Verdict and versions

Fallen psephologists may be proof that pre-poll surveys and exit polls are slippery terrain. But even more risky is the interpretation of a mandate. Yet that is the analysis that really matters, if one is keen on understanding the mechanics of the voters mind as also the driving forces behind the most important show in our democratic theatre, namely, elections. Unfortunately, the sound and fury that accompanied the run up to the polls has given way to a mute unanimity, in the intellegentsia and media, assuming they are mutually exclusive, with just a few banal and bland explanations. The ‘national’ consensus arrived at in a jiffy, compared to the endless primetime hours spent on guessing the outcome, is that the ‘intelligent aam aadmi’ has en masse voted for ‘stability’ as represented by the Congress! How sweet and how very simple!

In my view, such a sweeping and generic interpretation of the current mandate smacks of mental laziness and a ‘victor is always right’ mindset. A ‘relatively’ stable government is no doubt in place and we are happy for that, but this stability is an unintended outcome and not the result of a conscious, collective, coherent effort by the voters, as is sought to be projected. Again, the talk that this is the most stable regime in the last two decades is absurd. PVN ran a fairly stable minority regime from 1991 to 96, which saw just one quake (JMM episode) in its tenure. Vajpeayee’s third stint between 1999-2004, again was a stable coalition regime with nary a no cofidence motion threatening its life. Still, if we feel the current MSingh government is ‘relatively’ stable, it is only vis-a-vis his own earlier regime that swayed to every sneeze and was on a perennial survival scare. Yes, Singh surely is a stronger puppet today. But the ground statistics prove beyond doubt that the electorate remains as fractured as ever and much farther from a homogenous national view and vote.

We alluded to a ‘victor is right’ mindset. True, a winner will like to project his triumph as a ratification for all that he stands for. But is there a victor, in the first place? How is it that a mandate for none gets to be interpreted as a mandate for one? or some? The perversion is a result of two factors: Faults inherent in the democratic system and the voting arithmetic that further vitiates the pollscape. For starters, the ‘first past the post’ logic is fine for horse racing in determining a winner, but fails as a foolproof mechanism to select a true representative of a constituency. Only sixty persons out of hundred vote and that’s bad enough: Every candidate actually begins his bid with the blessing of an absentee-voter. This democracy-by-default only gets worse with a person disliked by the majority of the people ending up representing them. A study of vote shares reveal that almost 200 candidates have entered the LS with the support of less than 25% of the electorate or with 75% against them, conversely. At best, the average vote share of a winning candidate is less than 30%. A few stray candidates cross 40% and even 50%. But if Azhagiri is one among them, that is no cause for celebration either for we know the sordid secret behind such super stats too. In short, most MPs are beneficiaries of an unwitting alliance between the non-voter and the ‘hater’: the positive vote is just a catalyst, not the prime mover.

To some more number crunching. The rise in Cong vote share is a paltry 2% and this too is confined to a few states in the cowbelt. Yet there is a surge in its LS strength. Clearly, the vote share has no bearing on the seat share and this is another anomaly in the democratic process which has been most starkly manifested in this election. Spoiler parties in States like Maharashtra, AP and TN have polled sizeable chunks despite drawing a blank in terms of seats, but swelled Cong’s kitty instead. Not just a much disliked candidate, but a much disliked party too can ride to power. But there’s one sure signal from the voter: though good governance is a constitutional duty and not a favour, incumbents who perform will be rewarded. But here again, the Cong has little to boast of. Most such performing winners are anti-Cong CMs riding on local ‘waves’: Nitish, Yeddyurappa, Shivraj, Modi, Naveen, Ramlal, the Sikkim man etc. If anything, the voter has caesed to differentiate between an LS poll and Assembly poll. Yet, all these cannot belitle a basic fact, that Cong’s bad fortunes might have bottomed out and it could be on the rise, first as a ‘regional’ party in some States and later regain its old position as a national party, across regional lines. But for now, one UP does not make a Cong summer!

A chance winner must actually be thanking his stars for the numerical miracle. He must also be humbled by the conspiracy of contradictions that enabled it. An added boon is the voters’ forgetful, if not forgiving, nature. But if the victor were to interpret his landing in power as a vindication of his ideology or validation of his past deeds, a spider’s web is what awaits him. Even a happy outcome as ‘stability’ has arrived by accident; to gloat over secularism, security and such other familiar slogans is wholly off the mark. No such lofty theme seems to have worked on the voter’s mind. If so at least seven States have rejected secularism. And Maharashtra, by ignoring the Mumbai terror attack, has voted for insecurity. Again, if the vote is for economic reform, what’s Mamta who said tata to the mighty Tatas, doing in the reformist cabinet? Again, look at this paradox: At a time when worldover the ugly face of capitalism has been unmasked and the ranks of poor and unemployed are growing, the Left’s support base should actually be bloating; but the comrades have been routed! And in WB the Left’s defeat is actually because, it became more capitalist than the capitalists themselves!

Many broken parts can still yield a wholesome product, of whatever quality. The attempt to pass off such a verdict as a blanket referendum of the ‘victor’s’ worldview is plain silly. If so, should we also draw these conclusions from the ‘emphatic electoral decree’?: Q has never heard of Bofors and Sonia & family have never heard of Q; Rs 64 crore is pittance pocket money by current purchasing power and not worth pursuing; Swiss banks have no Indian money; India deserves to be ruled only by an outsider, in person or by proxy; From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, dynasties, howsoever nasty, have a divine right; Afzal Guru’s neck and noose will never meet; it takes a minimum of three murders and two years to become a cabinet minister; spectrum scandal is all hot air; and the thousands of crores? Thin air; K’s flash fast ended the Sri Lankan conflict; his freebies, constitute a sound economic philosophy; kitchen is cabinet; happy family means happy Dravidanadu …

How easily one election has solved or settled all the national/personal issues for posterity!

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Jawahar T R