In Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, Boss Tweed (Jim Broadbent) says, “Remember the first rule of politics. The ballots don’t make the results, the counters make the results. Keep counting”.
After reading the creative interpretation of every electoral verdict in the last five years or so, I feel if the film was written for today’s politics, Boss Tweed would have said, “The interpreters make the results. Keep interpreting”.
Some of the most creative interpretations in the last three years include calling NDA’s spectacular win in 2014 a “minority vote” based on voting percentages, calling Brexit “leave” verdict ‘lazy, stupid, irresponsible government giving the keys to the mob and sitting back’ .
And now, of course, the simple act of legislators of the single largest party electing their Chief Minister in the state of Uttar Pradesh is being seen as a hijacking of the people’s mandate.
As a common man, I must admit a sense of unease over this era of interpreting empirical results to suit one’s ideology.
Rhetoric at its Best
One important stipulation before we proceed: Anybody who doesn’t approve of Yogi Adityanath (or Donald Trump or the “leave” team) has an inalienable right to disagree with the majority. Free speech is a principle of individual justice, and it doesn’t give a toss about popular approval. In fact, its finest moments are often created when standing alone.
Having said that, any objective discussion on these results would be incomplete without recognising the inconsistencies of these arguments, as well as the pitfalls created by them.
To start with, while you have a right to say that the UP verdict (as an example) is one you disagree with, claiming that such a result is evidence that the democracy itself is corroded (as Mr PB Mehta did in his recent piece), amounts to indulging in a very dangerous game of rhetoric at the very least.
In this age of inflexible world views, very often the mandates are seen as evidence of morality, or lack thereof, of the people voting instead of those seeking votes. If you view voters (irrespective of their political affiliations) as a majority, and critics like Mr Mehta as the minority (purely from a numbers perspective), then I think it is very dangerous to allow the morality of a larger group to be decided by a small group with a dog in the fight.
Fans of Dissent
If refusing to accept an election result is renunciation of democracy, then this abandonment is only partial. That is, while these people do not particularly like elections that are integral part of a modern democracy, they are a big fan of another distinctive feature of democracy – dissent.
If you assume that the objective of dissent is to bring about a change in the status quo, I would argue that attempting to bring a change, while denying the legitimacy of the instrument of change, is self-contradictory.
When Intellectuals ‘Reject’ the Mandate
The other, and far more worrying part of this argument is that invariably this rejection of mandate comes soon after the results are declared. So while Clinton supporters insist that Trump stole the election since their candidate won more votes than him, they very conveniently forget the fact that Clinton’s camp was aware of the rules of engagement beforehand.
If the election was decided on popular vote instead of the Electoral College, perhaps both campaigns would have devised different strategies. Claiming that the vote tally would not have changed under different rules of engagement is indulging in the worst form of self-deception.
In the recently concluded UP elections too, many mainstream media journalists are claiming that the result would have been different had Yogi Aditynath’s name been announced during the campaign phase.
There is no evidence to support this claim.
A five-time MP, Yogi Adityanath addressed more rallies across the state than any other CM aspirant. If you were interested, the signs that he might be in the fray for the top job were visible.
Denying the legitimacy of the vote on the basis of the choice of CM helps no one, as on one side it refuses to acknowledge the aspirations of millions of voters, and on the other side, it gives false hope that had Modi and co not deceived the public at large by not announcing the CM candidate, the election would have thrown a completely different result.
Politics of Cynicism vs Politics of Hope
And while it is easy and intellectually far more appealing to reject common people’s choice as a result of some sort of mass hysteria, the evidence points in the other direction. Time and again, elections have proved that voters are far more influenced by core issues of roti-kapda-makan than by calls to join civilizational survival battles.
And therein lies the biggest strength of seeking the people’s mandate at regular intervals. The old adage of you can’t fool all of them all of the time, is literally true.
While addressing the Democratic National Convention in 2004, then Senator Barrack Obama asked – “Do we participate in politics of cynicism or politics of hope?”
To me, that sounds like a good question to ask yourself before interpreting electoral results you don’t like.
Source: Pew Research Center
(The writer is an investment professional, author and stand-up comedian. He can be reached @freentglty. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own.The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)