ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
-A A +A

Emotionalising Indian Voters

Success has valid reason on its side while failure requires emotions as its justification.


Political parties contesting general elections in India seek to mobilise voters’ support by focusing on the failures of the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The opposition parties’ critique of the BJP does have moral significance inasmuch as it has substance that is validated by the failures of the incumbent party. The opposition parties, in their appeal to the voters, do not require the support of emotions because valid reason seems to be on their side. Interestingly, the BJP and its allies have to depend heavily on emotions as their appeal to the voters lacks reason, which they would have brandished had they been successful in fulfilling the promises that they had made in 2014. In order to avoid this moral embarrassment resulting from their failure, the BJP seems to have chosen to excessively use emotions in order to deflect the attention of the voters from reason, which demands valid justification from the party. The BJP election campaign is heavily filled with emotional issues such as devotion to combative nationalism. The increasing internal realisation that the BJP does not have valid reason other than overt confidence boosted by pre-election surveys, makes the desperate incumbent party focus more on emotional issues without caring for the election code of conduct. The BJP has been trying to mobilise voters in favour of its electoral success by capturing and controlling electronic and social media, while also ensuring a disproportionate degree of publicity in the print media.

However, the wider a party’s sweep in capturing the major sources of propaganda and the louder its leaders’ election speeches, the more certain is its realisation that the ears of millions of voters refuse to be receptive to its shrillness. This is so because we can expect voters who are capable of being rational to deploy their decisive cognitive powers to distinguish between what is virtuous or sincere and vicious or superficial in such election speeches. As has been proved in the recent past, voters have been rational enough to realise that such speeches are filled with passion and emotive motives rather than reason. The hate component of the speeches will definitely colour the democratic character of the government, if such parties are given another chance to rule. The incumbent party seeks to denounce the opposition by inflicting on them moral injury of hate and contempt. Of course, such emotional onslaught is backed by crooked, and not sound, reason. As we have seen earlier too, parties with a combative instinct become more intense as the campaigns near the polling phase. In the context of growing emotionalisation of electoral politics, one needs to ask the question: What is the BJP’s perception of the voters? And what should be the self-perception of the voters? Should a party decide the issues for the voters and, more importantly, why should voters accept such a state of affairs?

The BJP is deciding which issues are important for the voters and their priority. But, its own priority of course cannot be the priority of the voters. Such unilateral announcements, however, deny the voters the cognitive capacity to decide which issues are important for their dignified existence. Such a perception by the party reduces enlightened voters to the level of irrationality wherein voters do not seem to know what is urgent and not so urgent for them. However, it is their experience of a hard, harsh, and difficult life caused by the devastating policies of the incumbent government, that is a constant reality.

A party treats voters as irrational objects because it expects them to vote for it and its allied parties despite having failed to deliver during the last five years. In this context, voters must take a rational view aided by moral judgment. Accordingly, they have to be generous enough to acknowledge that it is pointless to repose faith in a party that has no capacity to deliver. Voters have recognised this in the past and need to do so this time as well. They must show that they have the cognitive capacity to judge wisely to vote for the party that has the capacity to not only deliver but also the ethical stamina to apologise for not delivering.

The voters’ collective responsibility, therefore, involves a need to keep the parties on probation. They need to assess the performance of the party periodically and not episodically once in five years.

The pressing needs of the poor do not allow them to experiment with a party for another five years, especially a party that has made only false promises without giving any account of their failure in fulfilling them. Experimenting with such a party for another five years would amount to being irrational and indulging in an electoral exercise in self-deception.

For marginalised sections, a state with a redistributive function has become all the more important as the market has failed to improve their conditions. They have to be rational enough to realise that making individual choices based on caste, language, and communal ideology would amount to conceding too much to parties whose narrow politics would not give us a government that has sincerity and sensitivity. Individual interests are safe only in the act of collective voting for a sincere, sensitive, and responsive government, which can promise a radical transformation of individual interest into the collective good that is the backbone of democracy.

Updated On : 16th Apr, 2019


(-) Hide

EPW looks forward to your comments. Please note that comments are moderated as per our comments policy. They may take some time to appear. A comment, if suitable, may be selected for publication in the Letters pages of EPW.

Back to Top