The elusive national vote



I had assumed it would take a minor miracle for Narendra Modi to take the Bharatiya Janata Party to what even his supporters saw as a minimal 180 seat to put together a ruling coalition. I couldn’t see how the numbers, state by state, could get to that point. But the recent Hindu-CSDS poll would seem to show that domestic Indian politics is not my real expertise. The polls give the BJP about 150 seats – and that is before campaigning has even started.

Roughly, what Modi strategists believe, is that their real push will come from a “national vote” of about 50 seats. This swing vote gave Manmohan Singh his second term in 2009. Bitterly disappointed with what Singh’s government did with their support, the hope is Modi will be the recipient this time around.

What is the national vote? Indian voters take the dictum “all politics is local” to an extreme. For most voters, their concerns barely go beyond a few kilometers from their residence or place of work. This is only accentuated by a Westminster system where the chief executive is not directly elected.

This was underlined at the recent launch of Rajasthan BJP parliamentarian Manvendra Singh of his experiences during the last elections in his book Campaign Diary where one of the panelists noted how national issues, the kind of stuff that excites Delhi’s chatterati, interceded not at all in the campaign. Another panelist noted that electoral turnout in India decreased quite rapidly the higher up the geographical ladder one went — ie turnout was lowest at national elections, highest for village panchayats.

A pollster explained to me a year or so back, when I wondered how much the freebies given out by parties influenced the vote, that for years poor voters (who have the highest turnout in Indian elections, the reverse of the West) assumed the people in power could do little about their lot. So they assumed each election was a chance to make a bit of money. This had been decreasing over the years. Today, in some southern states, 40 per cent of the vote is materially influenced, he said. That sounds terrible, but it’s a marked improvement on the past he told me. Also, every party now gives out cash or kind so it generally evens itself out.

A “national voter” would cast a ballot for primarily national reasons – all-India issues, if you wish, are the primary factor in deciding who he plumps for. These are far and few in between. They grow slowly but surely from a complex social process that includes urbanisation, education and working in a factor or office environment. And exposure to media.

This is not unusual. The United States was exactly like this in the first 100 years of its existence. Politics was, at best, about the states. As historians like to note, Americans called their country “these United States of America” before the civil war. Afterwards, they began to use the singular “the United States.” Urbanisation and industrialisation added a new nationalist character to what was, like India, a political aggregation of regional states with a weak central government.

India has begun walking down a similar path as the US. A fragmented aggregation of local elections is slowly becoming a more coherent and holistic political entity. It will be a longer and hard process given the diversity of India and the sheer size of the population. But when you talk of “new India” much of it is about a new non-localised population, largely educated and urban, who put big picture issues into their ballot box choice.

If Modi wins, it will be further evidence that a national vote does exists. And that is growing with each election cycle. Not enough to be the only thing that matters, but one that factors in national issues increasingly along with caste, ideology and the other traditional reasons a voter does what he or she does.

In foreign policy nothing could be more fulfilling than a genuine national vote. So much easier if Lanka’s Tamils and the waters of the Teesta were handled by state parties cognizant that their actions could be electorally damaging at the central level.

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  • deepak rana

    I do fully agree with you madam it is the concocted ethos of the self proclaimed big guns as they share a very obsolete dogma of the fairer sex

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  • naresh nehra

    vino, it’s only garbage.

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  • naresh nehra

    vino, it’s only, all garbage !

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  • Anil

    Nitish says he would have stayed with BJP if Mr. Advani is proposed as PM candidate. Suppose BJP do not get majority on its own and requires allies and BJP decides to make Mr. Advani as PM candidate after weighing pro and cons.
    Is Nitish is going to make a Second U turn then or he has not thought through this? Is he going to prove himself the master of “con” politician ( for purpose of fun only) after getting money from Congress and sticking with BJP proving “right” all the way through?

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  • bharat

    Nitish has shown his class as a crass political manipulator. He should be lined up along with Mulayam, Lalloo who are selfish and ready to sell the country for their survival. He should be taught a fitting reply in the next election by Bihar if they understand what is good for them.

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  • Anonymous

    Nitish was all for NAMO untill 2004 LS election when Bjp JDU combined got only 11 MP seats. Lalu got 22 MP seats as he has Muslim vote bank after he arrested Adavni yatra in Bihar. Nitish changed after 2004 election to get Muslim vote bank. In 2009 LS election BJP JDU got 32 seats.this again confirmed Nitish beleif that MODI bashing is very good for getting Muslim votes. Had JDU and BJP got 32 seats in 2004 election ,Nitish would have been all for NAMO as he was before 2004 election.

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  • Parmeshwar Roongta

    Nitish and this writer should know that the Indian people have never supported turncoats and opportunists.What is astonishing is that he finds the original ‘rath yatri’Advani as secular, conveniently fogetting that Advani’s rath yatra had left a trail of blood letting as a result of communal riots all over the country. Does Nitish think that the Indian Muslim has forgotten Ayodhya and Advani’s rath yatra? if so, he is living in a fool’s paradise. In the Mahabharata war Duryodhana thought that with Karna by his side he will decimate the Pandavas easily, but Karna never delivered. So also the Muslim vote bank may never go to Nitish and he may rue his decision he has taken so enthusiastically.

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  • Parmeshwar Roongta

    I gave a message. why are you not publishing it?

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  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous

    NIce analysis. In the end I have a feeling that the media will do a helen and bindu type of Mujra when Congress throws its loot money and Congress may win.

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  • Laat Maar

    BJP will definitely get 745 seats. Don’t underestimate Modi.

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  • T Banerjee

    Sooner or later Indian Muslims will know that whatever these politicians do is just for getting the vote and not for the good of their community. Muslim vote bank politics will not work in days to come. Sikh people assassinated Indira Gandhi and today we have Manmohan Singh as PM for 2 terms. So there is no logic whether a Hindu, Muslim or Sikh will become PM. Public are now more aware of politics and will choose candidate for the CHANGE. because change is always good. Riots took place in British era also, then we have partition. India still alive and religion based politics will not help any. What is the Need of the hour is a good strong leader. India desperately needs a competent leader. Manmohan Singh must be a very good knowledgeable person but leadership skill is missing. And today’s shadow leaders are lacking grey matter. There is a brand value which works but not always because there is competition in the product line. People eventually will choose the better product. Or at least change the product for a test. recent example is west bengal but it remains a test case not a success story till date.

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  • Anonymous

    Time to change to presidential system and ban all those regional hoodlums!

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  • Kiran farooque

    If Modi wins, it willbe end of India. Muslims will revolt and a civil war will ensue ending in Hindus being subjected to slavery again

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  • Praveen Saxena

    A very interesting article

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  • Abhi

    The “local vote” is perhaps, confined to the villages. As the country gets more and more urbanized, the national vote is becoming more and more important. Modi should be a beneficiary of this national vote.

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