2014 elections

To beat Azharuddin and a billionaire, one Rajasthan candidate decides to fund 2,100 weddings

Makhan Lal Meena has catapulted himself to third place in the keenly fought race for Tonk-Sawai Madhopur, giving the BJP and Congress the jitters in the seat that saw the smallest winning margin in 2009.

When you’re up against a former Indian cricket team captain and a multi-billionaire, it might take a little more than just spirited campaigning to get noticed. So Makhan Lal Meena, fighting as an independent from Rajasthan’s Tonk-Sawai Madhopur seat, decided he would bring people together — literally.


Meena has pledged to fund 2,100 weddings of people from across the constituency in two mass ceremonies slated for later in the year, after elections have taken place (which allows him to avoid violating the model code of conduct).

This effort has catapulted him to third place in the keenly fought contest in this dusty seat just to the south of Jaipur behind the frontrunners: the Congress’ Azharuddin, who once captained India’s cricket team, and the Bharatiya Janata Party's wealthy businessman candidate, Sukhbir Singh Jaunpuria, whose fame also derives from a wedding: his daughter’s Rs 250-crore extravaganza.

“Both of them are outsiders,” said Devnarayan, a paan shop tender in Tonk. "The Congress is just hoping Azharuddin can be a khiladi and the BJP’s man…well, he has a lot of money.”

That is not to say Meena is the only local candidate in the fray — there’s even another candidate from the Meena community up against him — but he is the only one offering to pay for thousands of weddings. Which means he’s getting talked about.



“They say he’s going to give each of the families a motor bike at least as a gift,” said Lalit Singh, an auto driver. “Now do the math. Each family out of 2,100 must mean at least 20 votes? Marriages can be very expensive things here, they will be grateful, and will support him.”

No one is willing to say this means he can beat the big two — the Congress and BJP candidates took 93.7% of the votes in 2009 — but generating buzz alone is an important asset. And in tightly fought races, a popular third candidate can tip the balance for one of the frontrunners. In 2009, in fact, Tonk-Sawai Madhopur recorded the smallest winning margin of all Lok Sabha seats: just 317 votes, with the edge going to the Congress’ Namo Narain Meena.

“A big Meena belt starts from here, and they have traditionally been Congress supporters,” said Arshad Ali, an LIC agent in Tonk. “That means he could take votes away from Azharuddin, who was going to face trouble from his own party because he’s not from here. When the BJP also picked an outsider, he became a little less concerned — but now there’s a local who can leech votes.”

Meena has stopped talking, at least to the press, about his specific plans for the weddings and the gifts, presumably to avoid any heat from the Election Commission. He refused to speak to this reporter. He did, however, tell the Times of India that, “both BJP and Congress candidates have fielded outsiders, who, after losing the battle will never turn up in the city and have no right to accuse my social event.”

But Meena’s popularity is clearly built on the wedding buzz. Even Ali, who said he was a Congress supporter, worried that Meena would make it harder for Azharuddin. But he added that what Meena was doing wasn’t bad.

“For a poor person, how can you argue that this is somehow wrong? Meena knows he won’t win, but he’s still spending all this money to throw the weddings. And when they happen, it doesn’t matter if it’s a rich or poor person coming. Everyone will be treated the same,” Ali said. “Just take it as one of the many gifts Indian democracy gives us — once in five years.”

 
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Some of the worst decisions made in history

From the boardroom to the battlefield, bad decisions have been a recipe for disaster

On New Year’s Day, 1962, Dick Rowe, the official talent scout for Decca Records, went to office, little realising that this was to become one of the most notorious days in music history. He and producer Mike Smith had to audition bands and decide if any were good enough to be signed on to the record label. At 11:00 am, either Rowe or Smith, history is not sure who, listened a group of 4 boys who had driven for over 10 hours through a snowstorm from Liverpool, play 15 songs. After a long day spent listening to other bands, the Rowe-Smith duo signed on a local group that would be more cost effective. The band they rejected went on to become one of the greatest acts in musical history – The Beatles. However, in 1962, they were allegedly dismissed with the statement “Guitar groups are on the way out”.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Decca’s decision is a classic example of deciding based on biases and poor information. History is full of examples of poor decisions that have had far reaching and often disastrous consequences.

