On May 23, we will know who will form the next government and probably, who will be India’s next prime minister. But this does not stop us from entering into intense speculation, especially through the media, about the outcome in the coming weeks. There will be about 100 different types of polls – opinion polls, exit polls, online polls – to speculate on this.
Prannoy Roy in his recent book ‘The Verdict: DecodingIndia’s Elections’ claims that these polls are successful in predicting the winning party (or team) but they fail in fore-casting the exact number of seats. The owner of NDTV, Prannoy Roy was also instrumental in popularising psephology in analysing elections in the country. He also admits that even though the media will be on an overdrive covering the elections, Indian voters are wary of propaganda and have matured enough to separate ‘views’ from news. He writes, “Media shrillness often has an inverse relationship with its impact”.
His book mentions several interesting factors to be noticed in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. The opposition unity or disunity will be as important as the popularity vote in deciding the outcome of the election. The Lok Sabha vote in India is no longer a national election, but a ‘federation of states’ election. Today, it is important to assess the election at a micro-level – reaching out to the village pradhan (top elected member of the panchayat/village council). Comparing the present election with earlier ones, Prannoy says that in the earlier phase of Indian elections, regional parties won four per cent of the vote; this has now risen to 34% of the national vote, which is eight times higher.
Another interesting finding of Prannoy is the role of the women voters, especially of the village. Between the 1962 and 2014 Lok Sabha elections, there has been nearly a 20% increase in women’s turn out versus a five per cent increase in men’s turnout. In the last state assembly elections, women’s turnout has overtaken men’s turnout. In 2019, possibly for the first time, more women will be voting than men. The Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (free gas cylinder policy) is an excellent election campaign idea and one can expect more political speeches, manifestos and campaigns directed towards women. But Prannoy also points out how 21 million eligible women voters will not be able to vote in 2019 election because their names are missing in the voter’s list. Uttar Pradesh accounts for seven million of these missing 21 million women voters, which on an average is equivalent to 87,000 missing women voters in each constituency there.
Though the final verdict comes from the people, the political parties leave no stone unturned in their campaign strategies to win the general election. One seems to detect a pattern in their campaigns. First comes the element of caste, which today has become a crucial ‘vote bank’. This has to be nurtured all the time. Then over the years, the parties talk about the economic well-being. Both the Centre and the state governments flaunt their development plans. Then comes Bollywood stars and other celebrities who openly campaign for the political parties. The final strategy is to whip up nationalism and the question of security of the country. But as Prannoy concludes, “ Indian election will continue to evolve, the electorate will become more sophisticated, more assertive, more demanding ,more aware of the power of the vote.”