avoid falling below the 50% mark at the national level; and when it did slip away, there was no-one left to claim the spoils, leaving the nation twiddling between multiple coalitions.

In 1998, it was by a stroke of luck that the BJP managed to get past the 180 seats marks; it was then for the first time that someone apart from the Congress used the "political strategy of pass marks". BJP strategists forged deal after deal to bring about a government with BJP at its center. However, the key then was that - there was no deal making required within the BJP itself.

In the last elections, while the Congress did increase its share of seats and had an overall better performance than the BJP - its rise could be credited more to the weakness of the BJP and the absence of "pass marks strategists" in BJP (demise of Pramod Mahajan, inaction of Govindacharya and Kalyan Singh) that lead to this feat.

So, what's the conclusion? I believe that we need a stronger opposition and by stronger - its not so much about seats or the number of hours of Bandh (read: the number of Goons you have) that I am asking for; we need a concerted opposition which in effect requires master strategists in at least the large political groups to rally the rest of the opposition around issues which matter to the people. We need a Kautilya in the opposition who can "prevent the Government from running amuck". Let me end with a symbolic anecdote:
OPPOSITION, n. In politics the party that prevents the Government from running amuck by hamstringing it.
The King of Ghargaroo, who had been abroad to study the science of government, appointed one hundred of his fattest subjects as members of a parliament to make laws for the collection of revenue. Forty of these he named the Party of Opposition and had his Prime Minister carefully instruct them in their duty of opposing every royal measure. Nevertheless, the first one that was submitted passed unanimously. Greatly displeased, the King vetoed it, informing the Opposition that if they did that again they would pay for their obstinacy with their heads. The entire forty promptly disemboweled themselves.

"What shall we do now?" the King asked. "Liberal institutions cannot be maintained without a party of Opposition."

*PS: Interestingly, it is the same "pass marks" strategy that has played a role in the recent elections in UK to bring about the first Tory-Liberal coalition.


  1. Amazing!!
    Yes, indeed we need a Kautilya in opposition but how will this dream be materialized is still a mystery to me. In history, “Kautilya” prepared/educated Chandra Gupta but today‘s he is looking at Indian public in a hope for support/power. Less voting percentage and ignorance from educated class are root causes of current bad shaped political/governance system. Is ultimate responsibility only lying with political parties?
    Indian public must be held accounted for our miserable political system!

  2. Interesting. Have you read my take on the issue?


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