The Lok Sabha elections that kicked off on Thursday are a democratic exercise the likes of which the world has never seen. In the world’s largest democratic practice, around 900 million voters – more than the combined population of all the European countries, across 543 constituencies will cast their votes to decide the fate of political parties.
The media coverage, like every election season, is being ruled by opinion polls. Surveyors and pollsters have jumped into the maze of deciphering future election results by making use of statistical models that forecast the vote share and the seat share of political parties based on surveys conducted among electorates. These forecasts have become fodder for everyday conversation.
However, it is difficult to trust the results of opinion polls as the results differ significantly from poll to poll. Given this situation, many researchers have examined the results of opinion polls and claimed that they have failed repeatedly to predict election outcomes.
A recent study presented in the book ‘The Verdict’ demonstrates that the success rate of such polls in estimating the number of seats that the winning party may bag is just 62 per cent. On similar lines, a study conducted by India Today raised concerns over the fact that day by day, opinion polls are drifting away from reality. One of the main findings of that analysis is that the errors in predicting LokSabha elections are on the rise since 1998-99.
In such a situation where the gap between opinion poll predictions and actual outcomes is widening it is important to have a better statistical model in place to make sense of what factors are driving the outcomes behind elections. This can be done by indicating which types of economic and political data most meaningfully correlate with election outcomes.
An attempt to develop such a holistic model that can provide precise estimates of voting behaviour must take into account all the factors that citizens keep in mind while casting their votes. In most democracies, a common belief is that good economics makes for good politics. This belief suggests that an incumbent party’s chances of winning elections increase if the region experienced positive economic growth during their term. In India, however, this popular notion is not supported by data. A simple correlation analysis between the growth rate of GDP per capita and the incumbent party getting re-elected reveals a negative relationship between the two, implying that in most cases despite higher growth incumbent does not get re-elected. This observation helps us in concluding that support base and vote bank for parties in India is dependent on a host of factors other than economic development.
The two other factors that shape voting decisions of Indian voters might be social issues and public sentiment towards the government. A broad spectrum of the social issues from shelter to sanitation, education to health, personal rights to inclusion must be considered. This is important because of presence of diversity across Indian regions. For some living below the poverty line or on bare minimum income, social wellbeing would mean better shelter facilities, free healthcare, improved nutritional facilities, etc. For rich people, this would mean new opportunities to grow and improve their life.
The sentiment towards the current government can be captured through two aspects. One, the vote share of the national ruling party in the state elections held during their tenure. Second, the narrative build by traditional media platforms about leaders and political parties and social media engagement of the political parties. The traditional media platforms provide voters with the facts and figures that can help them to make informed choices. And the increased exposure of voters to social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter has provided a direct link between voters and leaders. More and more candidates are relying on social media campaigns to win elections. By serving as the source of information, media has the power to impact voting behaviour of citizens.
Trump’s mediation offer
The issue of Kashmir has finally caught the international imagination with American President Donald Trump offering to mediate on the issue to resolve it permanently. Trump’s unusual offer came during his meeting with visiting Pakistan premier Imran Khan in New York on Monday. As he met Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan at the White House, Trump offered to be the “mediator” on the Kashmir issue and even said he has received a request to do so from Modi during a recent meeting with him. “I think they (Indians) would like to see it resolved. I think you (Khan) would like to see it resolved. And if I can help, I would love to be a mediator. It should be….we have two incredible countries that are very, very smart with very smart leadership, (and they) can’t solve a problem like that. But if you would want me to mediate or arbitrate, I would be willing to do that,” Mr. Trump said.
