FIRSTPOST | April 27, 2014

Decoder: How to win Lok Sabha polls the classical Italian way


What is the secret Italian connection to Election 2014? No, don't resurrect the ghost of Quattrocchi. And don't even think of some mysterious Maino you have never heard of.

Never mind. Not many care that Marcus Cicero, the eloquent Roman statesman who shaped the future of prose in Europe, had a younger brother named Quintus, a military leader given to crude punishments. In 2012, Philip Freeman, an American professor of classical language, resurrected a candid letter the maverick brother believed to have written to Marcus more than 2000 years ago.

Freeman's slim 128-page translation, How to win an election: An ancient guide for modern politicians, of Quintus's advice for his illustrious elder brother when the latter decided to run for Rome's top office gave many Americans a few déjà vu moments during the noisy presidential election campaign.

Now it is not entirely unfair that the Obamas, Bidens, Romneys or Ryans would occasionally find themselves on the same page with Quintus. After all, Cicero senior, it is said, inspired the founding fathers of the United States.

But given that Indian politics' Roman, I mean Italian, connection (or devotion or aversion) is fairly recent, it is uncanny how the far-removed contestants in Election 2014 are playing the game by the campaigning guidelines Quintus had laid down for Marcus.

Sample a few:

Side with big money: You should pay special attention to… businessmen and moderately wealthy citizens. You must diligently cultivate relationships with these men of privilege. Never let them think that you are a populist. Tell them if you seem to be siding with the common people on any issue it is because you need to win the favor of Pompey (a popular general of the time).

Give false hope: The most important part of your campaign is to bring hope to people and a feeling of goodwill toward you. If you break a promise, the outcome is uncertain… But if you refuse to make a promise, the result is certain and produces immediate anger in a larger number of voters…

Lie generously: People would prefer you give them a gracious lie than an outright refusal… Remember (the politician) Cotta, that master of campaigning, who said that he would promise everything to anyone, unless some clear obligation prevented him, but only lived up to those promises that benefited him…

Don't be accountable: You should not make specific pledges either to the Senate or the people. Stick to vague generalities. Tell the Senate you will maintain its traditional power and privileges. Let the business community and wealthy citizens know that you are for stability and peace. Assure the common people that you have always been on their side.

Bark, don't bite: You don't have to actually bring your opponents to trial on corruption charges. Just let them know you are willing to do so. Fear works even better than actual litigation.

Be seen as popular: You must have a wide variety of people around you on a daily basis. Voters will judge you on what sort of crowd you draw both in quality and numbers... It is vital that you have a crowd of devoted followers with you at all times.

Target youth: It will (also) help your campaign tremendously to have the enthusiasm and energy of young people on your side to canvass voters, gain supporters, spread news, and make you look good.

Own your followers: You must make those overzealous and devoted groups you have feel inspired with hope believe that you will always be there to help them…

Play to the gallery: Encourage those who show goodwill because of a personal attachment they believe they have made with you by adapting your message to fit the particular circumstances of each… Show them that the more they work for your election the closer your bond to them will be.

Buy support: You can win uncommitted voters to your side by doing them even small favors.

Don't fear pedigree: Another factor that can help you as an outsider (hailing from outside Rome) is the poor quality of those men of the nobility who are competing against you…. Who would believe that men as pathetic as Publius Galba and Lucius Cassius would run for the highest office in the land, even though they come from the best families?

Get personal: It also wouldn't hurt to remind them (voters) of what scoundrels your opponents are and to smear these men at every opportunity with the crimes, sexual scandals, and corruption they have brought on themselves.

Build your cult: Now, my brother, you have many wonderful qualities, but those you lack you must acquire and it must appear as if you were born with them.

Reinvent yourself: You have excellent manners and are always courteous, but you can be rather stiff at times. You desperately need to learn the art of flattery -- a disgraceful thing in normal life but essential when you are running for office.

Hard sell yourself: You must always think about publicity… it is vital that you use all of your assets to spread the word about your campaign to the widest possible audience.

Play to your strength: Your ability as a public speaker is key… Since you are such an excellent communicator and your reputation has been built on this fact, you should approach every speaking engagement as if your entire future depended on that single event.

Put on a show: Finally, as regards the Roman masses, be sure to put on a good show… full of the color and spectacle that appeals so much to crowds… people are moved more by appearances than reality…

That was 64 BC and Marcus Cicero won the election for consul's office. If brother Quintus's directives still sound uncomfortably familiar, it is because, as Peter Stothard observed in The Wall Street Journal, a campaigner's “concerns have remained just as constant as the debate about whether any democracy is ever democratic enough”.

Or could it be because one or more leaders in Election 2014 have internalized the Quintus treatise like nobody before? Now, now, your guess is as innocent as mine.