A Political Game Show

This is the 35th installment of my weekly column for Mint, Thinking it Through.

In the last few days, I have been thinking deeply about how to solve India’s problems. I have interspersed this demanding activity with furious bouts of watching television. One moment I ponder over who I should vote for in the next general elections. The next moment I send an SMS voting for Aneek Dhar in Sa Ra Ga Ma Pa. A moment later I worry about poverty. Then I watch a repeat of Jhalak Dikhla Ja. Thus the moments pass.

After all this, I have come to the conclusion that only television can solve problems. This has been reinforced by some big bloggers, which means I am right. Scott Adams, on the Dilbert Blog, has proposed a new reality show that pits think tanks against one another, with the public getting to vote for the policies they like. Alex Tabarrok, on Marginal Revolution, has suggested a game show called So You Think You Can Be President?, which puts presidential candidates through rigorous and entertaining tests.

I suggest a similar game show for India, tailored to discovering the qualities that matter to Indian voters. Instead of going out to vote at polling booths, which involves arduous physical labour (at least to a desk-bound half-Bengali like me), we should be allowed to vote via SMS and phone calls. The revenues thus generated can go straight into the government’s coffers, and taxes can be abolished. (See, don’t you like this idea already?)

As there are 545 seats to be filled in the Lok Sabha, there can be 1090 regular episodes of this show, which we can call, ahem, Kaun Banega Lok Sabha MP? There will be two episodes per constituency: one for the contenders to flaunt their skills, and another to announce the result. And yes, voting will not be restricted to the residents of a particular constituency alone, for no constituency is an island. (Andaman and Nicobar Islands are many islands, but you know what I mean.) Multiple voting will also not be barred – those who vote the most care the most, and deserve to have more say. Plus, they’re effectively paying our taxes.

Once all the MPs of a state are chosen, there can be a few extra episodes to choose the parliamentary leaders of each party, with the entire country ensuring inner-party democracy. And thus the government will be formed. At four episodes a week – Monday to Thursday, the Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi model – the process of choosing the Lok Sabha will last just over five years, which is the term of a current MP anyway. Only, unlike in the present system, the constitution of the Lok Sabha will change every week. The flux will keep shaky coalition governments on their toes, and revenues should remain healthy.

Anyway, all that is boring. Let’s get to the content. What will the politicians really do in this reality show? I propose that the contenders be put through a number of rounds to weed out unworthies, before the public gets to vote on the final three. These rounds could include:

One, The Chai-Paani Round. One quality an Indian politician must have is the ability to monetize a position of power to maximum effect. (Forgive the jargon, but I don’t like words like ‘bribe’ and ‘corruption’. Very crude.) In this round, the candidates will be given unexpected positions of power for a day, and their takings will be compared at the end of the show. For example, they could all be made clerks at the RTO for a working day. The lowest earners will be eliminated.

Two, The Gunda Raj Round. In this round, one crore rupees will be stuffed into the pocket of each candidate, and they will be dumped in the middle of a violent constituency unknown to them, with their whereabouts made available to all the criminal gangs of that area. (Each candidate will be in a separate place, alone.) The contestants will be judged on how much money they manage to keep with themselves, and the truly talented politicians will no doubt even multiply it. This will test their resourcefulness, diplomacy and alliance-building skills.

Three, The God-Promise Round. In this round, the contestants will make promises to the voters on what they will do for them once they are in power. The producers will calculate the total amount of money these promises will cost. If any candidate’s promises end up costing more than the amount of money raised in that episode by SMSs, he will get disqualified at the start of the result round. If his promises are especially outrageous, he may get a wildcard entry into Kaun Banega Rajya Sabha MP?, which will be telecast on weekends.

Four, The Naach-Gaana Round. We are a song-and-dance nation, and this round might ensure that, unlike in the current system, our leaders have at least one talent to their name. Also, I demand that Anu Malik be one of the judges. My life will be complete if I get to see Manmohan Singh singing “You are My Sonia” in front of Anu Malik. Wouldn’t you like that too?

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You can browse through all my columns for Mint in my Thinking it Through archives.