As a voter walks from home to polling booth—and in a country vast as India, with 815 million voters, he or she could well pass by houses and markets or hills and rivers and ravines—what could be on his or her mind? After days and days of loudspeakers blaring, hoardings and posters looming large, political leaders making repeated pitches, is the Indian voter firm about who to vote for or will it be a last-minute decision? How much will all that has been fed to the voter over some months—caste and class equations, regional matters, issues like development and corruption, the financial and criminal records of candidates, the debate over strong versus weak leaders—come into play? Perhaps the only thing certain is that the voter has had an information overdose. Political debates have swung from broad concerns about inflation, corruption, governance to the thoroughly basic bijli sadak pani. There have been dramatic political twists too: a seemingly far-reaching AAP wave, its highs and lows; the BJP’s claim on the centrestage; the Congress retreat.
So what does the voter make of it all? If there’s a common strain, it’s one of disenchantment, as emphasised by the Pew Research Center’s latest global attitudes survey of India, which finds 70 per cent of Indians dissatisfied, cutting across gender, age groups and the urban-rural divide. “It’s a confusing election, because there is a lot of baggage and anxiety,” says film editor Namrata Rao, who will vote in Mumbai, talking about the ideological clashes playing on her mind. More debates and engagement with voters may mean more awareness, but sociologist Dipankar Gupta says the voter seems weighed down by all the talk about indecisiveness and corruption. “Foremost on a voter’s mind right now is the need for a stable government,” he says. “But what the voter is not demanding of their candidates is a blueprint of what next—of how to restructure the economy so India can become a manufacturing hub.”
Prof Jagdeep Chhokar, co-founder of the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR), thinks voters are overwhelmed. “The average voter has got sucked into the grand spectacle this election has become,” he says. “But the truth is, there’s a big disconnect between the candidate and the voter.” According to Lloyd Rudolph, a former professor of political science at University of Chicago, who with his wife Susanne has observed Indian politics for more than five decades, as the three top figures of Election 2014—Narendra Modi of the BJP, Arvind Kejriwal of the AAP and Rahul Gandhi of the Congress—assume a larger-than-life presence, the voter may feel dwarfed.
Strangely, tolerance for criminal elements also continues to run high. A recent ADR survey to study voter behaviour revealed that 22 per cent would vote for a “seriously tainted candidate”. Of them, 68.15 per cent said they’d do so because the candidate does good work; 39.67 per cent because the candidate is powerful; and 39.56 per cent because he spends freely during elections.
On the other hand, there are many who are led by the widespread negative sentiment. “I think rage will play a role in the way people vote,” says Sanjay Dasgupta, an ophthalmologist in Calcutta. “I certainly am angry. But my vote will be based on my perception of who will usher in development.” There is also the feeling that voters, as they often do, swing in one direction based on what they believe is the current public sentiment. “What I hear people say the most is that let’s vote BJP in and they will change conditions in the country,” says Alok Kumar, president of the RWA Federation in Ghaziabad. “Many of these were people who earlier supported AAP, but have now gone the other way because they feel the tide is turning.” But if the voter can swing so wildly—from the aam aadmi brand to a figure who for many represents crony capitalism in just a matter of weeks—does it speak of a lack of genuine, meaningful debate?
One way to bridge this disconnect could be if more of us came out to vote and make our stands clear. An increasing number of citizen initiatives and start-ups designed to acquaint the voter with candidates may be able to fill the gap in certain urban pockets. Environment engineer Vivek Gilani, who leads the Informed Voter Project, part of an initiative called Mumbai Votes, has been urging his team of volunteers to put in 20 hours a week as they record and upload video interviews of candidates across Mumbai, Thane and Pune. “People tell us they don’t feel motivated enough to vote. I think we really need to improve the value of a vote,” says Gilani. Youth Ki Aawaz, based in Delhi, has been trying to achieve that among first-time voters, through what they call ‘Unmanifesto’. Forty youth organisations across the country, from rural and urban centres, have come together to get 63,000 promises they seek from political parties. “We’ve picked the top 10 for the final draft which we have sent to over 100 politicians,” says Anshul Tiwari, who heads the initiative. Their top three demands are better municipal schools and colleges, better career prospects, and greater accountability from MPs. In Ludhiana, 143 restaurant members are set to offer 30 per cent discount to those who show off their inked finger on polling day. Meanwhile, schools in Lucknow are taking it a step forward, offering extra marks and better grades to students whose parents cast their vote.
The elections may be the go-to conversation starter in urban drawing-rooms for some, but for millions of others, the next MP and PM will determine how their lives are going to be moulded in the near future. Will there be jobs, will there be peace, will their voice be heard or stifled, will some factory take away their land, will their small business flourish, will there be roads to take their farm produce to the markets, will there be dignity in their lives? Somewhere in the deluge of the high-powered political circus and show of strength by heavyweights, we may have forgotten that the voter—each one of us, in fact—was supposed to be king or queen.
Photograph by Sivaram V.
Photograph by Sanjay Rawat
Photograph by Oripix
Advertising & public transport biz
Photograph by Sumit Ballabh
Mohd Hammad Farooqui
Hindi/Sanskrit prof at Doon School
Photograph by Sandipan Chatterjee
Rabindranath and Kadambari Kandari
Age: 54 & 50
Photograph by Narendra Bisht
Owns audio systems company
Photograph by P. Anil Kumar
Siva Prasad T.
