So, we are in 2010. Remember the presentations, plans, articles, studies and forecasts from a couple of decades ago — many of them had titles like Vision 2010, India Superpower by 2010, Marching Towards 2010, etc. This is one of those years by when things needed to have been done. But no, we are nowhere near some of those forecasts that were made. Conveniently, those forecasts have been shifted to another nice, elegantly rounded year like 2020, or in case of a few over-eager forecasters, to 2050.
In fact, by 2050, we are supposed to be richer than Western countries, a wonder created by Excel spreadsheets and research houses that are the equivalents of sensational TV channels. Such forecasts assume current growth rates to perpetuity, ignore the low-base effect, and do not consider the fact that most of the economic growth is having minimal impact on the majority of Indian people. It also ignores the fact that we don’t have the basics of almost any developed economy right — an effective legal system; fiscal prudence; disincentives for corruption; intellectual property rights; less government interference in business; incentives for capital flows and an education system that is designed to reward talent. No, these things are too boring and cumbersome to figure out when all you have to do is drag those Excel cells until India overtakes the West. If it can happen in my spreadsheet, it will happen in real life.
I am not being morbid. I am telling you what it will take in this decade to change all this. I am telling you the real set of numbers to focus on. The number of votes it will take so that this set of enlightened people, sprinkled across the country, and hence, not a votebank yet, begins to matter.
Using heavy approximations for simplicity, India has around 600 million voters, a staggering number (all data from Election Commission website). Half the people do not vote, thereby reducing the actual vote count to 300 million. However, if you see the difference between the winner in each constituency versus the next guy (that is, the difference between the winning candidate’s votes and that of the runner up), and add these up for the 530 odd constituencies, the difference is only 40 million votes. That is, these 40 million votes decide the winners of all seats. In fact, if half of these 40 million people switched their vote for the second guy, that person could have won in all constituencies. And half of 40 million is only 20 million — the number of votes that decides who will be in power at the top.
This 20 million is a far more manageable number to deal with. It is roughly the readership of this newspaper. It is also just over three percent of all registered voters, the population of two big metros, the theatrical viewership of a Bollywood blockbuster and a little more than the current penetration of networking sites. It’s not an impossible target, if that is the number of enlightened people we need.
However, there are some assumptions in this. For one, the enlightened people have to be united and tightly knit. We may all care for our country, but we could be pulling in different directions. In most colleges across the country, the youth is engaged in community activities. However, they all have their own local issues. A group of students is working for more trees in Bangalore; another set in Delhi wants to clean up pollution; an NGO in Chhattisgarh wants better primary education… No doubt, these are fantastic causes, and the hard work done must be commended. However, this does not use our collective power — one that can swing the outcome of a national election.
That needs a common agenda in line with the founding principles of a modern progressive nation. The rest will follow. Once we are seen as a tight votebank, and a swing one at that, politicians will have no choice but to listen to us. It is great to be spread out as little sparks around the country, but if we can come together as a fireball, it is even better.
The Internet, college festivals, inter-NGO networks are all opportunities to bring these sparks together. Slowly, this change is happening anyway. But we must hasten it — don’t ask what’s my cause, ask what’s our cause. There are many well-intentioned people but they are just not stitched together into a votebank that matters yet.
And if we can make 2010 a year in which we decide to do that, build that 20 million votebank, then by 2020 those spreadsheets will finally begin to make sense.
Happy New Year!