Anticipating the Unintended #64: The Quest for Narrative Dominance

This newsletter is really a weekly public policy thought-letter. While excellent newsletters on specific themes within public policy already exist, this thought-letter is about frameworks, mental models, and key ideas that will hopefully help you think about any public policy problem in imaginative ways. It seeks to answer just one question: how do I think about a particular public policy problem/solution?

India Policy Watch #1: Unlock 4.0 And Lobbying

Insights on burning policy issues in India

— Raghu Sanjaylal Jaitley

Two small essays on topics of contemporary interest.

1. A Guide To Rational Behaviour

Unlock 4.0 guidelines came out yesterday. Nobody cared. We all have our version of the unlock in our heads.

About five months back India had a daily fresh COVID-19 case count of about 100. Yesterday, it came in at about 78,000.

Then the streets were deserted, shops were closed, and police were beating up those who violated the curfew. Today markets are open, there are minor traffic jams on roads and states have lifted even basic quarantine guidelines. Then if there was a religious congregation of about a thousand people, news anchors would call them anti-national. Today, there are people opposing the conduct of JEE NEET examinations that would involve lakhs of students. The same anchors are terming these people anti-nationals.

How do we square this? There are three ways to look at this.

  1. People aren’t rational: We don’t make every decision using data or analysing risks and rewards. Fear, belief and confidence are often involved in our decision calculus. We are out and about more today than five months back because the state is signalling to us that it’s fine to do so. Most of us are happy to outsource decision making.
  2. Behaviour cascade: We follow others and mimic their behaviour more than we might want to admit. Ordering food online, going to work or pulling the mask down to the chin while talking are examples of this. Every person at the margin undertaking a risky act reduces the threshold of risk perception for the next person. This cascades into mass risky behaviour over time.
  3. Getting on with life: The lack of social security and absence of an adequate fiscal support programme has meant people have no option but to get on with their lives. The relatively lower mortality rates in India and the shift in focus on individual responsibility on COVID-19 containment has aided this.

The recent India Today poll that shows record approval ratings for the PM and this government ties up with the above. There’s an effective mix of factors at play – a demonstration of sincerity in tackling the pandemic, high personal integrity, catchy sloganeering (‘vocal for local’), projecting optimism and some ‘resonant’ distractions (Ram temple ground-breaking event, Chinese bans). These have helped in turning every bad news into an opportunity to showcase strength. A decimated opposition that has no fight left in it has helped. Yet, there’s something more at play here that we can’t appreciate as we live in this moment.

For future historians, this phase in our polity will be a goldmine.

Read the full edition here.

Disclaimer: Views expressed on Anticipating the Unintended are those of the authors’ and do not represent Takshashila Institution’s recommendations.