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Thursday, Oct 17, 2019

Lok Sabha polls 2019: The alphabet soup that will influence the national elections

The economic basis of electoral behaviour rests on whether people vote on the basis of their personal financial situation or their assessment of how the broader economy is doing.

lok-sabha-elections Updated: Apr 15, 2019 17:22 IST
Devesh Kapur and Neelanjan Sircar
Devesh Kapur and Neelanjan Sircar
Hindustan Times
With the election campaign in full swing, the febrile atmosphere is generating extensive verbiage from the punditry on what factors might swing the election one way or the other.
With the election campaign in full swing, the febrile atmosphere is generating extensive verbiage from the punditry on what factors might swing the election one way or the other.(Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)
         

With the election campaign in full swing, the febrile atmosphere is generating extensive verbiage from the punditry on what factors might swing the election one way or the other. It’s a veritable alphabet soup of variables, so we thought it would be helpful to learn the electoral alphabet. But even then, some letters of the alphabet have several options, which means that the scope for punditry is even more elastic.

Alliances: Just how united or fragmented will the Opposition vote be, will make the difference in many close contests. There was of course Acche Din from the last election, but that’s been given a quiet burial. Then there is A for Anti-nationals who are the nation’s biggest enemy, but an important vote mobiliser.

Balakot: If the BJP was on the backfoot in January, the air strikes and their aftermath have given it a new wind and the Opposition has been struggling for a response. Or maybe just Bharat. What the future might hold.

Caste: Here we have a wealth of options. This is India so it must begin with Caste; voters allegedly vote their caste when casting their vote. Then there are Candidate and Campaign effects. To what degree will the Criminal and Corruption charges against many candidates matter? And what about the Grand Old Party, the Congress?

Demonetisation: Surprisingly, despite the many hardships it imposed on the informal sector, where the vast number of Indians work and earn their living, it did not have any negative effects for the ruling party in the UP election, perhaps because of the positive signalling effects about leadership. But as its economic effects linger, will this still hold true?

Economy: The economic basis of electoral behaviour rests on whether people vote on the basis of their personal financial situation or their assessment of how the broader economy is doing. As per official data, GDP growth has been strong, but how much trust do people place on this as opposed to their experience? Another alphabetical candidate could be Electrification. All settlements in India are finally electrified. But are they getting electricity?

Farm distress: Clearly, this has jumped up in electoral salience and the flurry of campaign promises points to the numerical importance of farmers’ votes. But don’t rule out F for Fake News where up can be down and down can be up in this new social media-dominated world; or for that matter, the 80 millionodd First-time voters.

Goals: Goals, as in Self-goals. No shortage, especially by some political parties. Another candidate might be GST – its roll out was disruptive for small business and traders. Payback time?

Hindutva: Hindutva, soft, hard, medium? When the going gets tough, polarisation is the time-honoured fallback option. Here the alphabet soup of government schemes in Health and Housing might also be in play. Will schemes such as the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana and the Senior Citizen Health Insurance Scheme, now rolled into the PM Jan Arogya Abhiyan, and PM Awas Yojana, sway some voters? And what about H for Hawa? In whose direction is it blowing?

Indian Citizenship Bill: Who is an Indian and who is not? It’s a controversial question and supposedly drives electoral politics in India’s Northeast. We would, however, settle for I = India, since its very future is at stake in these elections.

Jobs or rather Joblessness: It’s clearly important in voters’ minds and might especially affect letter Y (as in Youth vote).

Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojna (KSNY): Will the NDA’s ₹6000 a year to 120 million farmers sway some or many of them? The K for Kashmir comes in only via other letters as in N for Nationalism or T for Terrorism.

Leadership: As in who captures the public imagination as their preferred choice for PM? Then there is also L for Loan waivers – it’s not really a gush of new money but rather debts forgiven, but not electorally forgotten?

Modi: Another high yielding letter. Cleary M for Modi will be very important; but just how important relative to all the other ingredients in this alphabet soup? There is the M for the Minority vote. Will it split or engage in strategic voting? But do not forget M for Money: as someone once said, politics has become so expensive, it takes a lot of money even to be defeated. It helps buy votes (and sometimes parties) and indeed is why so many people want to get elected!

Nationalism: Has its virtues, especially if you have it and your opponent allegedly does not. But it could be overshadowed by N for NYAY or Nyuntam Aay Yojana – the Congress’s poll promise of Rs. 6,000 a month to 20 per cent of India’s poorest families. Is half a KSNY in the pocket worth twice a promise of NYAY in the future?

Opposition Unity: United by fear and divided by ambition. Which will prevail? There is also the O for Opinion Polls, as in will they be (mis)used to generate the H for Hawa?

P for Parties: The sheer number of political parties in the electoral fray. Only a few matter in most states, but the spoiler role is not insignificant. The more sombre P is for Polarization, whether on caste or religious lines. When victory at all costs becomes the overriding goal, this letter becomes increasingly important. In parts of Bihar and UP, the P for Pulwama – the attacks that killed the CRPF jawans that generated B for Balakot – is significant since the jawans who lost their lives largely hail from these states. And then there is the P for Pakistan.

Questioning: As in data, narrative, the military… See A for Anti-national. Or Q for Quota. Another time-honoured tradition in Indian electoral politics. Will the 10% quota in government jobs and educational institutions for Economically Weaker Sections woo the upper castes or drive away lower castes?

Rafale: Here again we are spoilt for choice. There is the R for Religion, R for Rahul Gandhi, R for Ram Mandir, R for Rafale and R for RSS. But perhaps the R that really matters is Regional parties, an entrenched feature of the Indian electoral landscape.

Social media: Schemes such as Swachh Bharat. Officially, 86 million toilets have been constructed. How many voters will this and other schemes sway? S for Social media is an essential campaign tool, but is it a game changer?

Turnout: Will be key and may be affected by emotional responses to T for Terrorism. But how about T for Tik-Tok whose young adherents may simply want to watch videos and not go to the polls?

Universal Basic Income: The 2016-17 Economic Survey’s “A Conversation With and Within the Mahatma,” has become the flavor of this electoral season. But don’t forge U for Ujjwala – the LPG gas distribution scheme – and its possible effects on the woman voter.

V for Voter? Does anyone really know what she wants? Certainly, she does not want V for Violence, although it might be stoked to elevate P for Polarization in the electoral stakes.

WhatsApp: Massive information flows at very rapid speeds through large networks and it’s almost costless. Part of the emerging suite of variables under S for Social media and F for Fake news.

X-Factor: The unexpected can always be expected. Witness the change in the electoral mood from summer 2018 to January 2019 to now. As someone said, “A week is a long time in politics”.

Yojana: As in the bounty of schemes either promised or ongoing. Will their beneficiaries or those denied them vote differently? There is a lot at stake for young people but do we know how the Y for Youth vote is leaning?

Zzzz… the richness of this alphabet soup might put one to sleep, but please do stay awake until you cast your vote.

First Published: Apr 15, 2019 17:22 IST

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