Citizen Raj | A cogent attempt to make sense of the Indian election exercise

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Updated: May 26, 2019 7:15:36 AM

The creation of the monetary policy committee has also been termed a mistake.

On the topic of economics, he also writes about the reformers, be it PV Narsimha Rao and Vajpayee, and whether economic reforms are the reason they lost the elections.

The votes have been counted, the victory laps taken, and this marks the end of yet another election season. The results will now be widely dissected on TV screens, edit pages of newspapers, dining room tables, and local chai shops. For a country as politically inclined as India, there will be no dearth of opinions as to why the BJP won or why the Congress lost -— some logical, some bordering on conspiracy theories. In hindsight, it is comparatively easy to make sense of what happened, but few can do so publicly, months in advance while still remaining objective. The book, Citizen Raj, by Surjit Bhalla is one such attempt.

Since the past few months there have been innumerable predictions about the results. Pre-poll surveys after the assembly elections in 2018 were predicting that the BJP would be the single-largest party but not necessarily close to a majority. Post-Balakot it was said that the winds had changed. Most exit polls that came out on May 19 gave a majority to the NDA, while a few suggested BJP would breach the 300- mark. These were all similar to the forecasts given in the book. These surveys did predict the trend correctly, even if they didn’t the quantum of victory.

Despite coming true, these surveys will remain a mystery. People will not look beyond the final numbers because of the difficulties associated with lengthy methodologies and sampling errors. The advantage of Bhalla’s analysis is that it’s intuitive, logical, and easily understood, including the quantitative aspect. Based on historical evidence, he offers an innovative way to understand election results using what he calls the strike rate or the number of seats a party wins for every 1% of votes polled.In this book, Bhalla weaves a fascinating narrative, which ends with his forecasts for this election. He incorporates a wide range of subjects from Nehru to the economy and cow politics with a hint of both Bollywood and cricket.

Bhalla has a rather unique ability to bring together diverse subjects to put forth his often provocative arguments, while ensuring the reader remains hooked. The book doesn’t disappoint; it will hold the attention of both the serious as well as the casual reader.The biggest advantage of reading anything written by Bhalla is that his arguments are thought-provoking and, agree or disagree, but the thought will fester. In this book, he offers a novel idea that the RSS doesn’t help the BJP electorally.

This is sure to be disliked by those from the Sangh as well as those opposed to it. Sangh sympathisers often claim that they decide who wins in any election, some go as far to take credit for Vajpayee’s loss in 2004 and Indira Gandhi’s victory in 1980. Another political myth he takes on is whether Sonia Gandhi wins elections for the Congress. He convincingly argues that the effect she has on votes is minimal. Dynasty supporters argue that she’s the glue that holds the Congress together which is why the party must remain under the Gandhis. After the election results, this, and the myth that Priyanka Gandhi would win elections for the Congress, have been busted. Unfortunately, on cow politics, Bhalla has taken into account only the mainstream liberal media arguments and fails to consider the counter-points shown by cow protection activists regarding a problem of serious magnitude of cattle theft and smuggling. To understand why the issue of cow slaughter resonates with people as well as politicians cutting across party lines would be impossible without taking into account the fear of the smugglers, the violence associated with their activities, loss of livelihood, and the sheer inaction by the rural police.

He also looks at the socialist policies of Nehru and Indira Gandhi. The two major mistakes of Indira, he writes, were bank nationalisation and the public distribution system. On the topic of economics, he also writes about the reformers, be it PV Narsimha Rao and Vajpayee, and whether economic reforms are the reason they lost the elections.

Post-2014, there has been an increase in the number of fact-checking sites and various mainstream media outlets have also created their own fact-checking arms. It’s not a phenomenon restricted to India. The last presidential election in the United States was fraught with discussions on fake news. On one hand, Trump was bashed by many for spreading fake news, while on the other Trump has taken it upon himself to call out organisations he believes are spreading fake news against him. In the eighth chapter he broaches the subject of fake news, be it on the claims of GDP data being manipulated or the lack of jobs or demonetisation being an economic disaster. He uses various such mainstream media claims to make his point that India invented the political use of fake news.

The current political scenario in India is summed up as the battle of the elites. The old elites try hard to hold on to the power they have enjoyed, which seems to be slipping out of their hands. According to Bhalla, the reason Modi remains unacceptable in the eyes of the ‘thekedars’ of liberalism and public opinion is that he represents the new aspirational elite. This may also explain his popularity amongst such a large population of the country. In this book, Bhalla hasn’t shied away from criticising not just the politicians, but also the judiciary and the constituent assembly. Modi hasn’t been spared either. The 2014 budget, he writes, could well have been a UPA 2 budget. The creation of the monetary policy committee has also been termed a mistake. He minces no words while condemning the Supreme Court judgments banning cow slaughter as well as the directive principle prohibiting cow slaughter.The book gives a bird’s eye view of the Indian electoral history from 1952-2019. It must be read to understand not just the 2019 election but how India has voted over the years. To summarise with the popular saying, “(come) Buy for the forecast, (stay) read for the history.”

Kirtivardhan Dave is a

Mumbai-based freelance writer

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