Karnataka Political League!

Since 12th May, the day when Karnataka went to polls, India has been gripped by non-stop action from KPL – Karnataka Political league. The twists and turns of KPL put IPL completely on the back burner for a week. From the exit poll results to counting day to the see-sawing of fortunes of parties and leaders to the resort games to the confidence vote, we saw it all. In these “Winner takes it all” times, finally JDS emerged the winner at the end of the week! And the people of Karnataka (to whom elections and the rulers actually matter) lost!

For those of us, who have been keenly watching the Karnataka elections and some of the electoral battles since 2014, there are many interesting takeaways which I would like to share:

  • Final election results defy ground reports of journalists and in particular celebrity anchors and Star journos. Karnataka once again confirmed this! They tend to hear what they want to hear and see what they want to see. Ergo, report what they want to report!
  • Restaurants, eateries, dhabas are wrong places to sense any political hawa during elections. Channels, anchors and reporters should find better options to plug eateries in their shows. My unsolicited advice to anchors – “Please do not have politics and elections on your plates!”
  • For a political party being savvy or active on Social media (read as Twitter) and claiming to dominate Twitter trends aggressively is not a passport to electoral wins. Dominating “on the ground” trends is. I have come to realise that what happens on Twitter may just steer conversations on WhatsApp groups or lunchtime discussions in offices. These also help feed off talk points to reporters and journalists. At the hustings, being savvy on Social media particularly Twitter has no impact. As a tool, WhatsApp works better and efficiently in driving opinions.
  • Opinion polls and Exit polls continue to be employment generating machines for pollsters, TRP drivers for channels and entertainment source for viewers. Beyond that, we have now got habituated to see that for every exit poll there is an opposite result exit poll!
  • On TV, the so called experts have their own way of explaining any result. In the run up to the polls when Congress was poised to do well, Siddaramaiah was touted to have mastered the social coalition of AHINDA. On the counting day when Congress for floundering, Siddaramaiah’s AHINDA and the many social schemes were pronounced as “flops”. Same with his Lingayat gamble. In 24 hours, a masterstroke became Siddaramaiah’s undoing!
  • Therefore the important take away for observers like us is not to form our opinions based on experts on TV or social media narratives!
  • If one is weak on Indian geography, start watching pre-election programming where channel after channel will take you through the regional divides in a state with the caste composition in added measure!
  • And the more and more we want our next generation to move away from casteism, experts on TV will keep hammering and reminding us about Vokkaligas and Kappus and Yadavs and Kurmis and what not! If you are a student of journalism, this is the 1st thing to master to become a successful political journalist!
  • Corruption is not really a big issue for the electorate. Impact of governance on the individual voter is. Even if a party or a legislator is corrupt, as long as they manage to meet the expectations of voters in matters of day-to-day governance, they will go ahead and vote for them. This I am talking of voters for whom elections and the rulers matter. I have come to this conclusion not just based on the Karnataka elections but what has been happening for so many years not just in India but even in our neighbourhood like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh,…
  • I think Demonetisation aka Notebandi and GST,… as much as the media and opposition would like to rake them as electoral issues have clearly emerged as non-issues in elections. On the contrary, I feel that opposition parties continuing to raise hell on these issues are yielding them negative returns.
  • Prime Minister Modi clearly has a Pan India and towering appeal today. Talks of a waning Modi appeal are as per me pure imaginations. And it is my belief that even if BJP had lost Karnataka badly and ended up with fewer seats than Congress, come 2019, Karnataka will vote for Modi and BJP in that order.
  • Anti-incumbency is just an excuse to explain poor Governance. Incumbent governments will continue to be under severe scrutiny. However, if the government delivers on at least 50% of its promises and demonstrates its intent to deliver the rest, I think the floating non-core supporter will vote in the ruling party’s favour. (Core voters stick to their parties come what may). As per me, above all other factors, this is one in which BJP has demonstrated a clear edge over Congress. And hence it is able to retain states where it rules and Congress is unable to.
  • Post poll alliance is the biggest charade to afflict Indian democracy. I am not saying this with just Karnataka in mind but seeing what has happened in the past and recently in Goa, Manipur, J&K,… That you fight tooth and nail against each other before elections and then stitch up a post alliance to appropriate power is nothing but a sham! Before elections, 2 parties “come together” for an alliance. After elections, 2 parties “cobble up” an alliance! There is a world of difference in both! In India, now any 2 parties which may seem to be in loggerheads can come together if a situation arises for sharing power! Morality be damned and Ideology be condemned!
  • In India, “Whataboutery” just scaled new heights! “Whataboutery” which has largely been in the domain of party spokespersons trying to defend their positions day in and day out has now become common man’s defence against any argument. No argument/discussion is complete today without reference to “Whatabout that” or “Whatabout then”!
  • For every precedent, there is an opposite precedent!

