While debating the importance of opinion polls — and other similar issues pertinent to India’s political context — some experts end up citing western democracies as examples of models to follow. What they fail to appreciate is that most democratic countries in the West have two-party systems, while India, which is a big, diverse country, follows a multi-party system of parliamentary democracy, where measuring the public mood is not easy.
Instead, it would be better to compare the situation in India with those in countries that follow a similar system. Israel is a small country: it has a population of just eight million. Yet there are about a dozen big and small political parties, and the political scenario is highly unpredictable. Weak coalition governments have become the norm. Thus, predicting the results of elections held there is not as easy as foretelling the outcome of the presidential elections in the United States of America. Even in the US, predicting the victory of any party in the election for the House of Representatives — which in many ways is like India’s Lok Sabha — is not easy because of the complexities involved. On November 6 last year, voters in the US elected both the president and members of the House of Representatives. While Obama became president for a second term, ironically, the Republican Party took the House.
In Japan, the faction-ridden Liberal Democratic Party has ruled for more than five decades, barring three years, between 2009 and 2012, when the Democratic Party of Japan was in power. On a number of occasions it has led a coalition government. Political instability, charges of corruption and a frequent change of government are some of the hallmarks of Japanese democracy. So is dynastic rule: Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, is the son of a former foreign minister and the grandson of a former prime minister of the country.
Experts in India tend to overestimate the success of democracy in the West. They also overlook some ground realities in complicated democratic set-ups found in some other, mostly Asian, countries. Some people argue so fervently in favour of the pre-poll surveys that it seems as though the gigantic exercise of actually holding the election is not necessary. Giving too much importance to these surveys, in one way or the other, dilutes the sanctity of the election itself. Gauging the mood, tastes and choice of the people with the help of these surveys may be a perfect exercise for the market in scientific terms. But the results yielded may not be true for the ever-changing situation in politics.
Moreover, in India, the hysteria surrounding the upcoming general elections would make one think that a system akin to the presidential format found in the US is prevalent here. How can there be a battle for power between two individuals — Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi — in a parliamentary democracy, and that too when the Congress has not yet formally declared its candidate for the post of prime minister? The much-talked-about battle between Sonia Gandhi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2004 came to nought as the former, after the Congress’s victory in the elections, made Manmohan Singh the prime minister.
The founder of the Aam Aadmi Party, Arvind Kejriwal, may be considered the best choice for the post of the chief minister of Delhi, but views may change after all the parties announce their nominees for the post as well as their candidates for the assembly seats. Even in the Karnataka assembly elections recently, voters were asked by a survey agency who they would want as their prime minister, at a time when most major parties had not yet declared their chief ministerial candidates for various states. While a sizeable number of people named Narendra Modi, his party — though in power in the state — fared badly in their books.