Early Lessons from the 2009 Indian Elections
A few hours ago, The Acorn twittered:
The good news about elections is that they teach everyone a lesson: politicians, pundits, psephologists and pollsters. [Twitter]
That set me thinking: what lessons has this election taught everyone? Here are a few ideas that came to me (feel free to add your own):
The Internet was wrong. Well, at least the part of it that was interested in Indian elections. This is what Rediff‘s final people-powered election prediction map looked like:
Seriously, everything that the Internet could get wrong, it did. If you browsed through the Indian blogosphere, the bloggers were either calling this election for BJP, or for a hung Parliament. As the elections progressed, the Indian blogosphere seemed to put its money on a hung verdict. I am not providing any links to such blogs because the intention is not to single anyone out. In fact, I’ll frankly admit that I was wrong too. I was quite sure that there would be a hung Parliament, and wondered whether Ms. Mayawati would be the next Prime Minister. Ha!
Apart from predictions, other Internet-based ventures were flops too. Election coverage on Twitter was as noisy as ever, except that ardent BJP supporters seemed to have disappeared once the trends started coming in. Suddenly, virtually everyone on Twitter was pro-Congress.
As with most things, it should have been obvious from the start: Internet users in India are not a representative sample of Indian electorate. Except that they’ll change their tune just like some Indian voters changes their votes depending on which candidate is doling out more free booze. Only in this case, the bloggers/twitterers get no goodie bags.
The Mainstream Media was wrong. Their exit polls were wrong. Their analysis was wrong. The individual commentary from their supposedly unbiased commentators was wrong. Everyone predicted a hung Parliament, usually with a slim edge for the Congress-led UPA. It is quite shocking that the exit polls missed out such a large undercurrent. Just goes on to show how useless these polls are. Well, unless all the hung Parliament predictions scared the voters into voting for national parties!
And spare me the pointless post-result analysis, dear Media. Everyone is wiser after the fact. You blew it, once again. I can only pat myself on the back for having stopped listening to you after the 2004 fiasco.
Goodbye, Mr. Advani. I often admired you for your leadership style, if not the substance. It would be best for you, and your party, if you now allowed someone else to take charge and faded into background.
Buckle up, BJP. It is not the end of the road for you guys. You went from having 2 MPs to more than 180 of them. Last time, you did it on the basis of short-sighted strategies and managed to do well only because you had an impeccable public face – Mr. Vajpayee. This time around, do us all a favour and go easy on jingoistic nationalism. Consider the next five years as a huge opportunity to rebuild your party, especially your organization on the ground. Usher in genuine intra-party democracy at every level of your party. Play the role of a constructive opposition. Become a genuine right-of-center political party.
Oh, and fire Varun Gandhi (and many others just like him). They aren’t helping.
Singh is King. I wonder why some people are asking for Rahul Gandhi to become Prime Minister, when Mr. Singh had been repeatedly projected as the Prime Ministerial candidate. It would be as much of a bait-and-switch as it was in 2004. The man who was dubbed as the weakest Prime Minister had already showed that he wasn’t as weak as his opponents believed, when he asked the Left Front to take a hike over the Nuclear Deal. He continues to have a clean image and a keen intellect. If his health remains fine, there is no reason why he should have to make way for Rahul Gandhi any time soon. Also, now that Congress is virtually going to dictate the terms, I hope that the pace of reforms (in all spheres of economy and governance) will pick up.
Family Magic is alive, and so is Congress. Rahul Gandhi deserves credit for reviving the fortunes of Congress in UP. He is also, lets face it, the next Congress candidate for the top job. He has done some good work with bringing in some intra-party democracy at the level of party’s youth wings. For now, he should continue to work for the party and avoid getting a ministerial berth. I’ll perhaps never be able to accept dynastic politics as legitimate, but I’ll bow to the election verdict like everyone else.
Indian Voters are Smart. For all the condescension heaped on the average Indian voter by the English-speaking elite (yours truly included, in moments of cynicism), the Indian electorate has proven time and again that it knows what it wants (even as it does a good job of hiding it from pollsters). Spin it any which way you want to, but it is clear that the electorate was either tired of parties that did not play any constructive role during the last 5 years (recall the antics of Left on many occasions, BJP on nuclear deal etc.) or, realized that hung Parliaments are not good for the country in general. Or, may be both. Or something else entirely. Nobody really knows, and don’t let any media outlet fool you into believing that they have figured it out.
Many voters have voted for one party at the State level, and another at the national level. If that’s not a discerning voter, I don’t know what is.
There is a lot more on my mind, but I tend to ramble and lose the plot in my “Random Thoughts” posts, so I’ll stop here.