Political triumph, at its core, is largely dependent on the ability to influence public opinion. In other terms, winning an election would require a political party or an individual politician to exercise some control over public opinion. Public opinion, dictated by the emotions of the people, hold centre stage in the social engineering structure of politics
Social engineering is the systematic way of hacking a group of people. It has significance in several fields. Given the humungous data generated through the internet and the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI), it has made human hacking unprecedentedly convenient.
By using the generated data and other weapons of mass manipulation, public opinions are being shaped and dictated across the world by amplifying the existing cognitive biases, thus championing the narrative that ''Who owns the data, owns the future''.
Political triumph, at its core, is largely dependent on the ability to influence public opinion.
In other terms, winning an election would require a political party or an individual politician to exercise some control over public opinion.
Given the prevalence of cognitive biases, people seldom act rationally, and their actions and opinions are largely governed by emotions.
Public opinion, dictated by the emotions of the people, hold centre stage in the social engineering structure of politics.
As a veteran leader of India's ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Subramanian Swamy, in his interview with The Quint in 2018, stated that, "Elections are never won on economic performance, an election is won on emotions''.
The same narrative is championed and epitomised by India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the latest elections.
Modi, the disciple of KN Govindacharya, the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the BJP's voluntary organisation) ideologue known as the pioneer of social engineering in India, successfully executed the vision of his ideological ancestor, thus claiming the appellation of ''Master social engineer''.
The emergence of Modi in centre stage not only alters the political discourse of the country but also points towards the paradigm-shift in the political domain.
Nepal is a nascent democracy with a low electoral history, prone to the execution of social engineering, as it awaits the paradigm shift in the existing electoral culture.
Nepal's electoral history does not date back too long. Given the societal structure and inheritance of the election culture, the campaign pattern in the latest election was largely conventional.
The affluent and preferred candidates from the high command managed to grab the election ticket in most of the cases, and public opinion was known to have a lesser impact on the elections.
However, some glimpse of social engineering existed in the previous elections.
All parties prefer Newar candidates in the Kathmandu Valley, considering the caste factor.
After the people's movement in the Tarai region, the politics of the plains is being solely governed by a sense of victimhood that has been advanced by the regional parties that emerged recently.
Whenever those parties successfully managed to influence public opinion by advancing the sense of victimhood – the historical disparity the Madhesi community faced – their electoral performance has improved significantly as compared to when they failed to do so.
Even CPN-UML's K P Sharma Oli's sobriquet "patriotic leader'' is an outcome of the deft execution of social engineering that has attracted youths in his fold.
Caste-based social engineering is practised in some parts of the country, but given the diversity of the castes that reside in harmony, caste-based social engineering has been insignificant and unrealistic for most parts of the country.
The emergence of the internet, social media, and their widespread access to the people have made the prospect of data-based social engineering unprecedentedly imminent.
Access to data related to the attributes of the people can make anyone stronger in the political domain.
Several weapons, such as propaganda and fake news can easily reach the public through the social media, which amplifies the existing biases that the people carry.
As Nepal awaits a paradigm-shift in its election culture, the political parties might lure their interests towards influencing public opinion by gaining access to data or by generating data and playing with the existing social characteristics.
Between two elections, several million first-time voters get added to the voting list.
The voters belonging to this age group have easy access to the internet, and they are very prone to become victims of target advertising.
The largest parties are known to have loyal voters.
These voters cast their vote based on their pre-occupied political allegiance and previously-embded ideological base.
Except for them, there is a larger group of people who remain neutral and decide their electoral alliance based on their rational thinking or after being influenced by the public discourse.
Those undecided voters are highly vulnerable to systematic manipulation, resulting in the electoral benefit for the perpetrators.
Given the emergence of online and social media, propaganda and fake news travel at lightning speed and influence a larger mass of people, paving the way to have a significant impact.
In Nepal, where democracy is slowly starting to get mature, several electoral experiments are ongoing.
It would be absurd to think that people will vote based on the performance of the political parties.
The parties will still have to find a more acerbic way of influencing the emotions of the people.
It is interesting to see how the political parties will adapt to the changing world dominated by social engineering.
A version of this article appears in the print on December 24, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.