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HindustanTimes Thu,17 Apr 2014
Modi to middle class: 10 things to learn from polls
Aakar Patel, Hindustan Times
December 08, 2013
First Published: 23:28 IST(8/12/2013)
Last Updated: 14:24 IST(9/12/2013)
Cut-outs of Gujarat CM and BJP PM candidate Narendra Modi during his Vijay Shankhnad rally in Bahraich, UP. (PTI Photo)

The election results of Sunday are a crystal ball of some clarity. They show a few things, some of them expected, others not and at least one that is astonishing.

First, a surge of voting, as high as 5% more than the average, indicates a positive vote and an enthusiasm for democratic solutions rather than a despondency and an anger.

In states that the Congress ruled - Delhi and Rajasthan - it has been brushed aside. In states the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) governed - Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh - the Congress has been clobbered again in the big one and in the other it remains on the losing side despite a decade long anti-incumbency. But this is not a rejection so much as an affirmation. There is a wave rising in favour of the BJP.

Second, the evidence shows that in many two-party states, the Congress is slipping into a permanent opposition.

In Gujarat, the party consistently gets 40% of the vote but still hasn't won an election, whether Lok Sabha or assembly, in three decades. It last won a majority there in 1985 during Rajiv Gandhi's sweep.

In Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, a similar model is now visible. A combination of the right caste alliances and competent governance in both states has kept the BJP in the saddle for 15 years. If the party abstains from infighting again in Rajasthan, it could shut the Congress out from that crucial state also. The indications are that the BJP is replacing the Congress as the establishment party of India.

Third, we must applaud and appreciate the remarkable and unprecedented rise of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi. This is the first time in north India that a party has been successful in gathering a non-caste vote. It is issues that have drawn the Delhi voter to the AAP.

This shows the size and power of the urban middle-class (an inclusive term that we must take to mean all those who are not the abject poor). This is a phenomenon, a new departure in our politics. It must be welcomed and studied in detail.

Fourth, this non-caste vote, on the evidence of this election, is lost to the Congress and is going either to the AAP or the BJP. This means that the expansion of India's urban middle class base, and it is a rapid expansion, actually goes against the Congress.

Fifth, the media's ability to influence politics is demonstrated through the AAP's success. Television and the Internet can legitimately claim to have helped create a formidable political force through concentrated focus on issues.

Sixth, 'None Of The Above' is not a serious option. This recent, Supreme Court-enforced innovation gives voters the right to reject all candidates. The meagre numbers who chose it reinforce the fact that this was a positive vote. There is little dissatisfaction with electoral politics or with politicians in the voters.

Seventh, the opinion polling has been spot on. Many pollsters have even squeezed out the right prediction in tight states like Chhattisgarh. This is amazing given how diverse the electorate in India is and how news budgets limit sample sizes. Most of these predictions have been made by polling a sample of only 2,000 or so people. This is world class psephology.

Eighth, Narendra Modi is dictating the terms of the debate. His sweeping campaign through the four states has been a command performance. He has cleared this semi-final brilliantly and is now the man to beat. He is the main issue of the next election so far as the news goes. The Congress is unable to effectively push through its message in the media. The Bills on which it hopes to retain power, for instance, food security, don't have traction in states where they should have been vote-winners.

Ninth, Rahul Gandhi's effort at rejuvenating the party by nourishing the Congress grassroots and making the district units more professional hasn't much to show by way of results. His style, which is realist and distant, has little appeal. His refusal or inability to deploy his charisma is hurting his party and his soldiers will be in despair when they size their general up against the BJP's dynamo.

Tenth, the BJP cadre will now be enthused, fired up and ready for the sprint to come. The minor squabbling in the party and positioning for leadership has come to an absolute end. This is now the party of Narendra Modi as much as it was in the past that of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani and perhaps even more so.

The Congress won in Rajasthan and swept Delhi last time. It will not do so in six months' time. In other states its position is not good either. It got 31 MPs from Andhra Pradesh, and will not repeat that performance or come anywhere close to it given the epic mess it has made of the Telangana issue. The end seems nigh.

The next Lok Sabha elections is still a few months away. But already we can see the eclipse of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a good man who tried in difficult circumstances and who is thought by most to have failed.

The three Gandhis, mother, heir, and daughter, will be receiving the fawning whispers of sycophants trying to convince them, like the later Mughals sitting in the midst of a signal disaster, that this thrashing isn't really their defeat.

And the contender, alone in his spare Gandhinagar office and without need for family or of advisers, is coldly moving around his pieces, of which four have fallen into place.

Aakar Patel is a former Gujarati newspaper editor and a columnist for Mint
The views expressed by the author are personal.


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