Current Public Administration Magazine (December - 2016) - How the times are changing

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Information & Communication Technology

How the times are changing

We recently surveyed a small village, Khaati, tucked away in a corner of Uttarakhand. It takes two days to get to Khaati from Delhi; electricity is yet to see any light here. When we asked residents what they most wanted, one of the top desires mentioned was television.

We were surprised. “We want to be a part of the world,” one villager explained. The desire for television marks not just a need for entertainment, but also a demand to be part of the information age. We live in times when news about what’s happening in other parts of the world is accessible and connectivity is possible. Little wonder then that the information age is influencing everything, including politics.

Consider how the average voter today has terrific amounts of information through phones, television and radio. This flood of information is changing how voters think and make decisions. And politicians and political parties are facing the effects of this changing thought process through unexpected election results, shifts in governance priorities and the rise of collective movements. Recent years have seen a particularly strong increase in such voter responses — intelligent parties should study these closely.
In Delhi, we saw the rise of a new party that had a non-political class of people.

The Aam Aadmi Party’s leader is an ex-bureaucrat whose strength was his non-political, corruption-free background. He brought in members who shared his vision. The first time AAP came to power, it was evident that people wanted a change from “politics as usual” — but the extent to which the voter has changed was truly reflected when Kejriwal was elected a second time, even though he had abruptly ended his first term. In choosing him again, the voter demonstrated that the way she thinks about politics and politicians had changed.

Delhi is not the only example. In Bihar, we saw the unexpected alliance of two arch rivals being accepted by voters, Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad joining forces in the last election. And finally, in his bid for national power, Narendra Modi was able to run a presidential-style campaign never seen before in India, and convince an overwhelming number of voters to support him, again, in a way we haven’t seen in Indian history.

These surprising results point to a larger, deeper trend amongst voters. With the deluge of information, voters are challenging status quo models of leadership and seeking alternatives. This is impacting governance as well. The central government is demonstrating that vividly. The unexpected announcement of demonetisation has shaken up India. During a time of relative economic calm, the decision to pull back notes in order to fight corruption is jolting. And while there are questions around the implementation of the programme, there is also unanimous agreement that this is a bold decision taken by the prime minister, following his surgical strikes on Pakistan, another decision applauded by most voters.

In fact, PM Modi is rapidly reforming the style of governance. He has introduced a series of major programmes, coupling these by asking voters to do their bit. For example, Modi has directly appealed to citizens to keep their communities clean and pay applicable taxes. This has resonated with voters. As BJP continues to win state elections, it is evident that the PM is echoing the sentiment of the people. Other parties, like AAP, are also taking up a similar model of governance, focusing on change by making previously unacknowledged sectors like education a priority.

Parties which are changing the way they offer policies clearly recognise that voters are no longer interested in business as usual — instead, they are looking for an active government, visibly working to improve their lives. And if parties fail to offer or implement this, voters won’t hesitate to express their discontent.

In fact, when the public feels discontented now, people take to the streets. From the Anna Hazare movement to the Hardik Patel campaign to the JNU protests, people have been unafraid to express their anger. Social media and communication tools (such as WhatsApp) have empowered people with the capacity to organise and unite quickly. The information age has instilled a fierce confidence and sense of equality as people learn about their own world and the one beyond. And in a more connected India, this will only increase with time.
Political parties that see these changes in voting patterns, in the push for new policies and increased protest movements are changing their own campaign and governance styles quickly. They are realising that voters are changing — and television is exposing them to a world beyond their households. However, those who continue on the same path of caste politics, disregarding how the world around them is changing, are doomed to struggle — and possible failure.

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