| Beyond the common breed
Atal gone, Sonia in/ Paratha gone, pizza in/ Milk gone, Martini in/ Munnabhai gone, mafia in/ Amitabh gone, Al Pacino in/ In short:/ India gone, Italy in. This is one of the more innocuous messages I received on the night the NDA government was voted out. The Hindutwit middle class is in paroxysms of anguish. It poured venom on Sonia Gandhi for months; it thought that it could exorcise her by pronouncing curses. It tried the most poisonous incantations it knew. And they failed. What is superstition coming to' If hate yajnas cannot keep out a mere Italian, how are they going to build the temple of Ram on the site of a mosque'
On the morning the votes were counted, I went to watch the computer screens at my stockbroker’s. As the stock exchanges opened, the screens screamed. The sensex dropped 200 points. It soon recovered, and then drifted. Rich investors tried not to look at the number of the Congress coalition’s seats, and concentrated instead on other — non-Congress, non-NDA — seats. As they crossed 100, hope was kindled in fluttering hearts — maybe the Bharatiya Janata Party, which proved so good earlier at enticing allies, could recruit some more' But soon the hope died, when it was realized that those others were mostly foaming communists. The following day, as I jubilated on television, the sensex dropped another 300 points.
But the reddest faces were hidden behind the red walls of official Delhi. Consider the following educators of public opinion: “Greenhorn as she is in the wonderland of Indian politics, Ms Sonia Gandhi has the added disadvantage of having been born and brought up in an alien land and culture. No wonder most of the time she is still a ‘reader’ and not a ‘leader’ and frequently underscores the sad reality (through her words and silence as well) that she is yet to mature and strike roots in the Indian tradition,” Balbir Punj in The Pioneer, June 6, 2003.
Claiming that no Congress candidate will be able to hit the road to parliament this time from Gujarat , Narendra Modi said on April 7, 2004, that the five MPs in the last Lok Sabha were “papis” (sinners). Thanks to his brilliant campaign, the number of sinners went up from five to 12. “Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, firm on the wicket with a terrific form, is all set to bowl out Sonia Gandhi’s Congress below 100 runs in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections,” Pramod Mahajan, January 4, 2004. “We set a target that the BJP should get clear majority and with the NDA allies, we should win 2/3 majority. Fortunately, it is possible to meet our target. The Congress is trying hard to retain its seats.” N. Venkaiah Naidu, April 20, 2004.
“There will be no hung Parliament, the National Democratic Alliance will get a clear majority and Atal Bihari Vajpayee will rule,” Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani, May 5, 2004. “Of late, we are witnessing an amusing spectacle of Congress President going from place to place seeking tie-ups with smaller parties. The party’s support base is dwindling and it has now virtually become a regional party,” N. Chandrababu Naidu, January 4, 2004. “Maya is with Sonia Gandhi but we are spreading the jaal of prosperity,” Atal Bihari Vajpayee, February 1, 2004.
Let us go from the leaders of public opinion to its mirrors. Remember the actual figures: BJP and allies 185, Congress and allies 219. Sahara’s forecast: BJP+ 263, Congress+ 181. Mea culpa: “We erred on three counts. We did not take into account silent voters who wanted to vote for the Congress. Secondly, the Muslim fury against the BJP went unaccounted for. Thirdly, the protests from the underprivileged were also unnoticed.” I guess a poll that concentrated on privileged, vociferous Hindutwit voters was good for the feel-good factor.
Zee’s forecast: BJP+ 267, Congress+ 187. “We indicated a hung Parliament, and the numbers of the two major parties in reverse. We went off the mark in predicting the number of seats for the Congress. We will have to look at larger samples in the future for such polls and see that the sample is randomly distributed.” And also not write down BJP when people say they will vote for Congress, and vice versa. Indian Express forecast: BJP+ 230-250, Congress+ 190-205. “We will shortly analyse the results. The analysis will be based on the status of sampling. Caste breakups and other factors were not evident because of time constraint.” This was the NDTV forecast orchestrated by Dorab Sopariwala, who cannot be suspected of bias or poor methodology. This is good enough proof for me that the best forecasts are not great, and that opinion polls and exit polls pose no threat to democracy — as long as they are numerous enough. The more the better.
But enough of this fun. Let us reflect seriously why the Congress confounded all the pollsters and analysts, ignored the advice of pontificators and trounced the BJP. First, all the stock answers are wrong. It was not a victory for secularism or the voter’s answer to Gujarat. The BJP’s share of the vote fell from 23.8 per cent to 22.2 per cent — big enough to make a difference, but not so big as to suggest a rejection of Hindu communalism. It penetrated Karnataka for the first time. The Congress did much better in Gujarat; but then, everyone had misinterpreted the assembly results. The swing in those elections was not so much against the Congress but against other parties, which were wiped out. The way their voters divided up between the BJP and the Congress decided the result. And the BJP gained only in those districts of north and central Gujarat where the most Muslims were killed. My interpretation is that the coercion by hooligans attached to the Hindu joint family was greatest where their killing power was concentrated.
Nor was the vote a refutation of Shining India. It was in the cities where India shines brightest — Bombay, Poona, Madras, Hyderabad, Delhi — that the BJP and its allies were trounced; only Bangalore was beguiled by the BJP. The BJP may love shining India, and may want to own it. But shining India does not want to be owned. It has a mind of its own, and it preferred the Congress and its allies.
And whether it is shining India or toiling Bharat, neither shares the Hindutwits’ allergy to Sonia. Sonia did her best to turn off everyone who was willing. She travelled 90,000 km and addressed 90 meetings in a fortnight. She gave Modi and his foul-mouthed colleagues every help they could ask for; she exposed herself to as many Indians as she could. And they refused to be turned off. Despite the BJP’s frantic alarms, most Indians simply do not care where their prime minister was born. They will accept a !Kung if she speaks their language, cares for them, thinks for them, and is more competent than the common breed of politicians they have to choose from.
The BJP has been cut down by two factors. First, the opposition was less divided, and the BJP alliance less united. This is why the BJP did so badly in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. In Bihar, the anti-BJP parties were better united; and in UP, the BJP had support of neither low-caste party. Second, the BJP’s allies did very badly. Both the Telugu Desam Party and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazagham were trounced. It is still not electorally so bad to be BJP, but to be its ally and pretend to be secular has become dicey. Secular opportunists, beware!