It’s not the money they’re after.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants you to donate anywhere between Rs 5 and Rs 1,000 through an app named after himself – the NaMo app. This will, he says, encourage transparency in politics.
This is curious for many reasons.
First, the BJP doesn’t need such small amounts. The party is so rich that it made an income of Rs 1,000 plus crores in 2016-17 alone. By contrast, the Congress made a meagre Rs 225 crores in the same period. In an election year, the BJP will likely raise even more money given that it is expected to return to power, at worst with a coalition.
Second, if the idea is to encourage transparency, why did they introduce opaque electoral bonds through which crores of rupees are being donated god knows by who to which parties?
Third, why didn’t the NaMo app seek such donations earlier? Why has this programme come up just a few months before the 2019general elections?
Fourth, it has been suggested that by seeking donations as little as Rs 5, the party is trying to portray an image of a poor man’s party. But given how much money the BJP spends on campaigning, do they really think anyone will think of them as a party so poor that it’s asking for five rupees? If it’s an image-making exercise, it’s not going to convince anyone.
Money is not what the BJP is after with micro-donations, neither is it image-making. It’s something else.
Faith and trust
This is clever use of behavioural psychology in elections, something the Modi campaign did a lot of in 2014, and is widely used in political campaigns in the West.
If you give five rupees to a cause, you are giving it a lot more than five rupees. You are reposing in it your faith and trust. Your emotional and intellectual support for the cause now feels real.
It is a bit like giving a donation to a temple or a Sufi shrine: You are not just giving money to help in its upkeep. You feel you are paying obeisance to a spiritual entity, showing it respect and gratitude, and asking for something in return.
Religious shrines have defined ways on how you should give the money, making it a ritual in itself. The ritual re-inforces your devotion. Similarly, if you make the effort of downloading the NaMo app, looking up the donation section and using it to make the payment, all this effort shows your commitment to the cause. This is why the ritual of donation must be made at the altar of the NaMo app and not the BJP website. It will be the NaMo campaign once again, not the BJP campaign.
After you’ve given the donation, you feel better about yourself. It raises your motivation levels about the cause. Fund-raisers appeal to this part of your brain, the part that wants to feel good about having done something for a cause.
Anybody who will make the effort of donating money through the NaMo app will already be a NaMo supporter. This is not going to persuade any new voters. The idea is to raise the motivation levels of those who are already supporters. This is especially important in an election year where the motivation levels of Modi supporters are nowhere near the 2014 levels.
It is human behaviour to not admit one’s mistakes – at least for some time. It takes time for buyer’s remorse to set in. If you have given your faith and trust in something, it will take a lot before you give it up.
For example, people tend to defend the phones they buy, insisting it has the best camera, and unwilling to admit that the rival could be better. Once the purchase is made and retail therapy has released happy hormones, it will take some months before the phone starts acting up and you regret the investment.
This is why Narendra Modi didn’t ask you to donate five rupees to the NaMo app all these five years. He wants it now, just before the elections, to make sure your support doesn’t waver as campaign season begins. The idea is to solidify your support for him, to raise your motivation levels about the NaMo cause, hoping to recreate the 2014-like euphoria for him.
He did this in a slightly different way for the 2014 campaign as well. In some of his rallies, people had to buy a ticket for five rupees. This was an innovation by the Prashant-Kishor-led Citizens for Accountable Governance.
It does have one impact on non-supporters though. It gives them an exaggerated sense of support for Modi, thus adding to the image of invincibility. If you think people are paying to get into Modi rallies, and not the other way round, you will be led to think that he’s extremely popular. For that reason, one should expect the NaMo app to put out a lot of data about the rising tide of micro-donations.
Speaking of data, the oil of the 21st century, your data will be far more valuable to the NaMo app than your five rupees, or whatever amount you donate. It will help them create a database of people who are so committed that they are even willing to donate money on the NaMo app. Such people can then be separately targeted to be used as volunteers in the campaign, going out and persuading others to vote for NaMo in 2019.