Now, with the country of 1.3 billion people embarking once again on the world’s biggest democratic exercise, a new board game is simulating something of that campaign process — offering players both the standard and the sleazier electoral strategies.
The Poll: The Great Indian Election Game is the brainchild of 27-year-old journalist Abeer Kapoor, who came up with the idea in 2017 after covering national and state elections.
“I started thinking about how parties are like players where they have a set of fixed resources like money, feet on the ground, party workers, ideologies and the media and other institutions. But the terrain, the state constituencies, are different,” said Kapoor.
“So, it’s like a game, and we should be able to simulate that in a way that breaks the barrier between people and politics. We want people to understand the process.”
India is a former British colony, and its political system follows the Westminster model. Parties field candidates for seats in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament, and whichever party wins a majority of seats gets to choose the prime minister. Across 543 constituencies, candidates will vie for votes from an electorate numbering 900 million, nearly triple the population of the United States. The board game, three to four people, each of whom represents a political party and creates a manifesto by choosing “policy cards” which he or she must defend.
A player who manages to convince opponents their strategy will work places cubes on top of a constituency card. Players use both financial resources and campaign strategies as they battle for influence.
The game, Kapoor said, does not offer lessons about the morality of politics.
“We want people to understand the process of an election, that there are issues and there are promises that are made and we don’t always hold people accountable for that,” he said. The game, which is available in Hindi and English, was launched in January, and Kapoor has been traveling the country to promote it. Along the way, he’s noticed that the way people play it reflects their background and experiences of politics. “We found that in an urban metropolis like Delhi, we aren’t talking to each other about politics. So, you see that apprehension, you see more rigidity built in to the way that people want to see the world. The echo chambers become extremely visible in urban settings,” said Kapoor.
In Lucknow, a city in India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, some participants established a game on the side.