Election forecasting in India depends only partially on opinion polls. It is essentially a hit-and-miss exercise where expectations are based as much on anecdotal evidence (the academic euphemism for beltway gossip) as personal voting preference.
In 2014, those anticipating a famous victory for Narendra Modi and the NDA can be divided into two groups. First are the die-hard NAMO loyalists who have been rooting for the Gujarat leader with unwavering enthusiasm. They occupy a large space on social media and make up with enthusiasm what they lack in conventional political networking skills. They are the foot soldiers who catapulted Modi from being the leader of Gujarat to a position where he is the clear favourite to becoming Prime Minister after May 16.
The second group comprises those who hate Modi passionately and see him as inimical to the very "idea of India". They have detected the possibility of a Modi, possibly in conversations with friends and neighbours, and have broadcast their fears loudly. In overplaying their Modi-phobia, they have one objective: to rally the 'secular' faithful to make a valiant last-ditch stand against the saffron hordes.
Thus, a large number of intellectuals with broadly Leftist inclinations have signed an appeal (addressed to no one in particular) stressing the dangers of electing a party that has fraternal links with Hindu Rashtravadis. Equally, a group of prominent Britons led by Sir Salman Rushdie and Sir Anish Kapoor wrote a letter to The Guardian (where else?) stating their misgivings of a possible Modi victory. (Salman Rushdie, Anish Kapoor lead anti-Modi charge in UK media)
This despondency over what many imagine is the approaching sound of jackboots has, in turn, produced bizarre calls for action. Writing in The Indian Express, Professor Ashutosh Varshney indicated that all was not lost: "If Muslims vote en bloc, there is still a chance that they can frustrate Modi's ascent to power." In another article, Varshney raised some legitimate questions of the authenticity of opinion polls, but went on to suggest that "the greater the possibility that the NDA might win, the higher the chances of strategic voting by the minorities and those Hindus who do not like Mr Modi. After May 16, one should not be surprised if intense political bargaining precedes the formation of government."
Varshney's analysis is by no means unique. A well-connected US Congressman told me that he expected the NDA tally to be around 180 and that there was talk of a BJP-led government headed by Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar.
Whether this is wishful thinking or the American notable has detected trends others haven't is a matter of conjecture. However, it seems to me that too many people are in a state of confused denial. At one level, they think that Modi's juggernaut is unstoppable. At the same time, they wish to believe that a few smart corrective moves could produce a fractured outcome.
This contradictory response can be explained by the inner turbulence in the minds of the Indian hands in the West. For a very long time, they discounted the larger appeal of Modi, believing that his politics was unsustainable outside Gujarat. After Modi's third consecutive victory in Gujarat in December 2012, they clung to a belief that the BJP grandees would thwart Modi's national ambitions. When even that belief was shown to be erroneous, they set the bar on a possible Modi victory at 200, indicating that he would secure no regional allies. Ram Vilas Paswan and Chandrababu Naidu later, the bar has been raised to 220. The polls now indicate that the NDA may actually touch 250 seats.
Modi may or may not win but he has successfully transformed Election 2014 into a referendum on himself. The voter has been presented with a choice: a vote for a Modi Sarkar or endemic instability.
If academic wisdom is demonstrating a marked inclination for instability, it is merely to demonstrate to the wider world that they didn't misread India after all. The appeal for tactical voting is a last-minute bid to shore up their own vanity.
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