Karnataka Political League might have just ended. But the games parties play will continue. Bernard Shaw said politics is the last resort of scoundrels. These days, “Resorts” have become the 1st resort for politics!!!

Toon credit: Satish Acharya

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From “Casteing” votes to Casting them!!!

In the last 2 months, India has been gripped by the UP (Uttar Pradesh) election fever. Or so the channels made us to believe. The huge size of the state notwithstanding it was certainly an overdose of analysis and punditry. And today was the Judgement day! And as I hammer away these words on the keyboard the people of UP have spoken and spoken decisively in favour of Narendra Modi and BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) strictly in that order. The build up to this day has been quite noisy. A diarrhea of analyses post each of the seven phases of polls in UP and then the pontifications in the last couple of days based on the Exit poll results. It was indeed intriguing to see commentators waxing eloquent on the emerging trends,.. just based on Exit poll results.

However it is important to note that none of the ground reports of even seasoned journalists or the Exit poll results captured the final end result which has panned out today. That of a massive groundswell in favour of Modi and BJP (again strictly in that order) in UP. To be fair a few like Rajdeep Sardesai and Dr. Prannoy Roy predicted a possible BJP win but not of this scale. We were again and again told by experts that there is no visible wave this time. And they were all right. Because in the lookout for a wave they completely missed a Tsunami of sorts brewing in the Ganges. In 2014 as well there was no wave prior to the elections. The overwhelming sweep of UP by BJP was then explained as a Modi wave post facto.

In election after election since Nov 8th (the day Modi let the so called Demonetisation Demon on Indians) whether they were municipal body elections or State/Parliamentary by elections voters did not punish Modi or the BJP for the wounds inflicted by the “Demon”. But even then, the narrative before these state polls was that Demonetisation is going to cost BJP dear in these elections and in particular in UP. UP elections were a clear referendum on Namo’s Demo as per media. But it turned out that Demo was a non-issue.

In channel after channel the experts who were dissecting the prospects in the run up to the polls were discussing caste arithmetic and how voters ultimately show loyalty to their castes. Particularly in the so called backward state like Uttar Pradesh.  Analyst and researcher Dr. Surjit Bhalla has been consistently calling out since about 2014 that India has moved beyond the castes. But what we were routinely fed was how the Jats were pissed off with BJP or how the Yadavs will stick to SP and how the Dalits and Most Backwards will ride only the Elephant,…,… And how the upper castes and now backward will favour the BJP. And how the Yadavs, the Kushwahas, the Prajapatis, the Majhis,…,… will influence the voting pattern and hence the result. And in addition to the caste axis, we were told that there is a “Class Axis” which is building up.

However even a quick back of the envelope analysis of today’s results through any prism makes it clear that the caste loyalty of voters is history. And that probably UP must have put the communal divide behind as well. With 40%+ share of the vote and still counting, it is most likely that Muslims have indeed voted for BJP though not en masse. This can be borne out by the fact that Mayawati came out bewildered about the results and was posing conspiracy theories about possible EVM (Electronic Voting Machine) fraud. And today’s trends are also beyond the realm of Class divide.

My personal favourite line on India considering the complexity and diversity has been Shashi Tharoor’s “anything you say about India, the opposite is also true!!!” So it is extremely hazardous to come to a concrete conclusion that India has shed its Caste baggage based on just today’s result. But I guess it is safe to conclude that there is a churn which is happening particularly with the youth coming of their own. They don’t give a damn to the prejudiced thought lines of their parents/ancestors and are willing to look at things with a more balanced view.  In the past 3 decades many regional parties which thrived on challenging Congress like the BSP, SP, RJD, TMC, JDU,… turned “Social Justice to Casteism” and “Secularism to Pro Minorityism”. After getting an opportunity to make a difference in UP, Bihar,.. where they failed now they are facing the brunt of the Nextgen voters. And BJP (and Modi) being the principal party now is happy to lap up and take advantage of this angst.  Even in Bihar I am of the view the so called come back of Lalu is more because voters wanted Nitish back as CM and not due to some caste equations. And voters wanted Nitish back not because of his caste but due to his track record in changing Bihar.

