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Sanjay Kumar, Professor & Director, CSDS...... The Art of Politics in Analysing & Predicting to a successful Career!!

Both the George’s; Orwell and Bernard Shaw presented pictures of politics in a satirical style of their own, at times even bordering on being cynical. George Orwell, in one of his many memorable and quotable quotes had said, “Political language -- and with variations this is true of all political parties, from conservatives to anarchists -- is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidarity to pure wind”. George Bernard Shaw was equally contemptuous about politics and once famously opined, “Politics is the last resort of scoundrels”.

Politics is a multifaceted word. It has a set of fairly specific meanings that are descriptive and nonjudgmental (such as "the art or science of government" and "political principles"), but often does carry a connotation of dishonest malpractice. It is very often said that politics is all about power and money!!

It is not that they are not true and more so in the Indian context, but with changing socio- economic scenario, quite a few things have changed and a number of things are in the process of changing. The best part of the change is that in the last decade experts from diverse fields and backgrounds have initiated into active politics. However it is not implied that change has been restricted to the last decade rather it has been gradually evolving with each passing day with the strengthening of the Electoral Politics and the process.

The advent of Shri T. N. Seshan as the Chief Election Commissioner revolutionized the Electoral process in the country. Further, the introduction of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), 24X7 Media coverage and active reporting of political development by numerous vernacular newspapers have added to the good work which was already being done.

However, the Parliamentary Elections of 2014 and every election after that has seen a sea of change in how elections are being fought in India. The Election Management, Communication Strategy, Technology, and use of Social Media are the new buzzword…..new and different from the way it was being done earlier. The “War Room” and the use of 3 D Hologram technology which was attempted for the first time in political rallies ever across the world connected candidates to voters at PAN India locations. The “War Room” of different political parties had more professionals from technology, analysts and media field working on strategies than politicians. This election of 2014 and beyond has opened the gate for professionals who want to contribute to Indian politics without participating actively in mainstream politics.

We had many questions in our mind related to the subject and the participation of professionals and experts from different fields opening up new career opportunities for many more, got us looking for someone who could answer authoritatively. So, when we got the chance to meet Mr. Sanjay Kumar, we were more than elated.

Mr. Sanjay Kumar is Professor and Director, Center for the Studies of Developing Societies (CSDS). CSDS is India’s premier Institute for Research in Social Science and Humanities. Trained in survey research, his research focuses largely on the issues of Electoral Politics, Political Mobilisation, Indian Democracy and issues concerning Indian Youth.

He has authored several books, edited many volumes, published articles in various national and international research journals and is a regular on various TV channels as panelist for the discussion on Indian Politics. His books include “Post Mandal Politics in Bihar: Changing Electoral Patterns, Changing Electoral Politics in Delhi- From Caste to Class (With Praveen Rai), Measuring Voting Behavior in India (With Peter R DeSouza and Sandeep Shastri), Indian Youth in a Transforming World: Attitudes and Perceptions, Indian Youth and Electoral Politics: An Emerging Engagement (With Chritophe Jafferlot), Rise of Plebeians? The Changing Face of Indian Legislative Assemblies (With Suhash Palashkar and Sanjay Lodha) and Electoral Politics in India: Resurgence of Bhartiya Janata Party”. He keeps writing in various newspapers and graces TV newsroom with his opinion on different socio-political issues. Let’s hear him speak and enlighten us with his knowledge:

Review Board: There is a famous quote in ‘Animal Farm’ written by Mr. George Orwell, “Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He doesn’t give milk, he doesn’t lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he can’t run fast enough to catch the rabbit. Yet he is lord of the animals. He is sets them to work, he gives back to them the bare minimum that will prevent them for starving, and rest he keeps for himself”. Doesn’t it find a resonance in India politics? Aren’t we as a nation given the bare minimum to survive and we remain busy in the quest for survival while our leaders enjoy life and keep everything with them?

