Saturday, March 22, 2014

Indian elections and quantum mysteries

The first time one hears about the famous double-slit experiment in physics, one returns perplexed, mystified. Indeed, that is the effect desired by the raconteur. The student must be introduced to the weirdness of quantum physics at the most basic level just so she would be able to take additional perplexities in her stride.
It almost feels like I am going through what that student would have experienced from the second telling of the experiment. I am talking about a candidate in Indian elections being able to contest from more than one constituency. The first time I thought about this situation was when Sonia Gandhi contested from two places, from Amethi in UP and Bellary in Karnataka, in 1999. The situation is being reprised at that level in the upcoming elections for the Lok Sabha.
The attention grabbing character this time round is none other than the putative prime minster, Narendra Modi, NaMo. He will be contesting from the high profile constituency Varanasi and another one from Gujarat (the name escapes me, if indeed it has been announced).
I draw a parallel with the double-slit experiment in more ways than one. The easier is the straight forward one, the first thought that comes to one’s mind – which constituency would he discard if he won from both? This is precisely like asking which of the two slits did that photon not go through! In case he wins both, during the campaign he must have been, just as Sonia Gandhi, lying to people of one of the two places, of his willingness to represent them in the parliament. Would a Gujarati have been lying to the masses of that state? Perish the thought. But, Varanasi, the stairway to Heaven, particularly for the RSS man, beckons.
As an aside, should anyone be aware of the debates in the Constituent Assembly that endorsed our Constitution, please do let me know why it did not stipulate that a candidate can contest from only one constituency in any particular election.
Back to the main discussion, to ratchet up the complexity. Just assume, and here I will be stepping on the toes of the NaMo faithful, that he lost the high-profile Varanasi contest (not unthinkable, but with longer odds than Jayalalithaa appearing in a court in Bengaluru). What happens to NaMo’s street cred to lead the country? I believe this is the thinking behind our street fighter Arvind Kejriwal choosing a direct fight against the BJP supremo.
It is not as though should NaMo win Varanasi, Kejriwal retires unhurt. Kejriwal has something to lose, without a doubt. If he had chosen a “safer” constituency to contest, he could have claimed that being in the parliament and serving the people came first for him, whichever constituency, never mind it being “safe”. Now, he has painted himself in a corner. If he lost Varanasi, the AAP parliamentary party (with strength of how many ever seats) will be without its acknowledged leader. Or, will Kejriwal pull a fast one and do a NaMo and contest from an additional seat? It gets curioser and curioser.
This is what happens with more complex versions of the double-slit experiment. It now appears that even if the experimental set up is changed after the light particle left its source, it still figures out how to adjust itself and pass through the “right” slit (it is far too complicated for me to explain, but this is the crux)!
So, Indian elections are quantum experiments!
Raghuram Ekambaram

No comments: