For two long years I have been thinking of penning down my personal experience with elections, that’s after I contested for the post of president of the Students’ Union of the University where I am a student, but due to my own laid back attitude and lack of understanding of the dynamics of politics, I failed to do so. I was then sort of observing the whole process as a participant. I lacked the element of neutrality needed to give a value free judgment. That is ok, given the fact that I was successful in polling nearly four times the votes, my opposition friends had assigned me pre-polls and that too as an independent candidate. What was I trying to share with readers regarding elections? After all, the only lesson I learnt was that as an independent, its very difficult to win an election given the backing of political parties or their frontal organizations for opponents.
Yes, I have been studying political science for the last eleven years and I still can’t assess, political ?fortunes’. Yes, that is when I understood that ?fortunes’ can never be assessed. A friend of mine, now in the US for his Ph.D, just asked me one small question, "Who do you think will win if there are mid-term polls in Karnataka?" And my answer was a swift "I’m the last psephologist (the one who studies how people vote in elections) on earth." My friend told me "you don’t have to be a psephologist to answer my questions. All you need is to say what newspapers say." I thought my God, why the Hell is he then asking me the question, he can as well read newspapers online- he is a political scientist too. This thought forced me to put my ideas regarding elections on paper for other to read.
Yah! Let’s begin. I have long forgotten political science and the politics behind it, though the economic part of the elections have always attracted me, my laziness probably held me back from researching in that area as it involves a lot of searching, much more statistics and the unpredictable nature of the voters. So, I will concentrate on my personal observation during the recently concluded elections to the City Municipality in Shimoga.
For the ward where I am included in the voters’ list, there were four strong contenders and one not so strong. Ideally, this ward was reserved for women candidates The first two strong candidates belonged to the Congress (I) and Janatha Dal (Secular), the third was an independent (hard working individual is what I have heard) and the forth belonged to BJP (who according to me will have little or no chance at all, given the fact that this ward has a majority of voters belonging to minority communities (such as the Muslims, Christians and Scheduled Castes). The last candidate was a teacher, who recently retired from service and was backed by a formidable local MP, but not so local party – the Samajawadi Party. The candidates here are given in the order of votes people generally discussed would poll. Pardon me if I am wrong, I have already conceded that I am the last psephologist on earth and I will attach the detailed results once the counting is completed in the comments column, as I want this article to go to press before the counting starts.
Now, the real issue. My locality (I mean the so called local leaders- phudaris) was known to support any party!!! And the only criterion is that the party should be represented by an individual called S Bangarappa. What a political principle?? The last time I was here, I could only see Congress flags and buntings and I had infact voted for that very person in the year 1999 and after that in 2004 general elections he contested from the BJP and this time around, I was told that one could only see BJP flags and buntings. Then came his sudden resignation from the Parliament and the party and in early 2006, this person contested from Samajawadi party and he still won handsomely. I was now told that the whole locality was painted green and red with Samajawadi party flags and buntings.
Ok, so what??? How is that interesting for readers? The election fever engulfed this locality with the filing of nomination papers by all the five candidates. One could see a few party vehicles going here and there. I was wondering as to who our phudaris would support this time around?? Any guesses??? No, certainly not Samajawadi Party, though a couple of phudari families were with the party!! What happened to the rest? To my utter surprise, there were a few supporting Congress (I), a few BJP and some the Janatha Dal (Secular). Some as usual supported more than one party going from door to door for campaigning. My good friend who observed the difference this time was shocked to see the dynamics unfolding. He told me that he had never witnessed something like this happening in the past and for sure there would be some lafda, (problem) in the locality. The eternal optimist that I am, I ruled out the possibility. I was right, but the reason was not me being optimist at all. I certainly did have the first hand feel of the elections, though at a smaller level, more over I have been working on a theory called the Social Capital meaning ?features of social organizations, such as networks, norms and social trust, that facilitate, co-ordinate and cooperate for mutual benefit’. Networks, norms and social trust among our phudaris is understandable, but how does one explain the co-ordination and the co-operation among them given the fact that these leaders had split themselves among different political parties and what is the mutual benefit they would gain??? I was running out of ideas, that is when I decided to use one of the social sciences research tool called the presumptions. If I may then presume,
- That all electoral candidates and contesting parties spend whatever money only with a strong feeling of winning, i.e., no candidate spends money to lose.
- Pre-elections, if in one locality, especially in local body elections, there is the guarantee that majority of the votes polled would go to a certain candidate then the other candidates would rather concentrate on other localities with all their strength and might (money and muscle) than on the one they are sure not to poll much votes. That certain candidate would also not worry about the guaranteed locality and s/he too would concentrate on other
- That every individual (candidates and their supporters) actively involved in elections would like to take maximum advantage for their own benefit and not mutual benefit. (This advantage is mostly in terms of money involved in pre-election activities like campaigning).
Given these presumptions, I now try drawing the conclusions.
- That most phudaris have made enough money promising their own support and a certain number of votes for their candidates. I am also made to understand that on an average an individual who promises more than a hundred votes, gets nearly Rs.15000-00 (Rupees fifteen thousand only) i.e., nearly 375 US$ approximately.
- If all the phudris in a given locality, support one single, candidate, then the candidate who is sure of polling a majority of the votes in that locality would spend limited amount on the given locality and concentrate on other localities.
- If conclusions one and two are true then, what would happen to the third presumption? In such a scenario, the local phudaris would discuss among themselves given that they have enough stocks of networks, norms and social trust and split to support different candidates and co-ordinate and co-operate to make mutual benefits at the cost of contenders.
Oh! Why did it really take so much time for me to understand this small mathematical element in elections, I was always told that elections have a lot to do with loads and loads of statistics. If money was the only criterion for supporting a candidate minus number of votes promised in favour of a single candidate, i.e., money to be given to the supporters as wages for campaigning, these local phudaris could have followed any single party and not many parties. To speak in statistical terms, say, my locality has exactly three hundred votes, and there are three local phudaris who decide to support one candidate, who would pay these phudaris at the rate of US$ 3.75 (Indian rupees one hundred and fifty approximately) per vote, then each phudari would earn around US$ 375 for one hundred votes only. Instead, if each of the phudari knowing very well his colleagues would go to three different parties and promise around one hundred and fifty or two hundred votes then, he would maximize his money share by another fifty or one hundred percent at the rate of US$ 3.75 per vote.
To conclude, this is the reason I felt that was behind the local phudaris promising to support different candidates instead of one as was done in the previous elections. This is the understanding I got from the recently held elections.
The author is Jawaharlal Nehru Doctoral Fellow at the Department of Political Science, University of Hyderabad. His areas of research interest are natural resource management and human rights.
Author: Ozmond Roshan DSouza- India