Sanjay Kumar: It will be very unfair to politicians if we say that this happens only in politics. This situation is prevalent everywhere in the society where resource and material benefit generation is of prime concern. Without taking any names, if you look around, even in business or any profession for that matter, owner or the management keeps the maximum for themselves, giving the bare minimum to the workers but only to such an extent that it keeps them running and inspired to come back to work the next day.

Review Board: We were talking to an Agri-business owner from Bhopal sometime back and we asked him a question on challenges faced by farmers in terms of getting returns for their produce and hard work despite the fact that the consumers pay the maximum they can. His answer was “this question needs to be asked to our policy makers that why even after spending billions of rupees our farmers still commit suicide, why there are huge post harvest losses, why we as a country are still net importer of crucial items like edible oils and pulses”.

Sanjay Kumar: See, agriculture is a different ball game. Farmers are always living on the edge, facing a new challenge on a regular basis. If there is drought then they lose their crop and all the input they have invested in. Same is the case when there is a flood. So, when there is no crop, there is no money. But their condition is no different when they have a bumper harvest because the prices go down drastically.

Add to that the storage facility in our country needs a lot of improvement. You gave the example of pulses and edible oils. Situation is not good for even paddy and wheat. If you go to various parts of Punjab and Haryana which produces maximum rice and wheat, you will find the produce stacked in open air, sometimes covered with a tarpaulin and sometimes not. And in case of rain, there is a huge damage to these produces kept in the open.

Hence, there is always a demand for Minimum Support Price for farm produce and it is not that the price is not there, but it serves the purpose of an added advantage. So, infrastructure needs to be ramped up or there should be more food producing/processing units, where raw produce can be converted into food which can be stored for little a longer period.

Review Board: That’s his main contention…….why even after spending so much of money and so much of time; we are forced to see this situation….

Sanjay Kumar: Again I will reiterate the point that this is not the case only with politics. This is the case everywhere. Some politicians will admit off the record that there is a problem, but if they solve all the problems at one go then what will they promise next time around when they go for elections. They know that if they don’t deliver they won’t get the vote. But if they deliver everything, then what will be the aspiration level of voters from him for the next election. That’s why they deliver in piece meal.



Review Board: Again I am clubbing two quotes of George Orwell from his book ‘Animal Farm’: “Let’s face it: our lives are miserable, laborious and short” and “Can you not understand that liberty is worth more than just ribbons?” If we look back at the last seventy years of our independence, these two quotes seem so relevant. What workable changes do we need to bring in ourselves to come out and move forward towards a better life?

Sanjay Kumar: Answer of this question is very complex. I always give the example of sports or from the field of medicine. It is not so simple a case where you can take some quick fix medicine, pop in and you will get better. If the problem becomes chronic, then just one antibiotic will not help you to recover completely; a few more medicines will be required along with numerous tests preceding such medication…..And then also, it will take some time. Similarly, take the example of hockey. India used to dominate the world hockey, but not anymore. Now, if someone says, change the goalkeeper or change the center forward and things will improve; it will not happen. There needs to be various steps which have to be taken to bring Indian hockey back to its glorious days!!

There are many things which if it gets better; life will be easier and better. These things are very basic and of the nature of daily use if you look at it. Basic infrastructures like house, clean water, health, road, electricity, education etc. which are necessities and are at the top of the demand list of a common man. Other things which are bigger in magnitude on the scale of perspective, like job creation, foreign policy, industrial development, foreign direct investment etc. are also very important, but these things are important in the long run.

One very important subject is connectivity. We keep talking about Bihar. People say a lot has changed in Bihar in the last 10 years. What has changed; road infrastructure and law and order situation. This has changed the whole scenario. Earlier, people used to be scared of travelling even small distances due to poor condition of roads, which is not the scene now.

People have very basic needs and whenever they meet policy makers, even of the stature of the Prime Minister, who is the top man in the country, they come out with very basic demands like road, electricity, health, law and order etc. They hardly come up with an immediate demand for a job, though the demand of job is equally important.

