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Sunday, February 12, 2012

An election rally in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh

by Naman Pugalia, Viral Shah and Ajay Shah.

We decided to experience the spectacle of Indian democracy, by going to an election rally in the Uttar Pradesh (UP) assembly elections. Elections in Uttar Pradesh are unbelievably big - in 2007 there were 110,654 polling stations, which gathered up 471 votes each (on average) into electronic voting machines (EVMs), adding up to 52 million votes. (For a comparison, the US presidential election in 2008 had 132 million votes). In UP, the 2012 elections are going to be much bigger than what was seen in 2007.

A microcosm of Uttar Pradesh. 
Deep inside the production function of the political campaign is the rally. From Gandhiji's public meetings to Nehru's memorable speeches, mass gatherings have been an integral element of political communication. Audiences pick up an array of subtle aspects of the voice, body language, and mannerisms of the speaker, through which a great deal is communicated other than the text of what is spoken.

On February 9th, we attended a rally organised by the Congress, where Priyanka Gandhi spoke. The meeting took place in Pari village in the Amethi district. This is a place so obscure that google maps does not know it.

A small rally, with a special platform for the media to mount cameras.
Perhaps 500 to 1000 people from Pari and neighbouring villages had assembled to hear Priyanka, who urged them to vote for their (incumbent) MLA from the Salon constituency, Balak Pasi. A strong media contingent was there, with both local and national media being represented. In 2007, this constituency was reserved for a scheduled caste (SC) candidate. Balak Pasi had won handily, with 45,078 votes compared with his rivals Asha Kishor of SP who got 31,969 votes and Dalbahadur of the BSP who got 26,588 votes.

As with a music concert, you have to warm up the crowd before the main act. Two local politicians kept the audience entertained before Priyanka arrived:

Local politicians, warming up the crowd before the main show.
Priyanka was fluent in Hindi, and was quite at ease. The well-rehearsed speech pitched Congress. There were two main planks of the speech: that UP had done badly with 22 years of non-Congress alternatives, and that Congress was doing good things for the people at the Centre but the failures of the BSP government had prevented these benefits from reaching them. It was a short, well-written speech: not a lengthy tiresome rant or ramble. The video you see ahead is from a different location, but the speech is essentially the same as what we heard.

Needs at least Flash Player Ver.9 to Play Download Here

The audience was not very engaged. We were told that audiences have not been too engaged with any political speaker after Gandhiji. After the speech, she stepped off the podium and walked towards the gathering to shake hands with a few awestruck attendees. In a few minutes, her convoy of SUVs, complete with SPG staff, sped off.

Everyone was comfortable.

UP has a bad reputation for law and order, but we were struck by the civility of the entire process. Everyone was comfortable. It was a day out for the family, and aided by the beautiful winter morning, people were smiling. There was no hint of violence, intimidation or fear.

If mass politics evolves in this direction, a lot more people would be comfortable getting involved in it. It was one more reminder of the importance of law and order as the foundation of democracy and civilisation: when politics involves violence, only the goons will participate in it. As Fareed Zakaria says, the courts are even more important than the elections.

In the olden days, politicians did a small number of speeches for big audiences. Meetings were announced many days in advance, and a large crowd took the trouble of going to the meeting venue. The world has changed. Small rallies are a much more intimate experience. They are also a security nightmare, owing to the very intimacy of the experience. At the same time, we felt that the security arrangements were non-intrusive.

With these small rallies, the politician comes to the audience. The speaker probably does 10 rallies a day, and thus touches perhaps 5000 people a day. Another feature of the new production function of political campaigns is television: A politician may do a speech for a small rally, but the omnipresent television cameras beam it all across Uttar Pradesh, to a vastly larger audience.

The rally was pretty nice, but at the same time, political parties in India are not professional organisations. There were numerous small issues where a relentless process engineering perspective could have added value. Politics in India is a bit like the way big companies used to be twenty years ago (and small companies are today). Big Indian firms have figured out how to graduate from mom and pop operations to professional organisations, how to write process manuals, setup instrumentation of the process in motion, and how to bring in high end brainpower to improve processes. That transformation of Indian politics -- from cottage industry to professional organisations -- has mostly not begun.

After the speech, the crowd peacefully dispersed.


  1. There were no local toddy sections? the ones i saw it was flowing like rivers along with biryani packets.

  2. Professionalisation of Indian politics just like the professionalisation of Indian business but where the owner firmly remains the owner and the politician and his son remain the politician and his son. Right?

    1. These are both interesting and yet distinct questions.

      The first order question is: The politician and his son are in charge, but is the organisation efficiently run? E.g. look at this interesting material. Holding ownership+governance intact, is the organisation at the production possibility frontier? My rough sense is that 20 years ago, a lot of big Indian companies were family run + inefficient. And that today, they remain family dominated,b ut the first order inefficiencies have been ironed out.

      The second and distinct question is about the evolution of the organisation away from family domination. That's also important, but it's orthogonal to the question about process analysis, process optimisation, etc.

    2. Agreed with the first part of the question's response.
      As with Business, so with the Business of politics - Indians have figured out the 'efficient' way of running things is to hire Professionals and then manage the big picture - that is good - because it keeps improving the process and eliminates wastage.
      Also alas the second question cannot be answered positively yet - in my opinion we are ages away from change that will remove family/clan/fief/caste control of politics away from a group to truly passionate people driven by policy change and to make life better for their fellow humans.

      Also another thing - you perhaps did not catch the real 'motivator' behind the poor showing up - its mainly wads of cash, country liquor, sarees and such that are doled out before the rally - and typically its done in the village or town at the local level.

  3. the author shall play safe and not talk about economics of such rallies. Particularly non cadre based parties.What is the money spent per participant. During one such Sonia Gandhi rally in Goa,as per a driver who attended and got rewarded,Aam aurat and admi was payed Rs 200 and free food. An estimated 50,000 people attended. Work out the maths.

  4. Furniture wrapped in white cloth (e.g; the stage in one of the pics above) is a big red flag to me, I don't quite know why!


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