Beyond the caste arithmetic of the Yadavs, Kurmis, Lingayats and the Vanniyars,…,…there is a wind of change blowing in India. It looks like only Modi and BJP again in that order have got a wind of this. Or may be even they haven’t got a complete grip on this. It is clear based on today’s early reactions that the other parties have not yet understood what hit them. Unless these parties and the commentariat (in that order) realise that an important churn is happening, we will continue to see parties getting caught off guard and expert analyses going awfully wrong. And that important churn is “In elections India no longer “Castes” it votes but casts its votes!!!

May be I’m jumping the gun. But would be happy if time proves me wrong.

The Maha Gam(e)ble!!!

Its’ been a real long while since I studied Game Theory. But since the last few weeks in the run up to the State elections in Maharashtra, we have been witness to a live demo of its application by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with its now former ally the Shiv Sena(Sena). From the results which have just come today and the possible outcome, it appears that the BJP played the game well and has come out trumps.

Theoretically speaking, Game theory refers to the branch of mathematics concerned with the analysis of strategies for dealing with competitive situations where the outcome of a participant’s choice of action depends critically on the actions of other participants.

Looking at the sequence of events in this election, the moves by the BJP could fit in the above definition. Right after the big win in the Lok Sabha elections, BJP clamored to be the bade bhai in the BJP-Sena alliance in the assembly polls. The reasoning was quite simple. With Modi, they had a winning horse and they believed that Sena owed it to them for in a way reviving the fortunes of Sena in the Lok Sabha Polls and for relegating the other Sena to the corner. Sena, however wanted to continue with the old existing formula conceived by Bal Thackeray and Pramod Mahajan 20 years ago whereby BJP will contest more seats in Lok Sabha elections while Sena will contest more in Assembly polls. And when the alliance won, the CM will be from the Sena. This formula worked well as along as BJP was not the dominant party as it is today. So in the negotiations that followed, conclusion eluded and the old alliance broke resulting in BJP and Sena going alone competing against each other.

Sena

There were many who felt that this was a big gamble by the BJP and the Sena as a split vote may help the Congress/NCP. (In a very, very strange move almost leading to conspiracy theories, NCP also announced break up with the Congress the next day). Here’s where BJP applied the funda of Game theory and applied it well. As per me it would have been better for the Sena to have kept the alliance together at any cost and if it was just giving away a few more seats than last time they should have. For the BJP, breaking the alliance was a win-win-win deal looking at the probable outcomes:

  1. If they get absolute majority by themselves, nothing to complain.
  2. If they fall short of the majority and emerge the single largest party, they could still form the Government taking support from either the Shiv Sena or NCP or MNS depending upon the number picture.

If the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance would have continued it would have been a landslide victory for the combine. But for the BJP, it would have been less than 100 seats and with no CM post. Sena by virtue of contesting in more seats had a better chance of winning more seats and retain the CM post. Perse additional numbers in the state assembly helps the cause of more Rajya Sabha seats which is another requirement for Modi i.e to establish majority in the Rajya Sabha sooner or later.

And the other subtext is, had the BJP-Sena alliance continued is that it would have been inconclusive as to who is the bigger brother.

By going it alone and by winning double the number of seats as the Sena, the BJP has clearly established how the wind is blowing. Now the option is with the BJP being the single largest party though without a majority to co-opt Sena in the Government and run the state.  For many who believe that the BJP-Sena coalition will be as disastrous as the Congress-NCP combine, the difference is stark. In the former case, BJP is heading the Government at the Centre with a clear majority and a supreme leader unlike the UPA.

Unlike many who believe that a decisive mandate in favour of BJP would have been better than this fractured verdict, I have a different view. In this scenario of Maharashtra where BJP and Sena have been allies till now, if BJP got the majority mandate, Sena would have become the main opposition party. For Sena’s own survival they have to dig in to the same “constituency” to create any impact. Having followed Sena’s politics in the opposition it would be a major distraction for BJP to handle the Sena’s antics every now and then. By making it part of the Government, hopefully Sena will behave more responsibly and try to catch up for the time they lost in the middle without being in power.

For the Sena it is not a bad deal either. They get to share power after a lonnnnnnng while. Uddhav gets to establish his supremacy within the Sena finally. Gets an opportunity to pitchfork the 3rd Gen tiger cub ahead. And got to silence the “other” Thackeray once for all.

At the end of the day, for the BJP,

  • Their vote share has doubled
  • They have added 65+ seats compared to 2009
  • They have emerged as the single largest party in terms of vote share and seats
  • They have successfully got the Sena off their back

So for the BJP it was it was not a Gamble as it is touted to be but a thought out “Gam(e)ble.

Postscript: While on elections, today has been the counting day and if at all if there is one winner who defeated all panelists, experts,… it is Arnab Goswami. No Game theory and all here 🙂 🙂

Toon courtesy :  http://www.newsmobile.in