Dodgy Psephology

Published: May 11, 2016 - 15:31 Updated: May 11, 2016 - 15:35

Winning the Mandate by Bidyut Chakraborty and Sugato Hazra is a pedantic tome about the 2014 general election which leaves a lot of questions unanswered

Abeer Kapoor Delhi 

There is no doubt that the mandate received by Narendra Modi in the 2014 general election was unexpected. The inability to predict the result has led to multiple analyses by journalists, political scientists and commentators to make sense of what exactly happened on May 16, 2014. Winning the Mandate by Bidyut Chakraborty and Sugato Hazra is yet another attempt to decode the campaign of the Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Chakraborty and Hazra have taken their time to write the book — two years. They have watched the trends unravel over a period of time to ascertain whether the result was a one-time incident or if the trend could be sustained. The book seems to be written in two, almost competing voices that necessarily don’t meet, and, in many cases, contradict one another. It attempts to feed into the cult of Modi’s personality and furthers the agenda set by the BJP during the eight month-long fight for parliamentary supremacy.

Modi, according to the authors, marks a break from the Nehruvian legacy. He shifts the focus from the secularism of the Congress, targetted towards a specific religion, to a more umbrella concept of development. This ideal permeated through to the last person. While this might be true, data disproves the overpowering discourse of development. The bulk of the seats that the BJP got were from the 12 states of the Hindi heartland where the party won 232 seats out of a possible 309. The authors reluctantly admit that Modi is a Hindutva/Hindu leader; they maintain that in his speeches he adopted a secular narrative. This does not reflect in the composition of the elected, his ministers, nor as a reality on the ground, especially in the last two years.

This is a contested issue, as many scholars have pointed to the deep Hindu semiotics in the speeches of Modi — his attempt to create a masculine Hindu identity was the driving force of the campaign. The authors beg to differ and laud Modi for his shrewd statecraft, his ability to reconsolidate the party into a cohesive whole nearly ten years after the defeat of the BJP, and his ability to consolidate, despite the infighting.

The authors have remained silent on the strong-arming by the RSS to project Modi as the Prime ministrial candidate at the cost of other leaders. There is little or no mention of the India Against Corruption movement that led to the disillusionment with the Congress.  If it was the Ram Janmabhoomi issue and Gujarat killings that was the albatross around the saffron party’s neck in 2004, it was the corruption scandal that ravaged the Congress. 

The book maintains that in its size and scale the 2014 campaign is not an outlier in the larger trajectory of the electoral history of India, and seeks to debunk many of the theories propounded by the detractors who allege that the BJP shifted from the Westminster-style to a US presidential-style election, backed by the corporates and media.

These elections were India’s first tryst with the social media as a factor. The Modi campaign had a heavy advantage in the digital medium. This, according to the book, was because this was the only resort left for the BJP, since the Congress “controlled the mainstream media”.

This is not exactly true. The BJP had full control over the media, especially TV channels, the social media and off the grid mobilisation. Piggy-backing on RSS networks, the BJP had a targetted strategy for 309 seats in the Hindi belt. However, the role of social media as a galvanising element cannot be denied, the authors rightly identify it as a space where Modi led without any close competitor and consolidated urban spaces.

Indeed, as a study of India’s electoral dynamics, this book is lacklustre. It doesn’t do well in addressing the issues as they panned out during the elections or even after. The inferences are almost obvious, while trying hard to fit the authors’ thesis into already established boxes even when they aren’t suited. The language that lauds Modi is a bit extreme — it further adds to ‘brand Modi’, projecting him as a saviour, a political and intellectual heavyweight in front of whom even journalists are reduced to meek ‘butterflies’. This grandiloquence cannot pass as solid academic work. While they often diagnose the trend correctly, they create self-contradictions from one instance to another. Indeed, the book turns out to be most confusing.

Winning the Mandate by Bidyut Chakraborty and Sugato Hazra is a pedantic tome about the 2014 general election which leaves a lot of questions unanswered
Abeer Kapoor Delhi

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This story is from print issue of HardNews