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Shock and awe

Amir Ullah Khan | May 27, 2009
Election results in India and what it says for the future of the IT industry of the country

Everyone yet again agrees that the Indian voter is wise, mature and rational. After making all sorts of predictions prior to the elections that went way off target. This is exactly what had happened five years ago in June 2004.

Even if it thought it would regain power, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA, led by the the Indian National Congress party) was clearly awestruck at the enormity of its success. And even if the National Democratic Alliance (NDA led by Bharatiya Janata Party) thought it would somehow scrape through, it was shocked at the manner of its defeat. Experts sat again and tried to gamefully salvage pride by denying what they had predicted earlier. Some have been graceful enough to admit they goofed.  When after the results came in, we agreed that the voter has come of age and was no longer swayed by narrow and trivial interests.

However, we forgot all these accolades to the citizenry when we prepared for elections 2009. Analysts showed how people would vote along caste lines and on traditional grounds. The results disprove much of what was assumed. Why is it then that our political observers and some are indeed astute, make these mistakes again and again? Will they again use the clichés in the next election? Do they need simple lessons in statistical analysis, on spurious correlations and generalisations, on confounding variables and on type two errors?

Three issues

In this election, there are three issues I would like to highlight, as mere examples of errors analysts make when trying to predict the voting behaviour of a few hundred million people across a huge country.

Firstly, the vote bank issue. The vote bank unfortunately is a much misunderstood term. The Sociologist M N Srinivas, who coined this term, would shudder to see what the term is used for these days. When he spoke of vote banks, he was talking of dominant individuals who would have the personality and the power to persuade groups of people to vote for an individual or party.

Vote banks that Srinivas defined were generally geographical and confined to localities or villages where voters went by what their headman or the chieftain decided. This term has been mauled now and our political analysts use this term in contrast to talk of voting patterns among dispersed communities across cities and states. To add to their problems, they then use small and irrelevant samples to substantiate their claims that the Brahmin vote bank, the Thakur vote bank and the Muslim vote bank is at work in getting a party or an individual elected.

Second is the issue with the nuclear deal with the US. The Left parties opposed the deal because they thought it was a dilution in our foreign policy of non-alignment.  In an era where there are no super powers, when economic globalisation determines geopolitical alliances, this discourse sounded so very out of tune. Others who opposed the deal did it for what were considered sound political concerns. The BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party) imagined that the Muslim vote bank strongly opposed the deal. It was only the BJP that opposed the deal for no reason whatsoever.


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