Preparations for the Uttar Pradesh elections are on in full swing. Mayawati has taken an early lead, stumping rival parties completely by her proposal to divide the state into four parts. Other parties have been left speechless. At the very least, the BJP could have immediately made a counter-proposal for dividing the state into eight parts, the Congress could then say it was all for 16 parts, while the Samajwadi Party could take the game to an entirely different level by suggesting a break-up of the state into 132 different parts, of which Mulayam’s house could be one.
But this would be mere copycat tactics. To be really effective, they will have to come up with new ideas. Why not take a leaf out of Mamata’s book and ask for a change in the state’s name? Uttar Pradesh merely means Northern Province, a bland and boring name. The BJP could start a campaign for calling it Uttam Pradesh (Excellent Province), which sounds far more aspirational. But a proposal by a diehard Congress loyalist to change the name to Puttar Pradesh (Province of the Son) may backfire.
The BJP should also make it a point to distribute free lotuses to people, so that they remember which symbol to vote for. This strategy would allow them to steal a march over their rivals, as it would be very expensive for the BSP to give away free elephants, while things could turn very grisly if the Congress started to chop off hands to distribute them.
Promising free electricity and good roads no longer cuts any ice with voters. As the Tamil Nadu elections proved, what they want is free TVs, free mixer-grinders et al. Innovative ideas should be welcomed, such as the alleged proposal by a party (name withheld on request) to supply free opium to the electorate. The party spokesman pointed out the plan will have the additional merit of boosting trade ties with Afghanistan.
Funding for elections is another very important area where the right strategy can make the difference between winning and losing your deposit. One method would be to organise a lottery where, say, prizes could be given daily to whoever chooses the winning number from 0 to 9. The payout could be five times the amount bet and the party organising the lottery pockets the rest. Of course, the number of disgruntled losers would be far more than the winners, so it would be best to camouflage the party behind the lottery. For instance, if the Samajwadi Party organises the gambling, it could call it the Congress lottery, so that the losers vote against the Congress.
It’s also very important to have both the right caste equation and muscle power. The best way to get that perfect combination would be to scour the state’s jails for the right candidates. They could then ensure that people are adequately terrorised to vote for their party. Needless to add, an essential part of this strategy is to claim that all acts of violence were instigated by rival parties.
Finally, politicians must know how to manage the media. It would be silly to insist that journalists accompany you to hot and dusty election meetings deep in the rural heartland. Far better to organise meetings and morchas in Noida for them to cover, with candlelight marches as an added bonus. Candlelight marches look great on TV.
In fact, I am seriously thinking of setting myself up as an election consultant, offering such ideas impartially to all parties. Strictly cash, please.
( Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint )
The views expressed by the author are personal