Desperation and the fallacy of post hoc, ergo propter hoc politics
By Shankkar Aiyar | Published: 06th October 2013 06:59 AM |
Competition is good. A decade of drift makes decisions, even autocracy, seductive. Add unpredictability, the potential of 120 million first-time voters—that is, more than six of 10 votes polled by the BJP and Congress together in 2009 —and you ratchet up uncertainty. They say fear causes confusion and confusion makes your worst fears come true. The tell-tale signs of confusion, the words and acts of desperation are unmistakable.
Nonsense makes it to the marquee of eloquence and, surreally, makes a lot of sense. Shrivelled by shareholder activism of the Sarbanes-Oxley kind, the party flips stance mid-sentence to oppose its own government. Grand exhortations about pride aside, the appointed make the U-turn, as if to the tune of Abide with Me. The Opposition and the allies, stranded in the script, in the dubious company of the government, race dumbfounded for new lines. The ostensible novice manufactures his Warhol moment.
Notwithstanding all the rant and rhetoric, the pitch is unconvincing. Really, who are they kidding? Where was the party and, more importantly, where was the Opposition—barring the BJD and CPI—when the bill was introduced in Parliament? The BJP did protest, some say too much, but couldn’t deliver its point. Who prepared the bill? Who referred it to the select committee? Who authored and authorised the ordinance?
You could argue better late than never. True. So why not take the campaign further—accept the 1998 recommendation of the Election Commission, repeated in 2004—and bar candidates facing charges of heinous crimes from polls. Are the parties really against criminalisation? In the past 10 years, political parties have given tickets to 7,065 candidates (Source: ADR/Verma Commission/ECI) facing charges of heinous crimes. And for all the pious verbiage, has anyone heard any political party—either side of the fence—promising not to give tickets to those charged with corruption or heinous crimes? So exactly what is being proposed or indeed opposed?
Or indeed why a policy is crafted or not. On Friday, the Cabinet cleared the creation of two states and said that for the first 10 years, Hyderabad will be the capital—that is, Seemandhra shall be ruled from the capital of Telangana (it occurs to none that two capitals can be created). Almost four years after the first stutter, the UPA, it would seem, has arrived at a decision that leaves its own ministers and all sides unhappy. Neither do we know whether “smaller states are better” is the stated policy. In 2004, when the Congress promised the TRS, the government spoke about a commission for reorganisation of states. No word about that either. Contrast this with the smooth transition in the creation of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand states. And that is because the objective was to address economics and geography—not electoral disadvantages or what is now called the ‘Jagan factor’.
The air now reeks with the scent of anxiety and cynicism! The objective, it would seem, is to curry favour rather than carve change. It is classic post hoc, ergo propter hoc thinking—Latin for, “after this, therefore because of this”. In simple terms, it is the manipulative art of confusing cause and consequence. In Indian politics, this leads to mistaken assumptions of what leads to what, which rhetoric or optics delivers which vote.
Rewind to E-2004. The result was the consequence of simple arithmetic: the Congress added allies and the BJP lost them, ergo the UPA ousted the NDA. That is not conventional political wisdom, however. The BJP believed it was voted out by its reforms and has since harangued about liberalisation. The Congress interpreted the defeat of India Shining as a signal to expand the nanny state with doles, sops and waivers in the guise of inclusive growth. Cut to 2009. The UPA is voted back. It is enabled by spoilers who split the vote in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, but the Congress believes it was the sops that delivered them the extra seats.
The three issues that top any poll of voters as concerns are: inflation, employment and corruption in government. While the public rant is about these issues, the political discourse and decisions are all about votes. This regime has simultaneously claimed a fall in poverty and passed an expanded food entitlement to extend its electoral footprint. It has dodged administrative reforms but announced the next pay commission to cajole government servants. We know investments are stalled for want of land and that this has impacted growth. The new land acquisition laws make it worse. The point is not just about what the Congress has engineered for electoral gain, it is also to about what the Opposition has allowed fearing electoral pain.
Politics cannot merely be a series of counter arguments. Politics must necessarily promote solutions, resolve issues. For India’s voters, E-2014 could well be a benchmark year if parties are corralled into competing corners—to state what they stand for and not just what they stand against. Willy-nilly, the Congress has occupied one end of the political mindspace, espousing the case for entitlements. The party’s spin doctors have brazened past scams and accusations. The challenge for the BJP is immense. It involves more than organising walk-outs and delivering petitions to the President. It needs to author a template to prove that it is, well, different.
Shankkar Aiyar is the author of Accidental India: A History of the Nation’s Passage through Crisis and Change