Review Board: Otto Von Bismarck had said, “Politics is the art of possible, the attainable- the art of the next best”. While the next best in Indian political scenario may remain a question, what attainable expectations should a common man of India have?

Sanjay Kumar: There was a good amount of talk on electrification of all the villages of India, which is great thing to happen. But clean drinking water is even more important, which is still not available to majority of Indians. We can live without electricity but we can’t live without water. So, everything comes back to the basic requirement!!

If someone is claiming that nothing has happened in the last 60-70 years, then I beg to differ. I am sure 90% of Indians have moved upwards in their life when compared to their father or grandfather. But as the time changes, aspirations change and it is bringing in changes in our demand pattern and social behavior. Someone may ask whether Delhi still has electricity or road related problems. But this may seem inconceivable today. However, around 30-40 years back, when people started settling across the Yamuna river, it was told that there are ‘N’ number of problems in trans Yamuna area. Before facilities could be provided to those people, Delhi expanded even further to areas beyond. That is the case with the whole country. Level of education and connectivity with rest of the world has increased, which in turn has increased the level of aspiration and demand and it will keep on continuously increasing in future. But for a good amount of time, basic necessities will be the main demand, because India is still a third world country with multiple layers of economic strata.

Review Board: Due to deep rooted barriers within our social system and the continuous aggravation of those barriers by our political leaders, very few of us are capable of expressing equanimity opinions which differs from the prejudices presented by our social environment. We have reached so far and efforts are definitely on to take us even farther. Your take on the subject…..

Sanjay Kumar: Look, you will have to see the entire situation in the backdrop of changing socio-economic scenario, large population and rapidly increasing educational infrastructure of the country. Social fault lines which used to exist earlier like discrimination on the social level have reduced. Now people don’t care much about the things like untouchability i.e. you can’t eat at my home or I won’t drink water offered by you. I am not saying that it has ended for good, but it is lesser than what it used to be earlier.

Now this fault line has shifted from the social front to the economic front. A section of the society, which was marginalized for long, needs a little protection and support to come up in the ladder of life.

Till three four decades back, though creation of job in the market was low, but candidates looking for the job were also low in numbers, so the dissatisfaction level was not as high.

Review Board: We talked to Mr. Sandeep Srivastava, a Social Entrepreneur and Founder of IYC World a month back to discuss the numbers which we had read that India produces more than 60 lakh graduates and 14 lakh post graduates every year. More than 10 lakh persons are added in the job market every month, which makes it about 1.2 crore per year. Our question to him was what has gone wrong with our education system which is creating a country of job seekers and not of job creators?

Sanjay Kumar: Current dispensation has, kind of, acceded to the fact that they can’t create the job for such a huge number of people. They have not actually said it so, but their economic policies suggest the same. It is next to impossible to create such a huge number of jobs every year. Even if we club together the maximum number of job government can create by itself and by facilitating private sector, then also everyone can’t be provided with a job. That’s why government is putting so much of emphasis on entrepreneurship.

Due to uncertainty in agriculture and longevity of work lifetime in private sector, everyone is looking for a job in the government or public sector. Who could have imagined the landed farmers of Jats and Patidars community agitating for a stake in the government jobs and reservation? Twenty years back, they used to laugh at government job, but not anymore, because agriculture has become costly and less remunerative. Similarly, there is also a degree of uncertainty in private sector job.

In contrast to all these opportunities, salaries in government and public sector jobs have increased. With the increased competition, social fault lines which were of different nature earlier, has changed and become stronger. Though rational thinking may say that people from the weaker section may need some extra help from the government, but all the rationality goes for a toss when people see that due to these things, their life or their children’s life is becoming a tough battle.

