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Thursday, May 13, 2004

 

The People's Verdict

Does the Indian psephologist and media community stand discredited or corrected? I'd say a little bit of both. The people of India have gloriously demonstrated the incomparable strength of their democracy.

With 536 of the 539 seats where elections were held reporting the Congress and their allies are at 219 with the BJP and their allies at 186 (Source: NDTV). No poll anywhere had predicted the Congress alliance overtaking the BJP alliance. None. The people have proven all of them dead wrong. The Congress coalition will be bolstered by the support of the Left parties of India, who are close to 50 in strength. Their combined strength will be sufficient to form the government. Something unimaginable based on the pre-election reporting. If the US TV networks were embarrased by the Florida outcome confusion then this verdict delivers a body blow to the Indian media's forecasting credentials.

But enough of chastising the media. There is no one who could have predicted this. And this most certainly includes the Indian National Congress aka the Congress Party. I can say from a personal standpoint and based on my experience with the leadership of the party that their optimism was far more modest than what the results finally show. That cautious optimism was once again evident just an hour before the counting began. I had called up a senior leader to get his take and he said that it was going to be a very close call. Well, it wasn't that close after all.

So, what happened? I'm sure this election analysis will go on for years. Such a monumental shift in the political circumstances of all involved was beyond everybody's expectations. But there are some high-level conclusions that can be drawn:

1. This is a verdict that rejected the BJP-alliance. As much as the Congress wants to believe that this is a vote for them it is a vote against the incumbent. But you have to give it to the Congress for capitalizing on that discontent. Perhaps something the Kerry campaign may be interested in learning more about? Politics is so similar now across the globe.

2. Contrary to what THE ECONOMIST is heralding as the begining of an unstable era in Indian politics this is actually a stabilizing development. My prediction was that the Congress Party's raw strength would be between 130 and 150. The closer to 150 the better their chances to form a stable coalition. They are at 141 with 528 seats reporting (Source: Election Commission of India). Up from 114 in 1999. What makes this result surprising to me is how well their alliance partners have done. They picked the right allies at the right time. And the big thing is that none of their allies has won that many number of seats to challenge the Congress' leadership in the coalition. With the Left parties ideologically committed to an anti-BJP front the stability of this government leaves no doubt in my mind. The Congress strategy team did a great job. All credit to their coalition building prior to the elections.

3. The BJP itself has been siginificantly weakened. With 528 seats reporting they are down to 136 from 182. Given their pre-election popularity on "paper" this is a thrashing. What is even more devastating for the BJP is the defeat of some of their most prominent leaders like Dr.Murli Manohar Joshi and Mr.Yashwant Sinha. The Education and Finance ministers respectively. The BJP is at the crossroads. They need to decide on a hardline or the line of moderation that they were trying to portray if not follow. Time for some serious soul-searching. The hawkish and fundamentalist elements will undoubtedly get stronger as they pint the blame on the leadership that did not force Hindu nationalism onto the campaign platform.

The subtler conclusions in the next post. After all why did the incumbents face the wrath of the people. Some intriguing stuff awaiting us there. Stay tuned.

Peace.

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