Like in real political life

In India, you can now study elections by playing a board game
the poll - the great indian election game

India’s general elections are just a few weeks away and the political contest is already dominating the public debates like no other theme.  Elections stand at the heart of the democratic system, they are the ultimate opportunity for the sovereign to determine the future of the country.

Educating voters is an important objective of democratic civic education and particularly important at election times. “The Poll - The Great Indian Election Game” stands out as a “very innovative contribution to understand the complexities of India’s elections,” says Dr.  Ronald Meinardus, Regional Director of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF).

The first political board-game of its kind in India aims at teaching the Indian voter the ins and outs of elections in a playful manner. Developed by “Seeking Modern Applications for Real Transformation,” an NGO better known by the acronym SMART, in partnership with FNF, the new game comes just in time as the political campaigns heat up throughout the country.

The man behind the project who designed the game from scratch is journalist Abeer Kapoor. He was assisted by a team of professionals who took advice from Indian and also international board game experts.

More recently, Mr. Kapoor has been touring the country, playing and explaining the game at various venues – and getting only positive feedback, we are told.

So how then does it work?

Players begin by building a “manifesto” for their political party in an effort to establish a constituency. They pick “policy cards” that align with the “constituency cards” placed at the center in the beginning of the game. Players then enter into the next phase which is the campaign. This can get “rather dirty,” says Rajat Kumar, Program Manager at FNF who has played “The Poll” multiple times with growing appreciation. Contenders may employ strategies like utilizing black money or “Whatsapp Uncle,” a recent phenomenon in India where this social media platform is used to spread misinformation. Players, of course, may also employ “clean” strategies like door-to-door campaigning.

The purpose is to win

One premise of ‘The Poll’ is “promise versus implementation:” to invite players to question the parties’ manifestoes and the promises made by politicians ahead of the poll.  In the game, players quickly forget their campaign promises no matter how altruistic they may have sounded putting winning ahead of all other considerations. “The purpose is to win whether that means to beg, borrow, or steal,” says Abeer Kapoor.

Participants engage with the electoral process and have fun doing it, he adds with a smile.  While they shift through the “policy cards,” the players assess the vocabulary of the various policy positions and campaign promises of political parties. In the course, they inevitably form strategic alliances based on their party platforms, just like in real political life. This creates many learning opportunities, people who have joined the exercise agree.

Kapoor describes “The Poll’s” target audience as “young, thinking, and concerned.” Together with the English version the game is also available in Hindi.  For now, the reach of the game is India. But that, for Abeer Kapoor and his team, is not the end of the story. They hope the game will attract attention also beyond the shores of the biggest democracy on earth.