People decide based on their perceptions of gains and losses, rather than actual final outcomes. During next year’s elections, it’s likely that a major chunk of the population will decide whom to vote on the basis of how the government has impacted them directly, rather than overall macroeconomic performance.
India has jumped 23 places in the latest Ease of Doing Business rankings, to reach the 77th spot. Also, our country has improved 65 places in the rankings since the BJP came to power. While the index shows a big improvement, many people argue that they don’t see much improvement at the ground level in conducting their day-to-day business. There have been several economic report cards evaluating the Prime Minister and the BJP government. These indices, if at all, will only be one of the parameters on which the current government will be evaluated. The way we experience the government has an impact on our evaluation of the government. So, does the aam aadmi (common man) feel any perceptible changes in daily life over the last four years?
In his Independence Day speech this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the national healthcare scheme, which was launched recently in September, called the Ayushman Bharat. The government launched the Skill India campaign, aimed at training over 40 crore individuals. The Atal Pension Yojana, targeting the unorganised sector, was launched in 2015. There have been many other schemes that have been launched by this government. Previous governments, too, have undertaken many welfare initiatives, but what has been a change in the last four years is the fact how the awareness about these schemes has spread. Any new scheme is all over all forms of media with strong advertising campaigns. We also see a strong branding for the schemes in the activities undertaken. Owing to greater awareness, more and more people have been able to avail the benefits.
Coupled with greater awareness about the policies, there is also a greater visibility and connect of the government with the common man. PM Modi chooses to deliver his Independence Day speeches without a bulletproof glass enclosure. Last month, he wrote an article in this daily on being honoured with the ‘Earth Award’ by the United Nations. Many a times, the landing page of a government website is a banner with regards to the government or any of its schemes. The ‘Mann ki Baat’ is a direct connect that the PM has with the people on the issues they can relate to. There is even a Narendra Modi app. Earlier this year, the PM published a book to help children preparing for classes 10th and 12th board exams—connecting with the future voters. Even the messages for social campaigns sponsored by various ministries, which generally play prior to the films and during intervals, have improved substantially. Advertising campaigns for social causes seem to have moved away from being punitive in nature to become more relatable and have a positive spirit.
The government has been forthcoming in using social media as a medium to connect with the people. There are various instances when people have raised their concerns or sought help from the government on social media, and have received a satisfactory response. ‘Selfie with Daughter’ is another such example where the government connected with the masses via social media for a cause. PM Modi declared June 21 as the ‘International Day of Yoga’, sighting yoga as a gift of India to the world. The same was proclaimed by the United Nations via a resolution on December 11, 2014. Various yoga events are organised every year throughout the world to celebrate this day. But such globalisation of yoga and instances of making it a mandatory part of school curricula has led to mixed response.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that, over the last four years, government administration departments have undergone a dramatic change. They no longer have the traditional ‘sarkari’ work culture and have become more akin to the private sector. Most public services have been made available online and some of them are accessible via mobile phone apps. The quality of services available to the citizens has improved, along with the processes becoming less cumbersome. The multitude of various government IDs to serve as name, age, address proofs and photo ID have been made nearly redundant with the Aadhaar card. Progress towards e-governance and a digital India is quite visible.
The demonetisation of 2016 affected businesses and individuals alike, though in varied degrees. Coupled with GST, it has made the economy more formal. With demonetisation, digital payments saw a huge surge. Over the span of last two years, almost every online and even offline retailers have started using payment wallets—which have become an acceptable mode of payment from the local paan shop to the local grocer, to even petrol pumps and tolls on the roads. Often, there are various incentives to make payments via modes other than cash. The reach of credit and debit cards has also increased substantially. UPI and QR codes have further simplified payments. All this has made our lives less cash-dependent.
One thing that has irked the common man is the removal and reduction in subsidies. Retail prices of petrol and diesel have been deregulated and linked to market prices. Very recently, there was a hue and cry in the country with regards to rising petrol and diesel prices. And though it’s still subsidised, the price of LPG has been revised. The PM launched the #GiveItUp campaign asking people to voluntarily give up LPG subsidy, to help the government provide LPG connections to poor families free of cost. This way, every citizen is able to directly participate in nation-building. While all this might have caused us some discomfort, this is perhaps necessary and justified for prudent government finances.
The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is perhaps one of the most visible government campaigns. Since its launch on October 2, 2014, it is next to impossible not to spot the campaign in action in any city or village in India—be it public toilets, waste bins, or hoardings. Corporations and individuals alike have come out in support of the campaign. A campaign for cleanliness is not new for India. However, the current government has been very successful in spreading awareness and setting a lot of things in motion. It has been seen that waste segregation is being strictly implemented in major cities across India. Public toilets and mobile toilets are being constructed, and people are being encouraged to use them. Efforts are being made to make cities and villages open-defecation free. In September this year, the government and Google launched “Loo Review” campaign on Google Maps. It is aimed at increasing awareness and ease of locating public toilets across the country.
All these and many other small tangible changes in our day-to-day lives might have a bigger weight in deciding the strength of the NaMo wave in 2019. Results of a recent survey by news app Dailyhunt and media firm Nielsen India show that more than 63% respondents expressed their “trust” in Narendra Modi and over 50% said a second term for him will provide them a better future. As Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman has shown, inherent biases influence our choices, overtly and subliminally. People decide based on their perceptions of gains and losses, rather than actual final outcomes.
A major chunk of the population will decide on the basis of how the government has impacted them directly, rather than overall macroeconomic performance. Kahneman talks of the mere-exposure effect—when we are repeatedly exposed to something, we tend to trust or like it more. The current government, with all its actions and activities, gets quite a good amount of our mind share and attention span—for good or for bad.
Other psychologists have shown that even subtle aspects, like an individual’s vocals, play a big role in shaping our perceptions. Before the being elected as the Prime Minister of the UK, Margaret Thatcher took lessons to help lower her pitch, develop a calm, authoritative tone, and improve her vocal delivery.
PM Modi is known to be a good orator and his speeches are popular. People with generally low-pitched voices are perceived as more aggressive and competent, and are more likely to get elected to offices of responsibility. Such aspects of our psychology and our experiences of the political environment can have a decisive bearing on election outcome next year.
The author is an economist. Views are personal.