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.

Eggs it is polls!

Afternoon on Sunday exactly a week ago in India, suddenly eggs went into short supply mode. Didn’t they all land up on the faces of psephologists and many pollster turned anchors in Delhi and other places??? For more than 3 months, India had been hijacked by elections in one state – Bihar. At the end of the tiring, long drawn 5 phased elections and just before the actual counting on 8th Nov (last Sunday) – almost all channels went on an overdrive with telecast of their exit poll results. The channels had used different agencies to conduct the same, extrapolate the vote share into seats and projected the results. However, in the afternoon when the actual results started coming in, it was clear that all the channels and their agencies were way off the mark. While all the channels had predicted a very close election with a wafer thin majority either in favour of the NDA or the Mahaghatbandhan (MGB from here), the actual outcome was more than a landslide win for the Nitish led MGB and a massive blow to Modi led NDA and ofcourse to the pollsters!!! Ironically the one agency (AXIS) which had got it correct didn’t get the opportunity to air their poll results. The channel’s (CNN-IBN) management thought it outrageous to telecast a poll which gave 169-183 seats to the MGB we are told!!! Amidst all this mass Exit poll debacle there was only one individual – Dr. Surjit Bhalla who stuck his neck out and gave 175 seats for the MGB just by his own forecast model (not exit polls) in his Indian Express article a few days before the counting and got it right.

This massive blow to Modi may be a 1st since his historic 2014 win, but for the pollsters this blow is not the 1st. Before the Bihar elections when Delhi went into polls this year, the same thing happened. While most polls predicted a close fight between BJP and AAP, the final result was clean sweep by the broom party. None of the exit/opinion polls captured that kind of a sweep. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections again it was only one agency – Today’s Chanakya which correctly called the outcome. Most others projected just a simple majority for the NDA.

Inspite of this way off their mark predictions what is the bet that the same agencies will not again carry out opinion polls/ exit polls the next time around?? These are competitive times for the channels and the polling agencies. As any election approaches (Central/State) these must be the first to salivate and glee at the prospects of increasing their TRPs with all the election related programming in which the opinion polls and exit polls are now an integral part. So we will continue to see the much hyped exit polls packaged as with new improved methodology, bigger and improved sampling next time over. Again.

Years ago when the idea of Opinion polls and Exit polls got imported to India from the US (I guess) it was fascinating. As mortals, there is this tendency in us to jump the gun. Those trips to palmists, astrologers and soothsayers of different hues to know our Aane wale kal explain this tendency. Similarly we feel excited to know who will be our rulers before the actual counting is done through exit polls though it is just a few days ahead. But US and other western democracies from where these concepts originated, are less complex and more homogenous as a society. So calling an election after an exit poll with a very small sample size and extrapolating the results there is a less arduous task I guess. (Even there Exit polls have gone awfully wrong) Ofcourse India is another kettle of beef (😁) altogether. We are repeatedly told that we have religion based voting, caste based voting, community based voting and what have you. But one thing which is missed in all this “______based voting” which the pollsters and analysts keep talking about is the New Indian voter’s “Brain based voting”!!!

As we saw now in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Delhi state elections and now in Bihar the difference in an election swinging one way or the other depends on the non-core party voters. Core party voters (members/supporters and sympathisers) vote for their party in any case. It is the Non-core party voters who bring in the swing in a particular party’s favour. They voted in a big way in favour of Narendra Modi in the 2014 elections and NDA got an overwhelming mandate. However in Delhi state elections the Non-core party voters who voted for BJP in the Lok Sabha elections voted for AAP and swept it to power. Similarly the non-core party voters pulled their might in favour of MGB in Bihar. So most of the non-core party voters in Bihar who wanted to see Narendra Modi as PM wanted to see Nitish as their CM. Perhaps. I didn’t get to see (or maybe I missed) this angle where the voters are getting smarter by the day in terms of their choices and do “Brain based voting”. So we get these results. Overwhelming mandate for Modi for PM. But Kejriwal for CM or Nitish for CM though they are entrenched firmly in different camps.

So the next time may be the pollsters should just identify if a respondent is a core or a non-core party voter and record to which party he/she voted instead of spending too much time if respondents are upper caste or Dalit or Maha Dalit,..,.. In which case, they will be in a better position to forecast how the actual swing is and save those eggs on their faces😜

MANJUL_060312irrToon courtesy: