Experts have analysed the results of five assembly elections. In West Bengal or Tamil Nadu, the government has fallen, and the opponent has emerged – in the former case with a resounding majority. Whether it was the 2G scam in Tamil Nadu or that the free grinders sop didn’t work well, we will never know the exact reasons for the DMK debacle. Similarly, whether it was Singur, the Left’s general mismanagement or simply a need for change – the exact cause for the Trinamool sweep cannot be pinpointed.
However, one trend is becoming clearer with time. That is the rise of the assertive and aggressive politician. Most of India’s high-profile chief ministers – Narendra Modi, Nitish Kumar, Jayalalithaa, Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee, Sheila Dikshit – who have had spectacular victories, are vocal, opinionated and seem to have the ‘let’s get on with it’ attitude.
This is in stark contrast to the stereotypical Indian leader who keeps quiet or, when forced to talk, is diplomatic to the point of avoiding the issue altogether. This stereotype emerged from the Congress party which successfully used the silent mystique strategy, particularly in the last 20 years. However, it may be time for such leaders to reconsider it, especially if they want to have a few rockstar chief ministers of their own and be more in sync with what the Indian voter wants. Because, quite frankly, brash is back!
This is India 2011. Where silence is no longer equated with dignity, poise or high stature. So low is the credibility of politicians today that silence is seen as smugness, inefficiency and avoiding the issues. This is a cultural shift, brought about by the frustration people have felt with unaccountable governments. From once revered silent leaders, people have started to prefer brash assertiveness, even a bit of cocky confidence.
Such shifts in preferences do happen. In the US, it is said that George Bush, often ridiculed as a less sharp president, was a reaction to the ‘extra-clever and glib’ Clinton. Americans were happy with someone less smart as long as he didn’t get into scandals like his predecessor. Similarly, Indians today are more likely to give a brash politician who will speak a chance, rather than someone dignified who won’t talk to the people.
There are lessons in this for all political parties. What worked in the past may not work so well in the coming few years. Whoever is positioned as a leader needs to have an agenda, a point of view, drive and, most importantly, a willingness to talk to people about issues. One doesn’t have to react to every baseless allegation or news story. However, one must be willing to talk proactively on issues that are relevant to the people. Speaking in platitudes or government officialese doesn’t count. Statements like “We are examining the matter and in due course we will take a suitable course of action” are nonsensical. Be a straight shooter, come to the point, be honest about what you can and cannot do and don’t be afraid to have opinions.
Whether it was the 2G scam, anti-incumbency, anti-communism, developmental issues, freebies or caste/religion equations that determined the outcome of the recent elections can never be affirmed. What is clear is Indians have had enough of posturing and need aggressive leaders. Political parties should ensure that the candidates they select have the required traits to suit changing voter preferences. Better start talking before people stop talking about you forever.