When the world’s biggest democracy comes out to vote

When the world’s biggest democracy comes out to vote

By BHUMIKA POPLI | | 28 May, 2016
Book launch of Winning the Mandate in Delhi’s India International Centre.
A new book looks back at the campaigning strategies of the winners and losers of the 2014 general election, shedding more light on how best to win the political mandate, writes Bhumika Popli.

Elections are an integral part of a democratic system. Coming every five years, this is the one defining event that can make or break the fortunes of a political party. And for commentators and analysts, elections can present a complex picture of politicial trends and sensibilities, of swinging vote banks and changing loyalties — all of which can be difficult to decode or understand right away. One needs time to make sense of such a phenomenon and to get a better perspective on the many whys and hows that surround the final outcome.

Winning The Mandate: The Indian Experience, by Bidyut Chakrabarty and Sugato Hazra, comes a full two years after the 2014 general election, and is an attempt to look back and shed light on the campaign strategies of the winners and losers of what many pundits call India’s most decisive mandate ever.

The book, published by Sage Publishing, was launched at Delhi’s India International Centre earlier this week, with some of the top political leaders and journalists, including Meghnad Desai, Chandan Mitra, Arati Jerath, Jawhar Sircar and Madhu Purnima Kishwar, in attendance, along, of course, with the two authors. 

Sugato Hazra, the co-author of the book, spoke to Guardian 20 about how the build-up to the 2014 elections had begun to intrigue the two authors from very early on. “When Narendra Modi,” Hazra said, “the then Gujarat Chief Minister, came to speak before the students of Delhi's Sriram College of Commerce in February 2013, we took a first interested look at him as a prime ministerial candidate. His town hall type meeting and the ability to connect with the younger generation was a curtain raiser of his unique campaigning skill. To many of us, armchair analysts and to me who had his direct experience of political campaign at several points in life, Modi immediately became a point of attraction for a detailed study. Earlier the organised and systematic effort of Congress to promote Rahul Gandhi as India's prime minister did not go unnoticed either by Professor Bidyut Chakraborty [co-author] or myself though we had our own separate views on the efficacy of the same. More so, given the success of the Anna Hazare anti-corruption movement staged in 2011-12, it was doubtful how Rahul Gandhi’s image could be kept untarnished. Narendra Modi, we felt, would be a politician to watch. If he could be successful it would be a great story. If not it would be an interesting study. In any case for both Professor Chakraborty and myself, it was worth studying.”

The book was launched at Delhi’s India International Centre earlier this week, with some of the top political leaders and journalists, including Meghnad Desai, Chandan Mitra, Arati Jerath, Jawhar Sircar and Madhu Purnima Kishwar, in attendance, along, of course, with the two authors.  

For an election campaign to succeed, according to Hazra, it has to appeal directly to the people’s sentiments and has to take into account the electorate’s serious concerns. “Election strategy depends on the time and place,” he said, “and must appeal to the peoples' sentiment. The electorate need to be convinced that by casting their vote in favour of a particular party and leader  they would benefit. People in today's age of communication are well informed. No rigid election strategy can make the people turn sentimental and rush to vote for a particular formation. A case in point is the recent assembly election in West Bengal. The most dominant media, the opinion leaders in West Bengal and political analysts felt that Mamata Banerjee led Trinamool Congress would face a tough electoral battle for survival. The opposition coalition of Congress and Left parties had more vote share than the AITC  at least on paper, received support from the media houses and could hammer AITC ad infinitum on issues of governance, bribery and lawlessness. If one looks at electoral strategy in isolation the coalition was far ahead. But in the end Mamata Banerjee won with a record number of seats as a single ruling party.Clearly the strategy for winning the mandate cannot be a rigid one and will be dependent on the leader. The only strategy a leader needs to follow is to become acceptable to people whose support the leader is seeking. In 2014, what had been a spectacularly successful tool was the use of social media — YouTube, Facebook, Twitter etc. This book talks of the campaign strategy of Narendra Modi, the reasons for its success and also the factors that saw its end in Delhi and Bihar.”

Also present at the launch event of the book was the political commentator Arathi Jerath. She, too, spoke about the importance of a thorough and effective election campaign. “More and more people are coming out to vote. The ritual is to go out and vote every five years. This book is deep and it makes us understand that every election is different yet there are similarities. It is required that a election campaign must be well-crafted. Incidentally, recent Bengal election is the fascinating study of how a campaign can win or lose you the seats. Apart from this, in 2014 elections Sonia Gandhi’s promotion of her son didn’t go well with the people. People just didn’t like the way Rahul was being promoted. Elections are not a one formula quote. They really reflect our diversity.”

Chandan Mitra, editor of the Pioneer and BJP MP, spoke about what makes one a potential leader. He said, “People like to see the energy in their leader. As Modi is full of vigour, he attracted a lot of people. When you are leading a national party you cannot afford to be meek.”

The book also closely analyses the different elements of BJP’s winning election campaign, as well as successful campaigns from Indian and Western history — casting a glance at a few Amercian Presidential campaigns too.

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