In the world of politics people frequently have to take big decisions. From what slogans go on to hoardings to who should be brought in to join the party, every decision contributes to winning an election in varying degrees. The flip side of this is that every decision also has the potential to harm the campaign. Even though a lot of groundwork and research goes into making major decisions, no one really knows how things will play out until the decisions are actually executed. People marvel at the brilliance of how an election strategy was executed and a chain of events gets highlighted that led to the victory. That chain of events though is hardly explanatory and is a prime example of hindsight bias. In reality there are several chains that can be formed and any result can be explained using events that have all occurred during the campaign. If the party had lost then the loss could have been explained with the events that occurred just as well as the win.
Elections are a complex process where the comprehensive whole, involving an innumerable number of factors, leads to a final outcome. It’s beneficial to study what contributed to the result but it is often harmful to believe that one or two specific and predictable actions have caused the result. This tendency is harmful because it leads you to believe that someone foresaw these key factors would lead to victory and implemented them, while the truth is that during a campaign each party tries out several strategies, communication methods and messages. Some of them work and some don’t. Thankfully for us, only the ones that worked are remembered once we win and those are the ones that people identify as reasons for our victory.
This article isn’t about politics though. It’s about life. I had heard Steve Jobs’ Stanford Commencement Address a long time ago and it came rushing back to me a few days ago. In the address (which you all should definitely watch) he states that one can only connect the dots looking backwards and one must trust that the dots will somehow connect. The reason that I remembered this message is because I got the opportunity of meeting Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar last week, a direct descendent of Maharana Pratap and the current head of the Mewar dynasty, the erstwhile rulers of Udaipur.
The dynasty is one of the richest Rajput dynasties in the country, and like the Scindias of Gwalior, the rulers of Mewar had accepted British supremacy in 1818. A decision that is now retrospectively presented as anti-Indian might not have been so at that time. The Rajput states were ravaged by conflict with each other and the Mughals at the time; the acceptance of British supremacy often meant peace and prosperity for these kingdoms. The rulers took a decision that was the most beneficial for them, their families and their subjects. The idea of a larger Indian nation and how such an act might be antithetical to its interests is something that can only be discussed in retrospect. The acceptance of British supremacy at that time has also contributed to these dynasties retaining their wealth into the 21st century while the dynasties that fought valiantly have all but disappeared.
This is how all decisions in politics are made. People do what’s best for them, their families and the people associated with them in the foreseeable future. How these decisions will be scrutinized by history is anyone’s guess. Several leaders have jumped ship from regional parties and Congress to BJP across the country. These leaders are criticized for not remaining loyal while the BJP is often criticized for taking tainted people or people who don’t espouse the core ideology of the party. This criticism is short lived and usually subsides within a week of someone joining. These joinings help BJP win elections as these leaders bring with them an existing support base and create an atmosphere that the opposition is sinking. No amount of expert opinion will ever predict how this will impact the nation’s politics in the long run and all one can do is wait for the retrospective judgment of history to be rendered.
It is good to plan for the future. One must try to predict future trends and plan for life accordingly, but the reality of the world is that no amount of analysis will ever lead to an accurate prediction. What works in life and in politics is to maximize one’s advantage in the very near future and trust that the long term will work out on its own. This is why the BJP sees every election as important and puts the effort that it does for winning each state and municipality. The criticism is short lived while the victory lasts five years. How history will judge such maneuvering shall remain unknown till the judgment is passed.
Tl;dr: Plan for the future but capitalize on the current advantages with all your strength. What works and what doesn’t is often a crapshoot, so try as many things as you can that have a reasonable chance of taking you to your goal. How history judges current decisions isn’t predictable. Sometimes it will go in your favour and sometimes it will go against you. Don’t bother with it too much and stride ahead.
Read Lessons 1 to 5 of Project Politics here: 5 Lessons About Politics from the Campaign Trail
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26 Thoughts on “Lesson 6: You only know in retrospect”
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