Politicians and pundits both love to describe an election as a verdict from the people’s court. But it is, as they would say in a Hollywood courtroom drama, a case of flawed characterisation. The judge and jury are supposed to be impartial and are expected to arrive at a decision by examining all facts and arguments, giving each litigant equal opportunity. But the people are divided and their judgement coloured by ideological beliefs, and their likes and dislikes of personalities. This only peaks during an election campaign. Absolute truths do not matter. What matters is what people believe at that particular point of time, and strongly enough for just a small minority among them to switch loyalties and preferences and vote for the “other” side. That is why, even in landslide election verdicts in India, or in first-past-the-post systems in most countries, voter swings are rarely in double digits. The rest remain in the old trenches of their ideologies or loyalties. The gap between a decisive victory and a rout can be as little as just one per cent of the vote share.
Or the tiniest fraction of even that. So small, indeed, that it won’t even register on the percentage scale, ending up several zeroes after the lowly decimal. Kerala is one such polarised state, where the gap between the UDF and LDF can be as little as a lakh of votes if you counted the entire state as one. But now, it seems even these most intellectually politicised Malayalis can’t compete with the Punjabis. In the last assembly election, the Akali-BJP defied anti-incumbency to win a stunning successive mandate, a rarity in see-saw Punjab. They surprised friend and foe. Many in the BJP had already written off that election and Congress challenger Amarinder Singh had even scheduled a party in Delhi to celebrate the “victory”. He ended up with egg on his face, along with the legion of journalists and psephologists who had predicted a change. Sukhbir Singh Badal, Punjab’s deputy chief minister and for all practical purposes the successor to his father, Parkash Singh Badal, hasn’t stopped smiling since. That unlikely victory was widely credited to his skilled election management, placing of strategic independents, “encouraging the usual suspects of the BSP” in key constituencies to divide the opposition’s vote. The crowning glory was his destruction of estranged cousin and former finance minister, Manpreet Badal, and his newly formed