The process of politics is rich with symbolism. Politicians communicate with the public through sartorial choices, deeds and the minutest inflections of words and tone. Sometimes their silence speaks more than words. One such example of silence is the refusal of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath to upbraid the Bajrang Dal, which was allegedly involved in the recent violence in Bulandshahr that claimed the lives of a policeman and a civilian. How are we to interpret this silence?
In game theory, a signal is a device used by a party with privileged information to indicate to an uninformed party its true “type". Think of Bertie Wooster in Right Ho, Jeeves advising Gussie Fink Nottle to forgo dinner to emphasize the depth of his feelings for Madeline Bassett. The rationale was that only a true lover would be able to undergo such self-denial, while a pretender would wilt at the hardship involved. The question is: Will Wooster’s suggested signal successfully separate the true lover from the pretender? Or, will the pretender successfully imitate the signal of the lover to win the lady’s hand?
What is true for love holds true for politics as well. Different parties differ in their abilities to adopt signals. A Hindu right-wing party can espouse the cause of the cow with greater conviction than a centrist party. A centrist party can promise the just operation of the rule of law for minorities with greater authority than a majoritarian party. Even the same person may have different abilities to select a signal in different roles. For instance, a firebrand campaigner may need to govern from a far more centrist position after acquiring power. Of course, in politics, choices are always constrained by the changing preferences of the public.
To deconstruct Adityanath’s inscrutable silence, a game theoretical model can be developed where the public does not know whether ideology or administrative responsibility is the most important factor in the chief minister’s thought process. They can only observe the decision to condemn the fringe group or remain silent. Condemnation is more difficult for an ideologue than for an administrator (just as missing a meal is more onerous for a pretend lover than for the genuine one). On the other hand, staying silent is more challenging for an administrator. The preferences of the public depend on both the signal chosen as well as the persona of the person issuing it. We look at two cases—one where the public is driven by emotional considerations such as Hindutva, and another where the public is concerned about good governance. Will an ideologue adopt the signal of the administrator and condemn the mob? Will the administrator choose to stay silent? Or will the signal successfully separate the grain from the chaff?
The following are the results of the analysis. With a public focused on law and order, and a low cost of condemning for the ideologue, it is difficult to conclude whether the chief minister is driven by ideology or administrative consideration. In other words, there are no “separating equilibria". We could observe “pooling equilibria", in which both types issue condemnations or remain silent. However, as the ideologue’s discomfort at condemnation increases, we get a separating equilibrium, where the administrator would condemn and the ideologue would stay silent.
Given the heightened role Adityanath was given in the recent state elections, we can surmise that his ability to condemn right-wing groups has decreased (or that the political cost of condemning them has increased). Under these circumstances, we may conclude that Adityanath’s actions reveal him to be acting as an ideologue rather than as an administrator.
However, the assumption we make about the public is crucial. If we assume the public is focused on emotive issues like the Ram temple and the cow, and not on good governance, both the administration-focused and the ideologically-inclined chief ministers will behave in a similar fashion. Either both will condemn or stay silent.
An increase in Adityanath’s Hindutva credentials would have the effect of eliminating the equilibrium in which both condemn, leaving us the equilibrium in which both stay silent. Thus, we cannot discern the chief minister’s type from his actions.
Matters become more clear for the public if we assume that all personas of the chief minister are rigid in the sense that they prefer to be rejected while sticking to the action natural to their type (condemning for the administrator, rejecting for the ideologue), rather than being accepted by the public, while going against their nature. In this world, each type of persona would act in accordance with its nature and would be revealed to the public.
One might deduce that the role of Adityanath as a star campaigner would prevent him from playing his role as an administrator of Uttar Pradesh.
The analysis shows that this is the case only under the specific assumptions about the mood of the electorate, the political cost of upholding the tenets of good governance for the ideologue, and the willingness of leaders of all hues to compromise with ideals for public acceptance. However, Adityanath cannot escape culpability for a systematic religious polarization of the electorate that negates the core principles of the religion he claims to represent.
In the P.G. Wodehouse story, the ire of the French chef at returned plates of food upsets Wooster’s best-laid plans for his friend. The results of the assembly elections indicate that the BJP’s stratagems are being similarly waylaid. We await the party’s next signal.
Rohit Prasad is a professor at MDI, Gurgaon. Game Sutra is a fortnightly column based on game theory. Read Rohit’s previous Mint columns at www.livemint/gamesutra
Comments are welcome at email@example.com