Column: Modi happened in Election 2014

May 20 2014, 21:35 IST
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SummaryElection 2014 was a structural break for India as its voters comprehensively rejected their Nehru-Gandhi past

Just what happened on May 16? In a word, Modi. Of course, there are several other factors that determined the contours of Election 2014 but the defining characteristic was the PM-designate, Narendra Modi. Can one individual define an election? Possible, if that individual rightly senses the mood of the country, and its changing sense of direction. Recall what happened in that other defining election, albeit of a lower seismic magnitude—Barack Obama in 2008. The parallels are close—a black man winning the Presidency in a country where the blacks obtained civil rights just 50 years ago; a low-caste OBC guy winning in a country where caste matters a lot. Post the 2008 election in the US, one found out that maybe the white Americans are not that racist after all; post May 16, India has found out that caste has ceased to occupy an important place in the minds of voters.

So, what did happen in India? Several myths abound as to what explains Modi’s record breaking win—336 seats for the NDA, and the highest ever seat per vote recorded for any alliance or party in India—9 seats for each 1% of the vote. In the record-setting 1984 election, the Congress obtained 8.5 seats for each 1% of the vote. A partial listing of the myths.

Myth 1: Congress lost because it operated a corruption and scam infested regime: Commonwealth games, Coalgate, 2G, etc.

As if UPA-I, and all governments before, have not been corrupt. Corruption is one of the factors affecting voters’ choice, but not a very important factor. Else, why would all opinion and exit polls suggest that corruption was one of the least important determinants of voters’ choice? And just look at the results for the Aam Aadmi Party, which ran exclusively against crony capitalism and corruption—and managed to win only 4 of the 432 seats contested, and lost its deposit in 413 which is another record.

Myth 2: Congress lost because of a weak economy—high inflation and low growth.

I am a card-carrying member of the club that believes that economic performance determines voting behaviour. But this election was not an average election, to which average explanations are applicable. By itself, the weak economy and corruption would mean that the Congress and UPA would lose seats. But to lose 200 seats is a Black Swan event. In 2009, with the best economy ever, the UPA gained “only” 54 seats, and

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