April 12, 2021
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Elections, And Why The Joke’s Always On Us

Jobs, money, prime time promises and pernicious perfidy

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Elections, And Why The Joke’s Always On Us
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Elections, And Why The Joke’s Always On Us

Election time is upon us, usually good for a laugh or two but for the overhanging pall of Covid-19 and pollution-20 casting gloom and fear all round. But this hasn’t stifled the more ebullient urges of our leaders and wannabe leaders.

The young leader of the Bihar Mahagathbandhan (opposition alliance), Tejaswi Yadav says his government if elected will provide 10 lakh government jobs to people in the state. Somehow, we seem to be stuck at the figure of 10 since 2014 when Narendra Modi had promised the Indian voters 10 million jobs per year if they elected him to power. They did and he did not. Then it was all-India. Now it is 10 lakhs in Bihar alone.

Deviating from the norm of 10 after mocking Tejaswi’s offer to the voters, Bihar’s ruling NDA has come up with the rather more precise figure of 19 lakh jobs on the table should the voters re-elect its government. What stopped it from doing so these past five years only the devout Union Finance Minister knows, seeing the hand of God as she does in every calamity big or small.

In the meantime, India lost about 22 million salaried jobs this last year. And that is for real. And this makes the political circus in Bihar rather more like a poker Teen Patti game during Diwali involving tipsy gamblers playing blind and bluffing away to glory. It’s easy to predict that one side or the other will get away with it and that by crook rather than hook after the votes have been counted. But this doesn’t mean the voter got fooled. It just means the voter had no choice between all the bluff-masters in the game.

And this provides us with an inkling of what explains the gap between electoral promises and reality. In this case we have broadly speaking two groups, one promising 10 lakh jobs and the other 19. Competitive bidding in the best traditions of modern capitalism, never mind the added issues of reservations. The bid itself is usually never decided by the election results since often there is not enough clarity. So, the next round becomes a closed-door affair with the two-top set of bidders competing to see who should be king of the castle and who the dirty rascal. In the process, a bunch of characters who had earlier stood and won, let us say, on the 10-lakh platform get induced away from that to the 19- lakh platform or vice versa. A government is then formed consisting of characters from both. It’s a mixed bag.

Even 10 lakh jobs would do as far as the ordinary Bihar voter is concerned but by now its “jobs for the boys and girls” considering the amount of money that’s been spent in deciding between one and other. Spend more money for the few needed to form a government than for the many on jobs.

This is India’s definition of the Elasticity of Employment, no longer equated with a percentage of economic growth. In fact, using that long outdated definition, it was near Zero as far back as 2012. In today’s terms it would be somewhere near Minus 10. The Elasticity of Employment is now based on government. Those who are in and those who are out. Which is why there is no money for anyone who is out and plenty in the form of bonus to “kick start” the near dead economy with “festival bonus” straight from the hand of God! It’s the Elasticity of Demand: the more money in Government the less needed for employment. More Government less Governance!

Election times were on us months ago, remember? When an unfortunate and promising actor did away with himself in Bombay months ago and then all hell broke loose? He was from Bihar, where the elections were in the offing. Events happened in Maharashtra where elections were over and the next one five long years away. His family in Bihar complained that his dead soul was not being given “justice” by the local police. A befuddled actress raised a ruckus saying one of India’s biggest industries, inappropriately labelled Bollywood was full of drug peddlers and addicts. That Bombay was like Pakistan occupied Kashmir.

The media in the form of television channels representing the voice of India cried out for blood. The CBI was in and the more than usually efficient (for India) Bombay police was out. What happened? Doctors from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences declared that the unfortunate actor had done himself in. After all that ruckus surprisingly, it no longer features in the news. The actress is back home in the hills.

Election time is on us once again (when is it not?) and the mind goes back several decades to a time when political “pundits” came into their own to analyse, visualise, conceptualise and verbalise what the outcome may be and then to rationalise the ultimate results if they had gone somewhat contrary to their original prognostications.

That was in the boring but gentler days of Doordarshan: one anchor and a couple of pundits preferably with differing points of view but not radically so. One didn’t want unholy shouting matches on the box those days between Chitrahar and Ramayan. And that was just on the one TV channel. The “pundits” were there next, boringly in their full glory holding forth in the morning’s newspapers.

Democratic India got through it all despite the dark and despotic Emergency, despite the wildly popular Bobby, being rerun on Doordarshan during the final campaign. That was the day when Babu Jagjivan Ram (who remembers him these days?) was addressing an election rally in Delhi with five other Central ministers who had left Indira Gandhi’s cabinet. The next morning’s newspapers declared that Babu had beaten Bobby! The media had clearly seen through the message. But then print was still independent.

Then came the mushrooming growth of private television channels in various languages, prime time and the need for more optics in the studio and the screen. Figures began flashing up and down and scrolls crawling continuously both horizontally and vertically along the screen like caterpillars that had ingested large amounts of radium.

The “pundits” receded into the background overshadowed by psephologists juggling figures with the skills and aplomb of a Harry Houdini:-- now you saw them and now you didn’t. And of, course there are the array of superstar anchors both asking and answering questions on behalf of a breathless nation “wanting to know” but never quite getting the actual answers. And that’s not surprising, since the answers, too, come in the shape of questions like Jewish rabbis in a convention.

To add to this rich mixture there are the party spokespersons all shouting at cross purposes and heckling each other and being heckled in turn by the anchors. One gets the distinct impression that if it were at all possible one or more of the warring parties would reach out from the studio and through the screen to grab one or more of the viewers by the throat. We know now that there’s often no one out there at the other end, many having been paid to keep their TV on without going through the actual trouble of watching.

Like some of the participants on TV shows these days, one wishes for the day of interactive TV where we could reach out through the screen and smother if not throttle the anchors. Surely quite a few in the Bombay police would feel the same? And surely much more satisfactory than simply pressing a button to shut out the ill-informed and incomprehensible cacophony?


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