Indian elections and psephologists
India has 29 States and seven union territories BJP has government is in (10) states, whereas, in (7) states, the party shares the government with coalition partners. Modi’s “extremist politicking” has also provided ample ground to the mainstream and regional opposition parties to exploit the situation and make rebounds with hope of countering and neutralising the Saffron party. Elections for 17th Lok Sabha are scheduled between April-May this year in seven phases.
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India has a complex political system of two houses “Rajya Sabha” (The Upper house) comprising of 250 members and “the Lok Sabha” (Lower house) comprised of 545 members. Ratio of seats to elect Lok Sabha members varies, like Uttar Pradesh tops with 80 seats, followed by Maharashtra ( 48 ), West Bengal (42), Bihar (40) and Tamil Nadu (39) etc . Two old alliances, NDA (National Democratic Alliance) and UPA (United Progressive Alliance) are still being led by BJP and INC respectively.
It is interesting to note that Indian media, from liberal, secular as well as right wings has conducted series of discussions to touch the burning issues and will continue to affect the perceptions within Indian polity. One such huddle with the title of ‘The Hindu Huddle 2019’ under The Hindu newspaper group was telecasted on media on 26 March; some of the findings of the psephologists (individuals, organizations or groups who work on election data, surveys and trends to predict the outcomes) are being added to this paper to highlight issues confronting the Indian political leaders vying for victory:
Ms Manisha Pryam highlighted the importance of basic factors, she thinks that micro processes of change in states like UP and Bihar are militating against the BJP and certitudes of 2014 elections is not a formula to predict about 2019 elections and that the emerging narrative against Hindutva may become decisive. Economic issues are becoming very important, people are militating against an array of things like unemployment, especially the students studying in universities of the impoverished states like Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, broken pathways to social mobility and the fact that demonetization has crushed the already poor farmers and labourers.
Manisha is correct, as recent survey has indicated that job markets are saturated with millions (some holding PhD and Masters degrees) applying for menial public sector jobs of a few thousands vacancies in the railways etc. The recent interviews of ex Reserves Bank of India Mr Raghuram Rajan on CNBC TV18 also indicates that BJP led India was slipping on the economic front. Referring to his book, ‘The Third Pillar’, he stated that populist nationalism espoused around the world including India actually looks for enemies, both internal and external to survive and advance agenda of populist leaders.
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Talking to NDTV about jobs he remained skeptical of the ability of the government to find jobs, especially when good jobs were not being created by India and it was becoming a major frustration. India was very poor on collecting job data. There was a need for an independent panel of experts to find actual growth in GDP as capital investment in private sector is down, consumption is ok but there are no compatible jobs being created. He also highlighted that tolerance and inclusiveness was under threat in India and RSS has infiltrated lot of institutions including RBI board, creating an imbalance in structures of governance.
Coming back to the Hindu Huddle, Yogendra Yadav, a seasoned psephologist, feels that Hindi belts is the main arena where these elections will be decided, importance of these 226(Hindi belt) seats vis a vis the rest of 319 seats spread over the rest of India becomes pronounced as BJP did extremely well in the Hindi Heartland in 2014 and it was very difficult to repeat that performance due to so many factors militating against it.
Yogendra also feels that BJP’s strength lies in five Ms, Money, Mandir, Machine (organization), Modi and Media and BJP walks with these structural advantages. It is was unfortunate that hope raised after BJP victory in 2014 is more or less extinguished, he also wished that people were more concerned on what BJP has done to democracy and secular India than economy. The economic factors militating against BJP include rural agrarian distress and unemployment. Despite that some sane voices are hoping for defeat of BJP, Yogendra fears about the aftermath of BJP defeat, the real serious danger is a long battle for reclaiming the secular liberal India, which lies ahead as the biggest challenge to India.
In my opinion, major factors affecting the upcoming elections include; BJP’s preparedness vis a vis incumbency and performance, State Elections held in recent past and poor performance of BJP, States’ internal politics, possibility of Grand Coalition or Mahagathbandhan against NDA, Pulwama Incident and aftermath (as X factor),Cases in Courts, especially Indian Supreme Court Review Petition on Rafale Aircraft Controversy and Ram Mandir/Babri Mosque Mediation and finally a (Z) factor, discussed later.
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Although Indian polity is very complex and it is difficult to precisely predict the outcome, an effort is being made to forecast and predict the results in form of broad scenarios:
Scenario 1: BJP manages to retain power with slight majority. As Modi and Amit Shah under the banner of NDA are engaged in tailoring their desired political atmosphere, possibilities of BJP led alliance retaining the power are predicted with some pre-conditions. However, it is also predicted that BJP might not attain the strength it enjoyed in incumbent assembly. Will such return of BJP be suitable for Pakistan, is something that Pakistani policy makers need to analyse and be prepared for.
Scenario 2: Congress led Alliance or UPA manages to secure simple majority. Some of the predictions indicate this scenario, depending upon the Rahul Gandhi-Priyanka factor. It will also depend upon the ability of Congress to raise and convey the issue of ‘Hindutva vs Secular India’ and giving leverage to regional parties for a share in power as well as garnering the support from Muslims, Dalits and left or liberal part of Indian polity.
Scenario 3: Mahagathbandhan or Grand Alliance (before or after elections) with Non Congress leader becoming a Consensus PM with support of Congress. If Congress shows flexibility and makes alliance with regional parties with one singular aim, to defeat BJP, this scenario is also a remote possibility, some saner elements in Indian deep state in order to ease external pressure on India over rising Hindutva, might opt for the scheming. This scenario may suit Pakistan, where a divided polity within India can be exploited to develop relations at an even kneel.
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Scenario 4: The Z factor and BJP Landslide. In case of a black swan or Pulwama plus incident, (Z) or surprise factor may trigger a new Modi wave, changing the elections scene totally. Indian deep state in conjunction with RSS may be contemplating a “Pulwama Plus” incident to recharge the atmosphere and re-engage Pakistan in a “hot war like” situation, once again bringing the element of National Security to forefront. Another way in the Z factor is the possibility of staged managed false flag and elimination of some top leader of BJP to up-scale and charge up the campaign. Emerging competitors of Modi, Amit Shah or Nitin Gadkiri may become political scapegoats for Modi. Nitin Gadkiri (being a critic and attracting coverage from Indian media) is being discussed in some BJP circles as possible replacement of Modi.
Pakistani media has spent very less time to discuss the Indian elections, it may be appreciated that Indian media spent almost four weeks on Pakistani elections last year. Some of the ideas and trends discussed in this paper may be taken up by Pakistani media, so that our public is well informed and prepared about the outcome of a crucial election, that may re-shape the future of entire South Asia.