What Do People Vote For?

Bachi Karkaria’s article (Rise of Citizen Cane, TOI – May 12) is a classic illustration of the mainstream media’s utter failure to catch the voter’s nerve. Not surprisingly, no one could predict the Congrees and allies surpassing BJP — if the early trends as of now are to be believed. Media is caught up in the variations of roti-kapada-makan paradigms to explain the voting trends, but are they reflective of the Indian political scene?

Mum-bais or Chennites, Dilliwale or Chandigarhwallis, they all had only one question of the candidate who came calling: ‘‘What will you do about sewers, streetlights and the security of our young women and old parents?” You’d think it was a municipal election.

Are they, really? Okay, so Dixit factor turned Delhi around, but what about Govinda taking Ram Naik to the wire? What about TDP’s complete rout in TN? What about BJP taking a beating in Gujarat? Can all this be explained by :

It’s a disturbing blow to our metropolitan arrogance: bijali-sadak-paani is as compelling a metaphor of urban discontent as it is of rural anger.

Of course, not! Indian political scene is a kichadi of caste, religion and region. Bijali/sadak/paani is actually the main casualty, to the extent that voter has now accepted that no political party is every going to make that their priority — and that’s why they vote along different lines of caste and creed.

Why is BJP suffering badly even after a decent (if not great) performance on economic and indeed infrastructure front? Of course, Bachi accepts that region/neighborhood is a main factor. But why is media hell-bent on fixing the data into its ideological curves? Roti-kapada-makan, paani-bijali-sadak. If it’s that simple, why are all political parties missing the message. Every time Rajdeep Sardesai shrieks, that people want good governance — pointing to anti-incumbency, why are the BSP and SPs the king-makers? What is their record of governance? What is Congress’ record of governance — the party cannot even boast of a national level leader?

These results are indeed retrograde. They have proved that “communal politics” is what pays — BJP’s Assembly triumph in Gujarat, BSP’s rise in the UP (caste-based politics is a form of “communal politics”), Laloo’s Yadavi politics winning in Bihar, whereas moderate and development centric politics (NDA’s National level performance, to a large extent) doesn’t pay. Hardliners in the BJP will gain strength because of these results, again. And that’s unfortunate, because if ever BJP deserved a mandate, it was this time. The rise of BJP as a moderate national party will suffer a setback with this election, and it won’t be surprising if the Mandir and other agendas become louder again. And that would be a pity.

The performance of Congress in these election is nothing but shrewd tie-ups. They have no agenda, no leader, no program’s.. Still they seem to be set for a claim to the power. The message is clear. Indian political wisdom is more of an art. Each region has it’s idiosyncratic voting patterns, that are subject to change on random factors. That any theories of roti-kapada-makan and it’s variations are simply too naive to explain Indian politics. I just hope that Indian media learns it this time around.

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