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Saturday, December 04, 2021

Changes under the radar

Why national parties might just do better than expected

Written by Yoginder K. Alagh |
April 22, 2009 12:03:50 am

I have a consistent record in election forecasting. Almost always wrong. The only person from whom I won an election-related bet is one of the few real economic forecasters,an econometrician type I regard as a peer. In 1984,he came up on the second day of counting with an estimate for the Congress’ final tally ,on the solid basis that they had landed 320 out of 400 and so they would score 80 per cent; but he had not accounted for results from rural and semi-urban Bengal coming late and so the Congress ended closer to my guess. As long as we had a bipartisan national structure,opinion polls did reasonably well. Not any more; and laboured explanations of their limitations had grown boring — even before the EC got at them.  

With hindsight,the indications were always there except that we did not have the antenna to see them. The last time I was in Canada; when abroad,you have time to watch the channels on India. The women coming out of Sonia Gandhi’s speeches told a story which was commented upon,but its full significance did not register until afterwards. With so many channels and media messages it is difficult to escape the tyranny of “experts”; besides,remember that India was shining. 

There is gradual change. While the septuagenarian-plus leaders are flexing their non-existent muscles at each other there are many indications that the much younger electorate is talking of first principles. Being a Midnight’s Children-type,some first principles I like: a secular,open,caring society,for example. Others I don’t. But that is not the point. There seem to be a lot of youngsters out there,confident of their place in the Indian sun,who seem to be pressing what they believe is important. It is interesting that it is leadership in the forties and fifties that is talking of these things,responding to this need,and not the old ones who have decided that they are mandated to rule the country. Of course the national parties’ younger leaders still pay their obeisance to their old leaders,ours being a traditional society. Sometimes they also use language of which we don’t approve. 

There are two big changes taking place. The electorate is younger. Urbanisation or at least the spread of large villages — say with a population of 10,000 — is much larger than the official story. These populations are increasingly networked. Farmers wearing jeans,reading newspapers,watching news channels are more common than earlier. So are urban workers in the informal sector. They have not made Page Three but are certainly out there. When the big swings took place they were not anticipated. But from Himachal to Nagercoil and Bhuj to Vizag there was an invisible thread that pulled together substantial swings of the type the pundits couldn’t see. 

I have always been wrong,so here goes. It is likely that the national parties will do much better than anticipated. I would like to think that my guys will do better — and it’s honestly more likely that will happen because I believe they are changing the nature of the political discourse — but I am honest enough to admit that that is just a hope,although I expect it will happen in the long run. But meanwhile I know that you feel the same way and your favourites may not be mine. The important thing,though,is that the discourse is changing. That is where the hope lies. In a democratic society the serious debate is not only more than half the fun,it is an important part of the outcome — not only the fun but also the action. It is not unlikely that regional actors will do worse than anticipated. The ones who do better will be the ones asking serious questions — like the followers of Periyar did at one time and others are doing now. They will also be around in full strength only as long as their questions are seen as relevant. The big question will always be: which leadership is seen as enabling emerging groups to have a voice in the system? You can fool all the people only for some of the time. As we citizens come closer to wielding our great power it is important to recognise that there is more strength in our system than we think there is. I honestly believe most of us will vote for the India we want.  

The writer,a former Union minister,is chairman,Institute of Rural Management,Anand

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