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Seven Rules of Populist Politics

Debraj Bhattacharya

Updated: February 7, 2014, 9:30 PM IST
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You want to enter politics and transform your country? You want to be a popular politician? You want to be seen on television every evening? Here are seven golden rules that you need to follow in order to achieve success.
1. Create an easy to understand villain

Remember that politicians you are competing with are not just your "opposition." That is too tame a word. They must be converted into a "villain", the archetypical "bad guy". Whether it is a comic book version of Ramayana or a popular film like Sholay what makes a narrative a hit is the villain. In populist politics too, the villain is very important. If you cannot show before your prospective voters a villain who is responsible for all the bad things happening to them, all their misery and their poverty, then you do not stand a chance in populist politics. However while creating the villain if you focus on something abstract - an economic system for example - then also you do not have a chance. Your villain should be ideally a person or a group of persons. Then create a story which will be partially based on facts but also would employ intelligent editing techniques in order to create a Ravana or a Gabbar Singh or Joker. Employ a team of intellectuals to write articles and speak on the TV to create this story and keep hammering it again and again.

2. Create a larger than life super-hero avatar

Once you have created a villain, your next job is transform yourself into a super-hero, who will vanquish the villain. Again you must assign a team of experts to create amazing stories about how an ordinary individual (you) was transformed into a super-hero. Like the shy guy who becomes Spiderman. Remember that you must avoid any detailing that will reveal flaws in your character, the super hero must not have any bad habits; ideally he or she should have sacrificed everything for the sake of the "people". At the same time you must demonstrate that super-hero is capable of extraordinary achievements and is perfectly capable of slaying the villain. With the help of the "people" of course. So you have the story set. The hero versus the villain. Remember that this story must not be limited to an electoral victory only although that's what you are aiming for. But you must project that this is a larger battle - development versus backwardness, nyaya versus anyaya.

3. Appeal to emotion rather than intellect

This is the underlying principle which all advertisers, television serial makers, box-office smashing film directors, pop-stars follow. Forget the intellect, forget reason, forget nuanced arguments. What you have to appeal to is the heart of the people who will support you. They must feel that you are fighting their battle; you are sacrificing your life for them. They must cry for you, smile when you smile, go crazy when you wave at them. Of course you will use reason but only to make an emotionally appealing point. So don't bother about issues like 5-year plan or budget deficit, quality education for first generation learners or boring terms like decentralisation of power etc. Talk about empowerment. Talk about how the ordinary down trodden will be able to lead a life of honour and dignity if you come to power. How the nation/state/community will once again rise. How a golden time is not far away. Once the villain is slain there shall be light.

4. Avoid complexity

Be clear-cut. No fancy qualifying sentences like "they worked for the first ten years but then they became corrupt". Say "ever since they came to power they have been corrupt". Don't say "if we come to power then we shall do our best to improve the condition of the slums within the limitations of the budget and the overall national policy". Say "if we come to power all slums will get water and electricity within 100 days". If your message is not clear-cut and simple it will be lost. It will create confusion and doubt. Your message should be as clear and as powerful as "Thanda matlaab Coca Cola" or "Just do it".

5. Create melodramatic situations

Melodrama is the crux of popular cinemas well as populist politics. Remember the final sequence in Sholay when Gabbar loses to Sanjeev Kumar? A big fight takes place between good and evil. The police come to arrest only at the end. Sholay would have flopped if Sanjeev Kumar would have informed the police about Gabbar and they would have come and arrested him. Similarly in populist politics you must create situations where there will melodramatic fights between good and evil. That's what the media also loves to show or report on. You can choose your methods - hunger strike, dharna, sinking yourself in water etc. Know what will work when.

6. Deliver quick visible results

If you have come to power after winning an election your first task must be to deliver some quick results. Again avoid complexity. Don't go into the complex issues like policy reform, administrative reforms, streamlining of taxation, setting long-term goals for the economy, capacity building of your cabinet ministers, etc. Forget long term policy measures. Nobody remembers them. Within 7 days deliver certain visible results for the poor but don't do anything that will upset the rich. Do something for poor girl students, give water connection to the slum dwellers, inaugurate new flyovers. Don't talk about police reform, suspend a few policemen. Create a feeling that lot of things are happening. Create the feel good factor. There is no romance more potent than the romance of development.

7. Publicise, Publicise, Publicise

Your work will speak for you is an old idea Sirji. You must have a team of propagandists who will create a storm on print media, electronic media, facebook and twitter about how you are able to deliver quick justice and what are the wonderful things that are about to happen. You must be on the front page. It does not matter whether it is good publicity or bad publicity; all publicity is good publicity in the end.
So go ahead. The nation is waiting for you.
First Published: February 7, 2014, 9:30 PM IST