Six weeks of voting and I wasn’t there in India for it at all, but thanks to social media and political parties and commentators getting on these platforms, it’s been easy to follow the proceeds, and be excited. I watched the coverage on multiple channels, including the crowdsourced Reddit India live ticker. Bing had a nice map to be able to view and track the wins in each constituency, and Microsoft Research had its own predictions for the results as well. Elections like never before!
So what has changed this time? In 2009, us Internet Hindus were a small minority no one listened to. This also meant we were free to say whatever we wanted without the Government of India calling us for inquiries like they did to Kanchan Gupta or blocking our Twitter handles. But it also meant the partisanship of the media went largely unnoticed by the bulk of the population. Politicians were also dependent on the media to reach to us. Now however, we can watch every speech live on the Internet. We can follow every candidate on Twitter and they can offer rebuttals and clarity on their blogs. Arun Jaitley faithfully wrote in his campaign log every day, which is a far cry from Advani’s pathetic attempt at a blog five years ago.
For all you say about Internet penetration in India being pathetically low, we’ve seen how online media campaigns actually work and make their way into the public discourse. Big revelations and releases happen on Twitter, and the media uses it frequently as a source, like we saw when Sunanda Pushkar accused Shashi Tharoor of cheating on her with Mehr Tarar. Lazy reporting also resorts to Twitter, like when Sushma Swaraj posts her Karva Chauth pictures. Not only this, but the Internet helps in proliferation of previously unknown personalities like Shahid Siddiqui and Kanchan Gupta into the public consciousness. These people are informed by the Internet quite some, and carry those same sensibilities and arguments into television studios when they go on panel discussions.
I have to admit that one of the biggest contributors to getting people interested in politics has to be these Fox News style panel discussions that happen on prime-time TV. It is lazy reportage, for sure. It isn’t even that informative. But people tune in at 9pm no matter what, and if discussions on everyday drama are held, with the loudest people of all political parties represented, you actually get a clear idea of who stands where on what issue. It’s trite for sure, but it’s an easy way to get a grip on what’s going on.
Television and social media got the AAP right up there winning the Delhi elections. But it was also easy to debunk their hype and wrongdoings easily thanks to these same channels. The robustness of communication channels nowadays impresses me, as well as the ways they are used by politicians.
It used to be the case that there were only a few talking heads and columnists who dictated public opinion. But with explosion of the number of media houses as well as the number of people willing to write for them, and the democratization of the whole process, it’s astounding how quickly opinions get picked apart, and how quickly the cycle goes on. It used to be that the same opinion would be touted over and over again. Now however, someone writes an article, within a few hours, there’s a rebuttal or response to that, and pretty soon there’s a discussion with every media house carrying an opinion piece on the topic. This has only enhanced the nature and level of the discourse with more points of view, facts at our fingertips, and more evolved discussions since we already know the most common arguments and their rebuttals and need to look harder for more pertinent ones.
As for the results.
It’s interesting hearing about the trick Ajit Jogi used against his BJP opponent Chandulal Sahu. He paid multiple people of the same name to stand as independent to confuse the voters. Apparently this is a pretty common trick of his. Looking here, looks like Mr. Jogi should have got one more candidate and finished off the job.
There was some issue with having strong candidates against A. Raja in Nilgiris. I vaguely remember reading about the BJP candidate having some issues filing his nomination that even a 10th pass wouldn’t have had. But I’m just glad to see that Mr. Raja lost very very badly.
I’m glad to see most UPA ministers lose their seats. Mani Shankar Aiyar, obviously. I wondered always if Punya Prasun Bajpai shed a silent tear for his krantikaari party deciding not to field a candidate against Salman Khurshid, but I’m glad the voters voted him out. Meenakshi Lekhi trouncing Ajay Maken in New Delhi feels sweet, as does watching Kapil ‘zero loss’ ‘1.76 lakh crore’ Sibal get 1.76 lakh votes and lose by a huge margin.
I would have really liked to see Shashi Tharoor lose, but good job on his BJP opponent giving him a close fight. I sure hope he is thoroughly investigated for his wife’s murder.
I wonder just how terrible a candidate Sidhu had been that even Arun Jaitley lost from Amritsar. That said, Mr. Jaitley is hardly a ‘mass leader’, and I still feel he needs to prove his credentials.
No surprises with Sonia retaining Rae Bareilly, but I really had hoped Smriti Irani would win in Amethi. It really, really surprised me that Kumar Vishwas polled a laughable number of votes.
I’m however not surprised that most of the AAP candidates lost their deposits. Their planning and focus was terrible. They spread themselves too thin. Even in 1984 when BJP got only 2 seats, it was because they’d contested on only 20. AAP contested on 400+ and got only 4. How’s that for ROI? That too with an in-house psephologist (who also lost his deposit). Mr. Kejriwal’s loss in Varanasi was well-deserved. Why would some top leader actually bother standing in a constituency to ‘stop Modi’? Survival is important to making a difference and if Mr. Kejriwal had wanted, he could have been an MP from Delhi or Haryana and tried making a difference in the center. Now with Assembly elections looming, I don’t know if he’ll even get to keep his Delhi seat. Quickest rise and fall ever.
Nilekani expectedly lost from my home constituency. What was he thinking anyway, telling a horde of middle-class young voters who have looked at private sector as their savior, that he was in support of reservations in private sector. Besides, Bangalore South is the sort of constituency where even if Rahul Gandhi stands on a BJP ticket, he’ll win. Many of the people I grew up with are ardent canvassers for BJP there, and their enthusiasm is infectious and awesome. Their door-to-door campaigning when I was growing up ensured my entire neighborhood turned out in high numbers always. Don’t these young people deserve a better candidate to put their enthusiasm behind? I fervently exhort the BJP to not take our constituency for granted, be it in the local body or at the MLA level or at the MP level.
It’s also interesting to note that now with Jayalalitha’s clean sweep pretty irrelevant and Karnataka sending 17 BJP MPs, the direction the center will take on Kaveri water.
While it has been heartening seeing so much enthusiasm from so many more people this time, it surprises me to meet several people in this city who have nothing but a cursory understanding of politics and issues. And these are some of the smartest people I know. It reminds me that drawing people’s attention is also an important part of politics, one which every party should undertake.
That said, the parameters people evaluate their candidates on now has changed. It certainly does feel like caste and religion are out of the equation for now, at least. There is increased consciousness for national issues, as it should be in the Lok Sabha elections. You can’t evaluate candidates on whether they’ll provide roads; that’s the work of local bodies or the MLAs. Besides, MPs get only 5 crores to develop their constituencies, and what can you do with that? People have realized they need people who’ll carry forward their concerns on national policies and laws.
It also feels like Subramanian Swamy’s words of long ago that seemed unrealistic then have come true. People have finally tired of coalition drama and have voted towards a more decisive mandate.
It is a wonderful moment in history for all of us, and we should revel in it and cherish it. There is a huge environment of hope here. Those that compare it to Obama’s first election don’t even know the depth of this. That said, we must all active and speak up so that in this new environment where we have a government that actually listens to us, we make our voices heard and tweak their stances closer to what we believe in and desire.
Here’s to a wonderful five years!