Column: Modi happened in Election 2014

Written by Surjit S Bhalla | Updated: May 21 2014, 03:05am hrs
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 magnitudeBarack Obama in 2008. The parallels are closea 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 Modis record breaking win336 seats for the NDA, and the highest ever seat per vote recorded for any alliance or party in India9 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 corruptionand 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 economyhigh 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 the NDA lost only 26 seats. So with the worst economy ever, one might have expected the NDA and UPA to go back to approximately their 2004 levels, i.e., around 200 for both the UPA and NDA. Indeed, according to the CNN-IBN tracker poll, both alliances were in a neck-and-neck battle as late as August 2013.

Myth 3: Anti-incumbency, voter fatigue after 10 years of UPA rule, resulted in the Modi win.

When all else fails, indulge in an anti-incumbency explanation. Too many counter examples exist. Remember 2009, when incumbent UPA got elected. Or Madhya Pradesh 2003, when Digvijay Singh, and Congress, got unceremoniously voted out after 10 years in power. Or Modis Gujarat, or Shivraj Singh Chouhans MP, returned for a third and second consecutive term, respectively.

Myth 4: Weak leadership of Rahul Gandhi affected the Congress partys performance.

Imagine that any other individual but Modi was the leader of the BJPsay LK Advani, Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj or Shivraj Chouhan. No one was betting that any of these individuals would offer a large difference with respect to the UPA leadership. The common refrain of many, including myself, has been that there isnt a naya paisas worth of difference between the UPA and NDA. And there hasnt beentill Modi came along.

So what explains the Modi win The UPA campaign offered two all important reasons to vote for the UPA. Vote for us because we do so much for you, and dont vote for Modi because he is evil.

Look at what the Congress guaranteed to the Indian citizen, especially the poor. A jobs guarantee programme, so that the poor had jobs. A food security bill, so that two-thirds of the population was guaranteed food at throwaway prices. A land acquisition bill, so that the poor got a fair price. A right to information Act, and a Lokpal Bill, so that corrupt government officials could be caught red-handed. And yet the Congress managed to win only 44 out of 543 seats, about half of what the BJP got in only its second election in 1989.

Modi is evil, we are not: An important fact about the recent election, and possibly related to the overwhelming, beyond-expectations majority that Narendra Modi obtained, is that, to the best of my knowledge, no individual in Indian or world history has been unjustly vilified as much as Modi has been. This vilification continues even to this day, especially by the sickular parties and their left-intellectual storm-troopers. I am choosing my words wisely, because the condemnation campaign has almost universally invoked images of the Nazi Hitler and fascist European regimes of the 1930s.

What is most informative, and disturbing, about these storm-troopers (among which are many domestic and foreign journalists) is that they invariably belong to the Congress party and/or have been its sympathisers until recently. Let me make my position clear, possibly for the umpteenth time. Narendra Modi was Chief Minister at the time Gujarat riots happened, just as Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minister of India at the time the Delhi pogrom against Sikhs occurred. Both have to assume responsibility with what happened under their watch. All I am asking is whether the Congress storm-troopers, or Modi-baiters, have ever condemned Rajiv Gandhi and/or the Congress party with the same language and allusion to Hitler as they have done, and continue to do so, about Modi

Morality and philosophy aside, an election is not an absolute choice but rather a choice between individuals. So, especially in the case of the Congress vs Modi, the issue of 2002 vs 1984 is irrelevant, i.e., individuals who are upset by Modi should be equally (if not more) upset by the Congress.

Strategic voting by Muslimsbackfired: In the Muslim and Yadav states of UP and Bihar, the turnout was higher by about 12 percentage points. Did the UPA whiz-kids consider that their strategy of concentrated Muslim and Yadav voting against Modi might engineer a counter-strategyfor every one Muslim and Yadav (MY) that indulged in strategic voting, there were probably four non-MY voters ensuring that the negative strategy (sic) did not succeed.

Essentially, the Indian polity has called the Congresss bluff, seen it for the calculating set of politicians they have been. Their governance demanded not only change, but wholesale rejection. The Indian polity has elected a leader. The historical low losers contend that all Modi has done is package a dream, a dream that will not last, a dream that will soon become a nightmare. The losers, and the Congress apologists, believe that Modi will soon crash to earth. I have no doubt that the expectations from the Modi government are sky-high, and that it is impossible for the transformed reality to be an equal match to the expectations. Equally, I have no doubt that the Modi-led government will make a strong effort to match a large fraction of these expectationsand that it will largely succeed.

The author is chairman, Oxus Investments, an emerging market advisory firm, and a senior advisor to Zyfin, a leading financial information company. Twitter: @surjitbhalla