Indian Express

Modi happened in Election 2014

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Essentially, the Indian polity has called the Congress’s bluff, seen it for the calculating set of politicians they have  been. Essentially, the Indian polity has called the Congress’s bluff, seen it for the calculating set of politicians they have
been.

Just what happened on May 16? In a word, Modi. Of course, there are several other factors that determined the contours of Election 2014, but the defining characteristic was the PM-designate, Narendra Modi. Can one individual define an election? Possible, if that individual rightly senses the mood of the country, and its changing sense of direction. Recall what happened in that other defining election, albeit of a lower seismic magnitude — Barack Obama in 2008. The parallels are close — a black man winning the presidency in a country where the blacks obtained civil rights just 50 years ago; a lower caste OBC winning in a country where caste matters a lot. Post the 2008 election in the US, one found out that maybe white Americans are not that racist after all; post-May 16, India has found out that caste has ceased to occupy an important place in the minds of voters.

So what did happen in India? Several myths abound as to what explains Modi’s record-breaking win — 336 seats for the NDA, and the highest ever seat per vote recorded for any alliance or party in India, that is, nine seats for every 1 per cent of the vote. In the record-setting 1984 election, the Congress obtained 8.5 seats for each per cent vote. A partial listing of the myths:

Myth 1: The Congress lost because it operated a corruption and scam infested regime: Commonwealth Games, Coalgate, 2G, etc. As if UPA 1, and all governments before, have not been corrupt. Corruption is one of the factors affecting voters’ choice, but not a very important factor. Else, why would all opinion and exit polls suggest that corruption was one of the least important determinants of voters’ choice? And just look at the results for the Aam Aadmi Party, which ran exclusively against crony capitalism and corruption — and managed to win only four of the 432 seats it contested, and lost its deposit in 413, another record.

Myth 2: The Congress lost because of a weak economy — high inflation and low growth. I am a card-carrying member of the club that believes that economic performance determines voting behaviour. But this election was not an average election, to which average explanations are applicable. By itself, the weak economy and corruption would mean that the Congress and UPA would lose seats. But to lose 200 seats is a black swan event. In 2009, with the best economy ever, the UPA gained “only” 54 seats, and the NDA lost “only” 26 seats. So, with the worst economy ever, one might have expected the NDA and UPA to go back to approximately their 2004 levels, that is, around 200 for both continued…

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