Though government of India has denied that Prime Minister Modi had made any such request to the US president but it is an indicator of the world community’s interest in Kashmir. American President’s offer is a major departure from the country’s established position that it is a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan and could be resolved bilaterally. India and Pakistan are undeniably sitting on a powder-keg, which has every potential to explode into catastrophe of unimaginable magnitude. The two countries have not been engaging since an attack on the Air Force base at Pathankot in January of 2016 by Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad militants. India and Pakistan came close to war in February this year after a suicide attack on a CRPF convoy in Pulwama which left over 40 personnel of the force dead and many others wounded. India retaliated by carrying out a counter-terror operation, hitting the biggest JeM training camp in Balakot, deep inside Pakistan on February 26. The next day, Pakistan Air Force retaliated and downed a MiG-21 in an aerial combat and captured Indian pilot.
As it looked that the situation could take a further ghastly turn, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan showed extra degree of maturity and statesmanship not only by calling off further military action but also by offering for dialogue and release of the captured pilot. This calmed down the atmosphere to a large extent. Behind-the-scene international diplomacy too played a significant role in subsiding the hostility. America, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and UAE worked off-the-scene to stop the two countries from further escalation. The captured wing commander was released by Pakistan without any condition. That helped a lot in bringing cool in the otherwise hostile atmosphere. One had thought that the two countries would show more maturity and wisdom to address contentious issue by starting a dialogue process. But the allegations and counter-allegations continued bringing forth the fact that the danger of war between India and Pakistan is still there. A small spark is enough to ignite a nuclear holocaust in the subcontinent. Few would dispute with the fact that most of the India-Pakistan animosity is due to internal political issues confronting the ruling parties in the two countries. It is no less than a crime that ruling parties merely for political gains could plan for a war. Any war between India and Pakistan could be disastrous not only for the two countries but for the whole world. The ruling parties, both, in Islamabad and New Delhi, should not be allowed to run the risk of putting the whole world to the danger. The International community in general and the United Nations in particular should intervene and pressurize the two countries to resolve its dispute through dialogue to save the world from the impending catastrophe.
Battle against corruption
Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik has taken a tough stand against corruption in the state. On Sunday, he said that in the next few months, he was expecting to corner and catch at least “two big fish” who had engaged in high-profile corruption during their time in power. “These big families have built their bungalows in Dubai, Delhi and London. Retired forest officers have their houses in posh locality of Vasant Kunj in New Delhi. Soon, you will see that at least two big fish (high profile corrupt people) will be caught in the coming two months. They have looted the wealth of Kashmir for decades,” Malik said. The Governor was addressing people during the inauguration ceremony of Kargil Ladakh Tourism Festival 2019 at Khree Sultan Choo Sports Stadium in Kargil. He said that if he had the power, he would confiscate the property of such corrupt people who had built several properties at the cost of Kashmiri people. Governor’s anger against corruption in the state can be guessed from his assertion in which he questioned militants about them targeting innocents instead of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats who looted Kashmir. It evoked a strong reaction from politicians like Omar Abdullah. As long the move is aimed at cleaning the system from corruption, one should have no objection to it. Corruption is the main bane in Kashmir and it is used rather enjoyed as political concession. Corruption is a way of life in Kashmir. It is a political concession that politicians enjoy with complete approval of the system they operate in. As long as you toe a particular political line, you are accountable to none and for nothing. Your accountability begins once you cross the line you are supposed to hold. Corruption was formally institutionalized in Kashmir during Bakshi regime in 1950s, when government employees, bureaucrats and politicians were given free license to mint money in lieu for their political loyalty. The political uncertainty of mid-50s still continues in Kashmir and so continues the precedence of corruption. It is rampant among all politicians whether in opposition or in power. Over the past 30 years, the ways and means of corruption have gone bigger and wider. It is not restricted to politicians alone. Corruption has radically changed its contours in Kashmir. It runs deep into the day-to-day living and would need much more than a strict stance to be curbed. There has to have an overall understanding among the local populace about how corruption, even at the lowest and smallest level, hurts big time. The Imams of mosques, heads of darul ulooms (religious luminaries), members of civil society, journalists and academicians have to realise their responsibility in apprising people about this menace and how it is fast spreading its tentacles in Kashmir. Cleaning the system from this malaise is the need of the hour. Since Kashmir is a place of conflict, there is need for maintaining extra care while taking administrative decisions. In conflict zones, nothing happens without reasons. Motives, right or wrong, are always attributed with moves howsoever honest or sincere those might be. In case of Kashmir, there is a lot of mistrust between the state and the subjects. This lingering distrust is poisoning the key relationship. Every move at government or administrative level is seen and understood with suspicion. The Governor’s administration needs to keep in view this historical truth while taking decisions on matters of crucial importance. However, the bottom-line remains that any sincere move in getting rid of corruption are always welcome.
