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Electoral dice and the numbers game


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By Amitabh Ranjan

The Congress registers a resounding victory in Karnataka Assembly elections. The AAP, basking in its recently acquired ‘national party’ status, stuns the Congress in the latter’s bastion in Jalandhar in the Lok Sabha bypoll. Apna Dal (S) romps home in Rampur’s Suar and Chhanbey Assembly by-elections, the first a backyard of SP’s Azam Khan for long. And as the BJP sweeps the Uttar Pradesh local polls, AAP’s candidate, a new bride at 31, wins Rampur municipality seat, another Azam stronghold. All these in the space of a single day.

Finding a trend in India’s electoral game and deciphering how and why people vote for a party or an individual across the country is a herculean task even for political experts. The reason: the country’s mind-boggling diversity. Let’s have a quick look at that.

The people of this country live in arid deserts, tropical forests, mountains and flood plains; there are 23 official languages and more than a thousand dialects; 30% of the population lives in 6,000 cities and the rest in more than six lakh villages; a young crowd forms the base of the age pyramid. Add to this the religious and caste affiliations and you have a veritable melange. And representing them, across different tiers of governance, are six national parties (after the latest Election Commission revision), around 50 state parties and 2,000 smaller unrecognised parties.

It is this labyrinth that one of India’s top psephologists, Pradeep Gupta, cuts through in his latest book, Who gets Elected: How and Why, to find out how the people deliver their mandate.

Blank vertical book template.

He says voters make choices, that is, whom to vote for, based on their needs and aspirations and who they think are best placed to fulfill those needs. Politicians act in ways that help them meet their own needs and desires. And, linking the two is the invisible thread, the bureaucracy, which acts as the bridge between the politician and the people when it comes to execution and performance. “But because the buck stops at the desk of the political ruler, he has to make sure that the bureaucracy gets him the results he desires.”

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Starting in 2013 with four Assembly elections in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Delhi, Gupta’s My Axis India has built a reputation of being a credible election survey agency. Before Karnataka, it had got 59 out of 63 exit polls right. With the latest, the score is 60 out of 64.

The formidable track record is a testimony to how well the author understands the average voter’s psyche. In the introduction, he observes: “Election forecasting is a little bit like cricket… there is no room for complacency and each ball is a new one.”

Indeed, he builds the narrative by delving deep into key issues that lead to the voter’s decision on which button on the EVM to press. Though caste, religion, money power and dynasty remain crucial factors, a gradual demographic shift to a larger younger population has meant that old preferences have fallen by the side. The youth prioritise jobs and economic development. They not only vote according to their own assessment, but also educate the elders in the family.

Also, in addition to minority appeasement, pro-poor and caste politics, politicians are discovering a brand new vote bank that is helping them sail through elections—the female voter. Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, Delhi’s Arvind Kejriwal and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have all wooed this voter to good effect.

And then there is the power of the social media. Surrogate Facebook pages, Twitter and Instagram as well as WhatsApp forwards are all tools that every political party employs to build their own campaign and demolish the opponent’s. It has been a game-changer.

Though a few proof-reading slip-ups could have been avoided, the language is tidy even as crisp chapters maintain a steady pace throughout the book. It won’t make the reader a political wizard. But if she is politically inclined, it will certainly turn her into a more discerning audience of the dance of democracy.

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Who Gets Elected: How and Why

Pradeep Gupta

Rupa Publications

Pp 160, Rs495

A former journalist, Amitabh Ranjan teaches at Patna Women’s College

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