Review Board: 2014 General Elections were different from any other elections ever fought in the country. From the Election Management perspective, for the first time I believe experts from different streams like Advertising, Marketing and Digital Media etc. were part of the war room of BJP. Later on, other political parties also adopted this strategy. You have also written about it. This has created a new career opportunity for our youth. Could you tell our readers what are the streams of education whose students can look for a serious role in election management bypassing politics as a career opportunity?

Sanjay Kumar: Students from a number of fields can now find a career scope in politics other than active politics. Some of them you have already mentioned in your question. One more stream for which requirement has come up very prominently is Engineering; people who can read and analyze big data and come up with the conclusions. Finding out the topics to fight election, establishing winnability of a candidate, creating catchy slogans etc. are important, but even more important is analysis of the factors of every election and their outcome. If you go to the election offices of political parties, it has started being called a ‘War Room’ and you will find more techno-savvy young people there than actual politicians.

Sometimes back a boy came and told me that he wants to follow in my footstep and do Psephology. He was expecting that I will give him the name of some fancy books to read. I asked him to read newspapers, understand what is going around and learn the skill of understanding the factors that affect elections and analyzing the data. For Psephology, you need to know how to read the numbers. With so many data points to read and analyze, understanding of tools and technologies have also become very important.

So coming back to the main point, students of Marketing, Management, Engineering and big data along with Political and Social Science can find good scope in politics, without getting into active politics.

Review Board: In your article “The Damned Science of Psephology” in Open Magazine, you discussed the topics of ‘sample size’, interviewing ‘right kind of people’ and ‘voters not telling their preferences truthfully’. We have three specific questions emerging out of it:

a. Political parties also do their internal surveys. What are the factors which they take into account while conducting their internal survey? How do they safe guard their survey on ‘sample size’, interviewing ‘right kind of people’ and ‘voters not telling their preferences truthfully’?

b. Organizations like CSDS, Today’s Chanakya and other media houses also conduct pre-poll and post poll election surveys. How is it different from surveys conducted by political parties in every aspect?

c. What are the skills required for the science of Psephology other than statistics? And what are the factors other than ‘sample size’, ‘interviewing right kind of people’ that should be taken into account while going for this kind of a survey. In my opinion, this will be helpful not only in predicting more accurate result of elections but also in product and service marketing.

Sanjay Kumar: We are at an Institute dedicated to study various social issues and design strategy for developing societies. Our prime objective is not making predictions about election outcome, though we also do so, because we collect data to study the various factors which have been impacting Indian society now and how they stand in comparison of past. Since social issues are part of election outcome, their study becomes very important.

In 1977, there was no election survey done. So, we take the factors of that time and see their progress in today’s time to assess their impact as well as see their relevance now.

Political party’s main focus is to find out the winnability of a candidate and what are factors which can be used to win the elections. Their focus is the outcome of election. So, their study revolves around the factors which can be used and identify the person who can use it better than others.

TV Channels and other research organizations objective is to find the outcome of elections.

So, the very objective is different for all three sets of organization.

About the skill set required to do so, we have already discussed in previous question.

Review Board: You are Sun Tzu of Indian politics. What suggestions you would like to give to youngsters of India who want to make a career in mainstream politics?

Sanjay Kumar: If anyone comes to me to understand what is required to learn to enter politics, I will wholeheartedly welcome him. Because I believe that if you don’t like something, then rather than just criticizing, try to correct it.

In my entire career, only one boy has come to me and told me that he wants to join active politics, and that also, couple of months after working with me.

To get into active politics, one needs to have lots of patience and communication skill. Elections are conducted after every five years. So, after one election, you will have to wait for another five years.

Apart from that, there will be lots of allegations and counter-allegations, which most of the time will flare up to become bigger issue if you don’t have patience to answer them at the right time. Also to deliver a message or counter an allegation, you need to have good communication skills. Communication skill doesn’t mean English only. It can be in any language which helps you to connect with your voters.

Review Board: Thanks a lot Sir for giving your valuable time.



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