Reversing the history
In a rare move, the Jammu Municipal Corporation (JMC) has passed a resolution to declare the birth anniversary of Dogra monarch Maharaja Hari Singh on September 23 as State holiday, days after the State paid tributes to people killed during his rule in 1931 in the Valley. Jammu-based BJP corporator Narotam Sharma moved the resolution on Thursday. It was passed without any opposition from the Congress or independent candidates in the general house meeting, where out of 75 corporators BJP has 43 members. The resolution has been sent to Governor Satya Pal Malik for his consent. The development is shocking to vast majority of the people of the state who know Hari Singh historically a villain. The 101 years (1846 to 1947) of Dogra rule is a story of harassment, torture, persecution, neglect and denial of rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. It was against this backdrop that a political movement was launched against Hari Singh in 1931. Initially, it was the Muslim leadership of the time that set off the fuse against Hari Singh’s autocratic rule. As the movement picked up, prominent Pandit leaders too joined it, making it all-inclusive. It was at the persistence of some Pandit leaders, mainly Prem Nath Bazaz, that Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah broke away from Muslim Conference to form National Conference in 1938. Abdullah, as the history says, did it to accommodate non-Muslims in the movement against Hari Singh. Singh’s response was too oppressive. Over 20 persons were shot dead by Singh’s forces on July 13, 1931 outside the Srinagar central jail. Since then, July 13 has become a reference point in the struggle and it has all along been observed by the people of the state as government holiday. Now regarding the same person, who presided over the July 13 massacre and other voluminous atrocities on the people of the state, as the hero of the state is quite reversal of the history. Ironically, the JMC’s move comes days after the State observed a holiday and paid tributes to J&K’s 22 martrys who fell to the bullets in Srinagar on July 13, 1931 to the Maharaja’s forces. Congress leader Vikramaditya Singh was first to stoke a controversy. He tweeted that “plunder, loot and rape by criminals and jail breakers in Srinagar city was put to an end in 1931”. “It is a blot on J&K that this is glorified as State Martyrs Day,” he added.
The discreet silence by NC and PDP leadership, the two dominant political voices in Kashmir, is quite intriguing. They are more concerned about their power than genuine historical issues. They owe an explanation as what could be the status of July 13 martyrs now on. The worst kind of reversal of history surely entails a political cost which the political parties of Kashmir shall have to pay. In 2017, Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Council passed a resolution, almost unanimously, to observe Hari Singh’s birthday. One grandson of Hari Singh (Ajatshatru Singh—who is in BJP) moved the resolution, and other grandson—Vikramaditya (who was in PDP) supported it. In a house of 34 members (then), BJP had just 8 members. But the resolution was passed without any resistance from the PDP (which had 11 members), NC (with eight members) and the Congress (which had seven members). National Conference has more responsibility at this juncture. The NC considers itself as the treasurer of Kashmir’s contemporary history. It claims that the entire era from 1931 till 1947 belonged to it. The NC founder Sheikh Abdullah led a heroic battle against the autocratic rule of Hari Singh which ultimately saw the end in 1947. The Jammu MC’s resolution negates all the history. It also disapproves the role of Abdullah and puts him in a villainous shadow as against Hari Singh. The party needs to take a strong stand against any such move and ensure that this suicidal reversal of history is stopped.