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No, the signals in this election do not compute

The punters had given the BJP a fighting chance of winning these elections purely based on anti-incumbency and the pathetic performance of the UPA government. In particular, terrorism was rampant, culminating in the extraordinary siege of Mumbai on 11/26, wherein the wall-to-wall coverage exposed the utter incompetence of the government. Similarly, the long-drawn-out exercise of signing the so-called “nuclear deal” with the United States was totally opaque, and the government lied repeatedly to the people.

There were scandals aplenty: bundles of money that apparently swayed a crucial parliamentary vote, huge amounts secreted away in Swiss accounts, scams in the telecommunications spectrum auctions, and the destruction of an offshore historical monument for lucrative dredging, apparent perjury, libel, and witness-tampering in a major case by an NGO close to the powers-that-be.

And most of all, 12% inflation in 2008, especially for food and other essential items, hit the voter squarely where it hurts the most—the pocketbook. Voters should have been exquisitely sensitive to prices that have permanently risen by 1.5 to 3 times for practically everything.

There were some populist schemes (which raised the budget deficit from a targeted 5% to about 15%, the highest in the world); to give civil servants raises of over 70%, to forgive agricultural loans, and a make-work scheme for the rural poor, which many observers contend was mostly meant to enrich party cadres. But none of these schemes would have made a huge dent in the negative public attitudes towards the outgoing UPA government.

Then what did the trick for them? Well, India is a bit of a shamocracy: despite the trappings of democracy, it could well be a Stalinist state exemplified by the dictum “one man, one vote, one time.” The “one-time” vote in 2004 gave the UPA a golden opportunity to stuff critical posts, e.g. the Chief Election Commissioner.

There is a non-trivial possibility of electronic voting machine fraud. No other nation uses EVMs widely; the European Union just outlawed them as unconstitutional. There is no physical audit trail, and it is not terribly difficult to put in subtle Trojan Horse programs to award a suitably discreet but winning percentage of the votes to the desired candidate. According to Andrew Tanenbaum writing in IEEE Computer in May, unless a detailed and effective system of cross-checks in put in place, EVMs are easily manipulated.

The circumstantial evidence is damning and hard to explain away: all of the UPA’s friends won, and all their opponents lost. Some UPA stalwarts won almost miraculously.

Putting two and two together, it is hard to claim that the BJP is in decline. This election may well have been stolen from them.

Rajeev Srinivasan wrote this opinion from Hyderabad, India.

Yes, the BJP has lost momentum and direction

Isn’t the ability to snatch defeat from the mouth of victory a sure sign of a political sunset? An unusual alignment of stars, or more precisely star-crossed governmental bungles, gave the BJP its best chance at a victory in the recent federal elections. It went down to a resounding defeat nevertheless, losing in every category; from seats to the popular vote to regional dominance. It would be interesting to establish the reasons behind the decimation.

The BJP suffers from a singular inability to convert its perceived merits into votes, starting with national defense. How can one explain the inexplicable modesty in contrasting BJP’s success in Kargil with the incompetent response of 11/26—are the strong of heart soft in the head?  On the issue of leadership, the Congress at least got the basic plot right—in classical Indian tradition, the Rajmata(queen mother) operates from behind the curtain, the competent and loyal Diwan(minister) warms the chair for the Yuvaraj(crown prince) completing his apprenticeship. The BJP leadership, on the other hand, seemed to resemble an enthusiastic debating club—a lot of talk but little action. Advani, sagacity and gift for strategy notwithstanding, morphed into India’s Al Gore—history will remember him as somebody who should have been the next prime minister.

And then there is the economy—the BJP adroitly positioned itself as the financial rain maker in the late 1990s by advancing and expanding upon the economic reforms introduced by Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh. The fact that the BJP couldn’t capitalize on this strength during the deepest of recessions makes one sigh—are they out of touch with themselves? Likewise, the inability of the party to translate strong grass roots organizing into votes in states such as Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh raises basic questions about self-awareness and competence.

And lastly, there is the issue of seesawing on its stand versus the Muslims.  The Congress has successfully portrayed itself as protector of minority interests—it wholeheartedly embraced the role and zealously utilizes this niche. The BJP is unique in its inconsistent stands—it advanced from near obliteration to the ruling benches on the championing of Hindutva but then did a volte-face and tried to reach out to the minorities—the strategy of becoming everything to everybody reduced it into meaning nothing to anybody.

The elections have clearly proved that the BJP can fail to sail even with the fairest of weather. The question therefore is: with such incompetence, will the party even be around by the next election?

The BJP advanced from just two seats in 1984 to eighty-eight in 1989: is that just as easily reversible?

S.Gopikrishna writes on topics pertinent to India and Indians.

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