UK varsities gear up to track ‘spectacular’ India elections
Scholars and students have started blogs, daily and weekly briefings on various aspects of the election, with social media among the most discussed topics. The University of Oxford has also organised a public event on May 1.Updated: Apr 04, 2019 16:54 IST
The growing number of experts and India centres in UK universities are cued into the Indian elections, working on a range of research outputs and special sessions, with many travelling to India to see at first-hand what they believe is a ‘spectacular’ event.
Scholars and students have started blogs, daily and weekly briefings on various aspects of the election, with social media among the most discussed topics. The University of Oxford has organised a public event on May 1 titled, ‘Booths, brickbats, brands and Bollywood: Social media in the 2019 Indian general elections’.
“The world should be watching the elections with great interest. What happens in the next couple of months is of global significance and will have implications on the future direction of India,” says Edward Simpson of the School of Oriental and African Studies, who has long tracked the career of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“The power plays and electioneering strategies are already spectacular,” he adds, while Andrew Wyatt of the University of Bristol says: “The 2019 election is yielding a cornucopia of data for scholars of Indian politics. This election will captivate me for its entire duration.”
Mukulika Banerjee of the London School of Economics has organised a ‘Results Live’ event on May 23, when the results will be discussed with a panel of experts as they come in. LSE is one of several universities with expertise on Indian subjects.
“These elections are likely to see a return to the more formal alliance politics that have characterised Indian politics over the last 30 years, demonstrating that the 2014 results were an aberration rather than the new norm,” says Katharine Adeney of the University of Nottingham.
“What will be interesting to watch, however, are the regional dynamics of the campaign and the extent to which the opposition(s) can project an alternative vision for India,” she adds.
There was a lot of interest in UK universities during the 2014 elections, but the scale of research and activities has increased manifold. The experts now note the centre-stage occupied by Modi and the BJP in the cut-and-thrust of electioneering.
According to Adeney, “It is striking that despite Modi not delivering on his promises to secure more jobs, his approval ratings are much higher than (Congress president) Rahul Gandhi’s. The attack on Pulwama is not the only reason that Modi is riding high in the polls.”
Simpson recalls Modi’s tenure as Gujarat chief minister, and says: “I used to listen to him give speeches in provincial towns after the earthquake. He would arrive with a few security guards to inaugurate a new bazaar or garden and speak passionately about local issues, often with humour and nearly always with a sharp edge.”
“I have followed his career closely since then and watched the emergence of a national leader… His political character currently dwarfs all others, which is both a strength and potential weakness for the BJP in this election cycle.”
In Oxford, the Computational Propaganda project at the Oxford Internet Institute will be releasing a data memo on April 25 on the influence of social media on the election, accompanied by a webinar to discuss the findings.
The University of Nottingham’s Asia Research Institute will provide expert coverage throughout the voting period, while the university’s experts Adeney, Carole Spary and Dishil Shrimankar are producing a weekly briefing, which supplements its daily analysis.
The South Asia group of Political Studies Association has organised a public round-table event in Bristol on the elections on June 11 and 12 co-sponsored by the University of Bristol and Nottingham’s Asia Research Institute.