Where is the wave?

I have never been able to fathom quite what a wave is all about during elections in India. The last we heard of it was in 1984 but that was essentially a reaction to the assassination of Mrs Indira Gandhi. Since then no political party as been able to gain 350 seats in parliament and according to me less than that number is by no means a wave.

Yet the buzz is that a Narendra Modi wave is sweeping the countryside. I can speak only for Maharashtra at the moment for I have not ventured outside my home state so far this election season. I certainly do not see a Modi wave anywhere in any region of the state though Modi is drawing huge crowds at all his meetings. However, at Nanded from where former chief minister Ashok Chavan is contesting, we had this peculiar situation of a huge crowd for Modi but when reorters asked the people why they were there the stock reply was, “We will vote for Chavan. We have heard a lot about Modi so we have just come to see hat he is all about.”

That reminded me of Sonia Gandhi’s rallies in 2004 — she got huge crowds wherever she went in the state, yet all the big stalwarts lost from every constituency where she hed a public meeting. So I quite discount crowd support and waves at elections. But this season what I can definitely sense is a palpable anger against both the UPA and the Congress – they are facing a double incumbency situation in Maharashtra having ruled the state fpr 15 years and the Centre for ten. But the anger is not so much about corruption as it is about price rise and the fact that many Congress leaders were not able to deliver on their promises – little promises at that, like extending a railway line, increasing the water supply to villages or even a small thing like ceasing government control of religious institutions.

But if I have learnt anything about elections in nearly three decades of being a political correspondent, it is that you can never take the voter for granted. He may be as angry as he can be with a particular political party, but I have never been able to work out what the tipping point of that anger might be. For example, this season I would have thought that the government delay in providing compensation to farmers who suffered a hailstorm in February and March would have angered the farmers enough to kick the incumbents out of the reckoning. But strangely, even if they are committing suicides for the lack of compensation, all that matters to sections of these farmers is their caste – whichever political party has this component right in their candidate is getting the votes, everything else be damned.

And while this had to be the most modern of elections we are going through, what with the use of social media and television influencing voter choices, I was also startled to see some old fashioned concerns kicking in the last few days of campaigning in parts of the state – which means a traditional consolidation of Dalit-Muslim-Adivasi votes behind one party or against another and I even sense a return to the even more traditional upper caste-Dalit combine which has not been in evidence for decades since the Mandal commission skewered the social combinations in the country.

I can also see a lot of confusion among the political parties – I do not think anyone is sure anymore who their target audience is and which sections they must aim for to the exclusion of others. As a result the electorate, too, is getting highly confused – like when Raj Thackeray of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena professes t support to Narenda Modi but fields his candidates against the Sena-BJP combine. A lot of youth attracted to Raj but fascinated by Modi do not know anymore which way to swing and that is leading to a lot of dilution in the fortunes of many candidates.

And where is the leadership in the various political parties – the BJP has had mostly Modi, the Congress only Rahul and Sonia Gandhi, Sharad Pawar is the only consistent campaigner across Maharashtra and with Bal Thackeray no more, the sting has quite gone out of the campaign run by the Shiv Sena, even if both Uddhav and his cousin Raj Thackeray attempt to emulate the Sena tiger.

The most predictable thing about this election, I believe is that it is highly unpredictable, But I have faith in the wisdom of the voter. He has surprised us before and I firmly believe we are all in for another surprise. What that surprise might be, I am not quite sure.

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