Tuesday, February 17, 2009

ELECTIONS 2009: SANGH PARIVAR OR CONG FAMILY?

Elections are around the corner. The largest democracy in the world is soon going to enable Indians to elect whoever they want to send to the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament. Hopefully it will be their vote and not political machinations that will decide the next lot of politicians who will rule India.

On the face of it, Indians are spoilt for choice. There are any number of regional and national political parties to choose from besides a whole lot of 'independents' who contest elections on their own. Most of the latter fight elections in the hope that the mathematics will fall just right and their support will be vital for forming the government. If that happens, then they not only recover their election expenses but also take care of future expenses for a couple of decades, if not generations, within days of getting elected. KBC in real life, umeed se kai guna!

Notwithstanding the muddle, the real fight, despite Mayawati, is between the Sangh Parivar and the 'Cong'ress Family. Can't call the latter 'Parivar' because Hindi is to be used only for uneducated desis - remember how panties became chaddis for Muthalik? - and not for the 'pucca sahibs' who control the Congress; they don’t like to call even Bombay by its official name!

In 2004, most opinion polls had predicted that the Sangh Parivar led NDA would be voted back to power. In the event, the unexpected and total rout of Jayalalitha in Tamil Nadu and and an unforseen below-par performance of the NDA primarily in UP saw the Congress cobble up a post-poll alliance called UPA and claim 'victory'. Which one of the two groups is going to make it in May 2009?

CNN-IBN has kicked off the prediction game with an extensive nation wide poll. The first part of the program based on the poll was telecast on February 16, 2009 and the remaining parts will be aired through the week. Watch them all if you want to, but know that you are going to be no wiser than you are now about what the voters really have in mind. After going through all the data and discussions in the first program hosted by Rajdeep Sardesai and Yogendra Yadav, the only thing that is clear is that nothing is clear.

It is worth mentioning here that, as per the poll, of the issues that will matter most in deciding whom to vote for, economy and inflation tops the list for 32% of the people. Significantly, national security and terrorism is next for 21% of them. There is something here for sure. During the discussion, both N Ram and Vinod Mehta gave the UPA almost full marks on both theses issues. But that was expected.

Does the aam admi share their opinion? Will he be influenced by it or any such opinions aired on English channels?

The most stunning piece of information that has emerged from the poll is that almost one in three Indians (28%) have not heard of Mumbai 26/11. And these are not people living in, say, Walong in Arunachal Pradesh, leading to the deduction that the actual percentage will be higher. The high level of unawareness of such a huge incident that has been in the headlines for so long tells us something about how many people would be aware of other 'hot' issues that agitate some of us in the cities.

This not only gives an indication of the reach of the complete media but also shows that the reach of the English media is really very small. That is why it neither reflects real pubic opinion nor influences it in any significant manner, notwithstanding the fact that it sometimes tries to swamp the nation with an issue or an opinion, and makes it appear as if it is the real voice of India.

That is why those politicians who co-habit with this section of the media or use it to promote themselves and discredit their opponents remain disconnected from the masses, and repeatedly keep missing the bus they desperately want to catch. All of them perhaps forget that they are not in the UK or the US where the English media is the media of the whole country, not of a microscopic few who mostly don't even vote.

In fact even for a vast majority of Indians who know English, it is the Hindi and regional language media that really matters. Those really few who belong solely to the 'English speaking world', as Barkha Dutt had once described those like her, are electorally and statistically completely insignificant, except in less than half a dozen constituencies.

In 2004, 48% of those who took part in a similar poll wanted to give the NDA government another chance. Now, 45% want the UPA to continue. The picture now is almost identically in favour of the ruling combination as it was then. Does that mean the the UPA will romp back to power like the NDA was expected to, barring an unforeseen hiccup? Or is the voter hiding something to surprise us all when he actually casts his vote?

"The mood of the nation is something of a mystery. No body knows what people are thinking at the moment. No body knows how they are going to vote." This is how Vinod Mehta summed up the results thrown up in the survey after making valiant efforts to beat the Cong Family drum during the debate.

Everyone has been chastened by what the voters in Kashmir Valley showed a few months back dramatically and what voters in other states have been demonstrating in varying degrees over the past few years. No one knows which issue will catch their imagination and which will repel them, as the Hurriat found to its horror after having led the fiery agitation on the Amarnath land issue.

The bottom line, I think, is that voters can now discern between a politically motivated agenda where they are the fodder rather than the focus, and a sincere one which is truly meant for them. Is that not why the NREGA and the loan waver schemes have yielded no returns for Rahul Gandhi? Is that not why Narendra Modi's decision to not grant waiver of electricity dues to lakhs of farmers worked in his favour and did not prove politically suicidal as all seasoned analysts had predicted?

Do either the Sangh Parivar or the Cong Family have a defining program that sincerely tells the aam admi that it is for him and not for his vote? You know the answer. That is why nobody knows the answer about the program that the aam admi has in mind for either of them on Election Day!
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4. NDTV sees Congress steaming ahead after Phase 2