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Indian elections-2019: The real 2019 fight isn’t between Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi

By Kumar Ketkar

Now that the assembly elections have been announced in the five states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Mizoram and Telangana in November-December, the “forward trading” in the political market will outpace the frenzy in the Bombay Stock Exchange and Nifty.
The illegal private betting agencies have a field day during this period. BJP president Amit Shah is supposed to be the past master in this political forward trading, and most BJP leaders and MPs are in awe of this giant data cruncher. Sitting MLAs have been told that they must not take for granted that they will get tickets.
Indeed, they also fear (and hence obey) that Amit Shah may one day be the successor to Modi as the Prime Minister. He has created an aura for himself as an invincible poker player.
Now the die is cast. These five states are expected to show the national mood or electoral trend. The pollsters and panelists, the anchors and analysts, the columnists and commentators will speculate and predict. Some will even hallucinate.
The TRPs are believed to be in direct proportion to the decibel level of anchors (in all languages) during the nightly Newshour shows. There is a big section of people who obsessively watch the “jamura” style election shows, popularly (and wrongly) known as debates.
The media has already written obituaries for the mahagatbandhan. So, the conventional wisdom is that the opposition vote would be split among at least three (if not more) parties. That would give the BJP a clear edge. But edge does not mean majority. According to this wisdom, the BJP can win straight 40 per cent votes.
Mayawati has punctured the opposition unity by directly attacking the Congress, and forming an alliance with Ajit Jogi in Chhattisgarh. Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party too seems to have dumped the Congress, and has signalled that his party will contest in these states on its own.
Sharad Pawar has announced that the NCP may contest in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, notwithstanding the fact that his party has no following in these states. Then, as usual, there would be sponsored independents or “dummy” candidates. So, the five states will go to polls in the next two months without any opposition unity in sight.
The popular theory against this splintered backdrop is that the BJP is a disciplined monolithic party and therefore a winner. And yet, respected pollsters like the CSDS are saying it’s either a close call or that the Congress has a clear edge in these states. Since elections in these five states are seen as the curtain-raiser for 2019 and determining Modi’s future, it would be worthwhile to look into the legacy of polls and predictions.
Whenever electoral projections are not favourable, respective parties or candidates condemn polling agencies, calling them totally unrepresentative and irrelevant or accusing them of doing the paid job for the rival parties. However, polling agencies have grown like mushrooms, with many candidates and local units hiring them for “private poll”.
Some questions do remain and sceptics legitimately raise doubts. Do state assembly polls represent the national mood? Why actual results have flummoxed the pollsters and pundits in the past? Why nobody could predict 67 out of 70 seats for the AAP in Delhi, even when Modi was riding a huge wave of popularity and was the Prime Minister? Why the elections in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu do not follow a national pattern? Why the chief minister of Odisha, who is not fluent in Oriya, has not succumbed for nearly 20 years to the so-called anti-incumbency? There are many such examples.
The mother of all examples of pollsters getting it wrong was in 2016 and that too in a poll-obsessed country, America. The various polls kept monitoring the political mood of the country on a weekly basis. Almost all opinion polls had virtually declared Hillary Clinton a winner and nobody dared visualise Donald Trump as the winner. The pollsters and the media have still not come out of the depression.
The New York Times and The New Yorker confessed later that they were disconnected from the people and could not see the growing anger of the people against the so-called liberal establishment. But even in 1948, pollsters and the media had predicted the defeat of Harry Truman of the Democratic Party. But 70 years ago, psephology had not become a technology-driven “science” it claims to be today.
In India, the parameters are fantastically varied unlike in the US, where most people are uni-lingual, uni-religious, uni-cultural despite the country being called a melting pot. One celebrated election strategist-cum-psephologist has conducted a massive nationwide survey, covering all regions, with a sample size of several lakh respondents, and predicted a substantive and sure victory for Modi in 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Amit Shah has repeatedly and confidently predicted 350 Lok Sabha seats. Interestingly, the Congress or no other party has claimed to win a certain number of seats. All have merely wished, hoped and predicted that Modi will suffer a loss of 80 to 120 seats, bringing the BJP’s tally from 282 seats in 2014 to 160-200 seats. Most opposition leaders and even their sympathetic supporters expect a kind of a revolt or at least departure of many BJP leaders from the party over Modi’s style and leadership.
However, almost all pundits and leaders agree that the BJP will be the single-largest party in the Lok Sabha. The President will be “bound” to invite the BJP (read Modi) to form the government. That is when the game of thrones would begin. A new NDA, a new UPA, a new federal front, and perhaps a new BJP will come to the fore.
The election in 2019 will not be between Rahul and Modi, neither will it be between the mahagatbandhan and the NDA, nor between various local parties and the BJP. It will be between polling pundits and the people.

(Kumar Ketkar is a former editor and Congress member of Rajya Sabha.)
(The Print)

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