India is a country that thrives on emotions. If you strike a chord with one person, you strike a chord with an entire community. And elections—the grand festival of democracy—is the biggest example of it. In the recently concluded Assembly elections, the BJP’s sway in the ‘Hindi heartland’ of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh reflected how nationalist sentiments, passionate speeches and striking slogans have an impact on the voting tendencies. Be it ‘Mama’ Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s influence on his ‘Ladli’ women voters in Madhya Pradesh or the Modi factor that snatched the Congress votes in Chhattisgarh, it is not simply the promises made but the narrative they drive that seems to have worked in favour of party winning the polls.
In Outlook’s July 2023 issue titled ‘Politics and Emotions’, Ajay Gudavarthy wrote about a rising ultra-Right in India and its cultural nationalist politics, which he says is a symptom, and not the substance of the current uncertainty. “It is part of the crisis and not its resolution. The crisis is much larger than what is represented by the Rightwing political mobilisation. If the global rise of the Right is a part and not the (exclusive) source of the crisis, then we need to locate the consent to what has come to be the illiberal turn as part of a larger change the world is undergoing,” he writes.
In an article titled 'Vermillion for Votes', Outlook's Anisha Reddy reported about how, over the past few years in Telangana, there are families who have been getting frequent “uninvited” visitors—some Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) volunteers, men and sometimes women—who inquire about their health and well-being, carrying with them plates containing vermillion, a blouse piece and some saffron threads—all neatly arranged. These volunteers quietly go across the town, into the deserted lanes jam-packed with houses, inside people’s homes, as if they knew them all along.
In another article in the issue titled ‘House Calls’, Outlook reported about the Sangh Parivar’s new strategy that taps into the psychological triggers of voters and exploits their voting patterns. The article delves into how the RSS tries to evoke Kama Muta—an emotion described as ‘being moved’, ‘heart-warming’, ‘stirring’ or ‘being emotionally touched’—through political advertisements in the vernacular to invoke the feeling of rapture associated with the fusion of a collective body.
Emotions influence an individual’s decision-making capacity and process, irrespective of their rationality. It is not only the BJP that has mobilised the masses through emotions, but Congress too has tried to capture the emotion of love to counter the polarisation tactics it accuses the BJP of.
Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra was the biggest example of this. Addressing a rally at Nuh in Haryana in January, Gandhi had said, “When these people go out to spread hatred in this country, people of our ideology go out to spread love and affection”. The Congress has been banking on Gandhi’s message of love and uniting people against the “hate politics” of the BJP. Unfortunately, the attempts seem to have been falling flat so far.
In light of the national enthusiasm around elections, as we head for a bigger poll season early next year, Outlook looks back at its July 21, 2023, magazine issue to illustrate how emotions have had a central role in Indian politics and continue to be so today.