In the world of business, where decisions are usually made after much analysis, bad decisions have wiped out successful giants. Take the example of Kodak – a company that made a devastating wrong decision despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Everyone knows that Kodak couldn’t survive as digital photography replaced film. What is so ironic that Alanis Morissette could have sung about it, is that the digital camera was first invented by an engineer at Kodak as early as 1975. In 1981, an extensive study commissioned by Kodak showed that digital was likely to replace Kodak’s film camera business in about 10 years. Astonishingly, Kodak did not use this time to capitalise on their invention of digital cameras – rather they focused on making their film cameras even better. In 1996, they released a combined camera – the Advantix, which let users preview their shots digitally to decide which ones to print. Quite understandably, no one wanted to spend on printing when they could view, store and share photos digitally. The Advantix failed, but the company’s unwillingness to shift focus to digital technology continued. Kodak went from a 90% market share in US camera sales in 1976 to less than 10% in 2012, when it filed for bankruptcy. It sold off many of its biggest businesses and patents and is now a shell of its former self.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Few military blunders are as monumental as Napoleon’s decision to invade Russia. The military genius had conquered most of modern day Europe. However, Britain remained out of his grasp and so, he imposed a trade blockade against the island nation. But the Russia’s Czar Alexander I refused to comply due to its effect on Russian trade. To teach the Russians a lesson, Napolean assembled his Grand Armée – one of the largest forces to ever march on war. Estimates put it between 450,000 to 680,000 soldiers. Napoleon had been so successful because his army could live off the land i.e. forage and scavenge extensively to survive. This was successful in agriculture-rich and densely populated central Europe. The vast, barren lands of Russia were a different story altogether. The Russian army kept retreating further and further inland burning crops, cities and other resources in their wake to keep these from falling into French hands. A game of cat and mouse ensued with the French losing soldiers to disease, starvation and exhaustion. The first standoff between armies was the bloody Battle of Borodino which resulted in almost 70,000 casualties. Seven days later Napoleon marched into a Moscow that was a mere shell, burned and stripped of any supplies. No Russian delegation came to formally surrender. Faced with no provisions, diminished troops and a Russian force that refused to play by the rules, Napolean began the long retreat, back to France. His miseries hadn’t ended - his troops were attacked by fresh Russian forces and had to deal with the onset of an early winter. According to some, only 22,000 French troops made it back to France after the disastrous campaign.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

When it comes to sports, few long time Indian cricket fans can remember the AustralAsia Cup final of 1986 without wincing. The stakes were extremely high – Pakistan had never won a major cricket tournament, the atmosphere at the Sharjah stadium was electric, the India-Pakistan rivalry at its height. Pakistan had one wicket in hand, with four runs required off one ball. And then the unthinkable happened – Chetan Sharma decided to bowl a Yorker. This is an extremely difficult ball to bowl, many of the best bowlers shy away from it especially in high pressure situations. A badly timed Yorker can morph into a full toss ball that can be easily played by the batsman. For Sharma who was then just 18 years old, this was an ambitious plan that went wrong. The ball emerged as a low full toss which Miandad smashed for a six, taking Pakistan to victory. Almost 30 years later, this ball is still the first thing Chetan Sharma is asked about when anyone meets him.

So, what leads to bad decisions? While these examples show the role of personal biases, inertia, imperfect information and overconfidence, bad advice can also lead to bad decisions. One of the worst things you can do when making an important decision is to make it on instinct or merely on someone’s suggestion, without arming yourself with the right information. That’s why Aegon Life puts the power in your hands, so you have all you need when choosing something as important as life insurance. The Aegon Life portal has enough information to help someone unfamiliar with insurance become an expert. So empower yourself with information today and avoid decisions based on bad advice. For more information on the iDecide campaign, see here.

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