Explaining an amazing election

BY sevanti ninan| IN Media Practice | 18/05/2014
But is it indeed only one man's victory or a victory derived from the first past the post system that our parliamentary democracy follows?
SEVANTI NINAN says the newspapers missed little

The contrast between what it takes to fill news time on Times Now and fill 30 pages of election reporting in the Times of India, was there  for all to see. One is a merry parlour guessing game in which you stick up pictures of probables and toss around for opinions on who the assembled panel thinks will figure in the new prime minister’s cabinet. It can fill a lot of time with a lot of glibly held opinions.

The May 17, 2014 TOI on the other hand was an outstanding package of analysis and infographics, covering every conceivable set of statistics in India’s poll history. It also told readers who their elected representative was for every one of the 543 LokSabha seats. It is an issue worth saving as a ready reckoner on this year’s elections.

Reams have already been written about how NarendraModi has single-handedly decimated the opposition and rescued  his own party from political nemesis. But is it indeed only one man's victory or a victory derived from the first past the post system that our parliamentary democracy follows? Many newspapers have analysed the results, hardly any have stressed this enough. You can get a not-inconsequential vote share and still not win a single seat. Does that kind of rout indicate extreme popular displeasure?

That is what happened to Mayawati in these elections. The BahujanSamaj Party got 19.6 per cent of the votes in Uttar Pradesh but not a single seat. The Samajwadi Party got 22.2 percent vote share and garnered five seats.

AAP got 30 per cent of the vote share in Delhi but not a single seat. No newspaper did what the Times did—it put together an infographic called Vote’s Worth which looked at every election since 1998 to measure which parties are better at converting votes into seats. For 16 parties across the country it presented bar charts for elections from 1998 to 2014.

The Janata Dal United (JDU) did very well in 2009, miserably in 2014. The infographic merited a longish accompanying analysis on what helps votes to translate into seats, but that was missing. While writing off parties on the basis of one spectacular election the media needs to be more discerning, and far more vote share conscious. Yes the UPA came down from 262 to 61 seats, but its vote share slipped from 37.22 per cent in 2009 to 23.9 per cent in 2014. A drop of 13.3 percent in vote share accounted for the loss of 201 seats! (If these numbers in the Economic Times are correct.)

The morning after listening to daylong TV chatter on incoming results, you want wisdom along with the volume. 

The papers competed strongly with each other but the Hindustan Times and the Hindu did nothing outstanding. The Indian Express had a raft of excellent stories analysing various aspects. And if anyone other than Shekhar Gupta pointed out that the BJP contingent of 272 plus MPs did not have a single Muslim MP among them, I did not see it.The Times did point out that this LokSabha had the fewest number of Muslim MPs since 1952.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta interviewed in Mint offered some perceptive insights, one being that AAP had a big role in the BJP’s victory because it was part of the movement which illegitimised the Congress.

The Dainik Jagran wrote an editorial which focused only on superlatives about the victory, and devoted  space to condemning the demonising  of Modi by his entrenched critics. It then said that happy days are ahead. You'd expect the country's most read paper to step back and look at the larger picture the election threw up and discuss parties and their strategies, and the failure of  caste-based mobilisation. It did not.

The Hindustan listed on page 1 the following reasons for his victory: he was declared the candidate in good time, the successful development record of BJP-ruled states, the wholehearted use of social media, Modi's countrywide rallies, and the BJP as a party curbing its own discontent to put up a successful fight.

And the following five reasons for the Congress defeat: The UPA govt's dismal record, the Congress not declaring a PM candidate, Sonia Gandhi going into hiding, Rahul Gandhi not being om same wave length as the party’s senior leaders, and no coordination on election strategy among the parties senior leaders. Its editorial was predictable.

The most comprehensive and insightful packages came from the Times of India and the Indian Express. And whatever happened to the obsession with  the post-Godhra riots of 2002? Nobody mentioned them the morning after the victory.

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Clearly, the run to the 2019 elections is on. A journalist received a call from someone saying they were from Aajtak channel and were conducting a survey, asking whom she was going to vote for in 2019. On being told that her vote was secret, the caller assumed she wasn't going to vote for 'Modiji'. The caller, a woman, also didn't identify herself. A month or two earlier the same journalist received a call, this time from a man, asking if she was going to vote for the BSP.                 

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