Owner of small coffee shop
Photograph by Madhusudhan
Aniketh Mohan Rao
Photograph by Dinesh Parab
By Neha Bhatt with Dola Mitra, Namrata Joshi, Madhavi Tata
Please don’t be taken in by the punditry on Indian elections; poll pundits are almost always wrong, given that their conclusions are arrived at in the big cities and not in the hinterland (The Next Station, April 14). You cannot, therefore, count on Modi sweeping this election; the middle-class voter you have spoken to probably does not even go out and vote. Now, let me hazard a prediction. Modi, in all probability, will do much worse than the pundits expect; the Congress will do slightly better than the decimation predicted for it; the AAP will probably do better than expected though not like it did in the Delhi assembly polls. An AAP-Congress-led coalition government is the most likely scenario.
Kishore Kant, Delhi
Though it is difficult to assess the exact influences and issues playing on the mind of the electorate, certain things are clear, going by the outcome of the recent state elections. The traditional politics of poverty, identity, doles failed to win voters, who crossed all dividing lines in reelecting governments which delivered on development and governance.
M.C. Joshi, Lucknow
Given the rate at which Outlook is going about analysing the right, left and centre of Modi’s brain, I won’t be surprised if Wendy Doniger psychoanalyses him next.
Akash Verma, Chennai
These Lok Sabha elections are extremely crucial. It is about our battle for safeguarding democracy and the country’s secular fabric. The BJP, which is so desperate to grab power, is today manned by RSS fanatics. They do not stand for secularism and do not care about democratic values. The BJP has even muzzled and manipulated most of the press. Unless freedom of speech and tolerance of all communities prevail, there cannot be justice and equality in any society. Narendra Modi needs to reveal the source of the thousands of crores he has spent over the last year in his dream to be prime minister. The people of India will not be fooled. India will win.
Aires Rodrigues, Goa
First they said Modi won’t become Gujarat chief minister. He did. Then they said he won’t win the Gujarat election. He did. Then they said he won’t win the second election. He did. Then they said he won’t be appointed election in-charge for 2014. He was. Then they said he won’t be appointed PM nominee. He has been. Now they’re saying he won’t become PM....
Arun Kumar, Hyderabad
The women in the inside cover picture have grim faces because Big Brother is watching them (Modi in the poster).
V.N.K. Murti Pattambi, Naduvattam, Kerala
The corpse of democracy is being taken for cremation with much razzle and dazzle.
Kishore Dasmunshi, Calcutta
The picture shows that while women are the only 'real' people, men are just inanimate objects.
Cover story metro women commuters have 'grim' faces
because "Big brother is watching" (from poster)
If the middle class is not going to vote, then they are going to have another congress led government not for the next 5 years but the next 20 years. Because the combined issues in this elections are the closest that a single party like the BJP can ever have, to get a majority on its own and form a scam free development oriented stable government.
And inspite of this, if the congress wins, then the congress for sure will rule the country realising that it can never be defeated electorally. The country could be on sale on ebay. This is precisely why the middle class will get up and vote in the hot blazing sun just for an hour or two rather than the other horrendous option of standing daily in the hot blazing sun in long job queues fighting for jobs that are not coming and battling inflation and crime that is always rising.
This elections signify change from a encrusted self-perpetuating dynasty that wants Indians to be weak living on government support TO a party where leaders rise on their own proven merit to provide development, jobs and enable Indians to live in self-respect and dignity both within and outside the country.
If middle class does not vote Modi or does not vote at all, then Rahul will be the PM for the next 20 years. The choice is thereby quite simple. Modi as PM or Rahul as PM. There is no other choice.
As far as AAP is concerned, from a party with serious and honourable intentions it has now become an entertainment party with only nuisance value. When power goes into the head suddenly, it becomes very intoxicating and the head reels under its influence. No middle class takes AAP seriously other than the fact that they are useful idiots. I have myself gone through the process of being a passionate AAP supporter to currently its strong detractor.
Borrowing from Arun Kumar's line of argument;
First they did not believe BJP will nominate Modi as a PM candidate. In fact, many in UPA were seceretely rooting for Modi's nomination. They believed Modi is so controvercial, so communal, he will single handedly destroy BJP for good. Modi may be liked in Gujarat but rest of the India will never accept him.
When that did not work to their liking, they started to attack Gujarat's development. When they failed in that they said Gujarat was always a developed state. Modi is just grabbing credit.
When nothing worked they are now saying Modi's popularity is not because of his qualification, but because BJP has over flooded country with advertizement.
Don't be taken in by punditry on Indian elections. Pundits are nearly always wrong in their predictions. They predicted the BJP would win the last two elections and it proved not so. Beware especially of opinion polls in India. The pollsters are lazy people who - one can't blame them - sit in a few big cities and are reluctant to tramp about in the countryside and the festering slums in the blazing sun to find out what the lower class Indian really thinks. Finding that out is very hard work and it is much easier to do a quick phone poll.
I repeat to all those running over with expectation that Modi will sweep the polls: DO NOT COUNT ON IT. The middle class which is most in favour of him as a rule do not even vote as they do not want to stand in line in the hot blazing sun. It is the slum dweller and the peasant who votes in India.
So I will hazard a prediction myself.
Modi will do much worse than is expected by the pundits. The Congress will do considerably better though they will lose some seats. The Aaam Admi Party (AAP) will do much better than people expect. Result: an AAP -Congress led coalition government.
Keep the champagne cold, Mod wallahs. You are in for another big disappointment.
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