Dear Mumbaikar friends: Think National, Vote National!

(This post is in response to friend Rohit’s post on Mumbai North candidates. I hope he will keep in mind the following points in arriving at a decision.)

 

Today, every Indian’s City of Dreams Mumbai goes to vote. That makes April 24 the crowning phase of 2014. I wanted to jot down a couple of quick thoughts if someone on my friend circle hasn’t made up her mind yet (very unlikely). Even if only three of you read this post, and one of you agrees with the sentiment, I will pat my own back.
I’m assuming that demographic that reads my posts is likely split between BJP/ShivSena, AAP, and MNS in that order. Congress is not really an option for anyone in 2014 come what may, so I will discount it.

 

You may (or may not) be following your local candidate’s speeches closely. If you haven’t been paying attention, then you haven’t missed much. If you have been paying attention, and inclined to vote for the candidate best suited to tackle your local issues, think again. The MP you elect will not be able to affect positively/negatively your daily life as much as if overall Indian economy improves, and jobs are created not just in your area but everywhere in India.

 

Think about it this way: Let’s say you are a Marathi Manoos and the biggest issue in your area is UP/Bihar migrants, and you want to vote for the candidate best suited to deal with this migration problem. You have the option to think locally or nationally before deciding. If you think locally, you might be voting for MNS candidate because he has issued grand statements to protect your interests. If you think nationally instead, if jobs are created in UP/Bihar, why would people come to your city to take brickbats from the Senas? They would rather stay close to their parents.

 

Let’s say your biggest issue is petty corruption. If you think locally, you might be swayed to vote for someone with extremely clean hands in his personal life, or someone who is a recent entrant to politics (so no chance of getting hands dirty). If you think nationally, you’ll soon realize that corruption has nothing specific to your constituency alone, and is a result of severe resource crunch, and everyone running after limited pie. So you would again vote for someone who would address the root of the problem: provide a better economic future to today’s youth so they don’t resort to immoral activities such as corruption, and justify it in the name of making ends meet due to unbearable price rise.

 

Even at the cost of repetition, let me say this: An MP has little say in the local governance which is in the hands of municipal corporation and State govt. Typically, MPs serve in parliamentary committees drafting bills, proposing amendments, doing investigation into national-level scams, and approving budgets for various sectors. Our founding fathers have designed an MP’s job to be more national and less local. However, an MP should air the concerns of his constituents in the Parliament if it is an issue worth the attention of Central govt, and cannot be solved locally. Also, MPs lead state-level delegations to get more funds sanctioned for the state.

 

If some MP candidate is telling you that he will fix your drainage issue, he is probably lying unless he has enough strings to pull in Mumbai corporation and state govt. to get work done. If you really want someone to fix your drainage, the right election is the one coming up in October to elect Mantralaya.

 

Irrespective of who is running in your constituency, I suggest that you consider candidates as the ones running for PrimeM, and those he appoints as FinanceM (for economic growth), HomeM (for law and order needed for economic growth), DefenseM (for securing the borders again needed for economic growth), and ForeignM (for India’s projection as a global economic hub).

 

In short: “Think National, Vote National!”
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Why bother analyzing election data? What’s in it for me?

A friend asked me how election analysis, the likes of 5forty3.in that I blogged about yesterday, will help him as a voter. Let me try to explain, bear with me:

The utility of the information depends on the person who is consuming the information. 5Forty3 will only equip you with the information, but it is up to you how you put it to use. Note that they don’t do exit polling (I’m guessing that means they don’t interview people as they exit out of booths).

The realtime analysis is certainly useful for politicians, but it is like a lifeline for a loosely organized category of stakeholders called “political workers.” It is they who drive apathetic voters to booths, and help increase the overall voting percentage in an area. Such analyses will certainly help workers focus their energies on particular geographies that are lagging behind in voting for whatever reason.

If you’re one of those couch potatoes who didn’t vote all morning thinking your candidate will win without your vote, one hopes that realtime trends showing low voting %age in your area will lessen your complacency to get out of your house to actually vote.

Let’s remember that a lower voting percentage is bad for the credibility of democracy in general, and the result of a particular constituency in particular. If only 10/100 people vote, the one who gets 4 votes might win but will lack the stature that comes with a clear election victory to carry his people along for the next 5 years. Also these 10 could be politically-committed voters, and the rest 90 happen to be apathetic to the result which will mean a cadre-based party like BSP or BJP will always win no matter what the situation. The result as such will reflect an immature democracy. An ideal voting percentage should be close to full, now that voters have NOTA option as well.

But the utility of such analysis is not just limited to election days. The database forms a treasure trove in analyzing the election results in an informed manner. Example questions:

  • Is secularism/communalism as big an issue as made out to be? Are people voting on that question overwhelmingly?
  • Is corruption a factor uniformly across geographies, demographies and gender?
  • and many more…

A historian might draw lessons for future elections from the past election cycles. For a historian, election is not merely a change in government, but a deep dive into the psyche of the population at a given time point in the life of a nation. For example, such analyses may provide an insight into how a nation mired in caste/religion/X/Y/Z for decades now votes on development/aspirations/A/B/C. This insight will hopefully push the elected representatives to work for 5 years on issues that really drives the voter to vote for him/her. The agenda of governance will also reflect people’s needs better if the leader has a clear idea of why people voted him/her into power.

For those who are distant observers and not actual participants, such analyses provide entertainment value, and may satisfy human curiosity. The systematic analysis of election data may also give the voter a sense of empowerment, but I wouldn’t exaggerate point that too much. However, if democracy matures, I think everyone does benefit, even those non-participants in the democratic processes.

P.S.: An initiative such as 5Forty3 is quite a common practice in Western democracies. Ex-NYT statistician Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog (http://fivethirtyeight.com/) is best known among the breed. Dr. Praveen Patil’s team is bringing the much needed election toolkit to India.

5Forty3.in, India’s newest data startup, deserves your support!

Dr. Praveen Patil is an election number cruncher par excellence. He has founded a startup (www.5forty3.in) to revolutionize how election data are collected, analyzed, and projected.

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The startup has ground volunteers spread across the length and breadth of the country as we head into 2014 elections. On election days, the team reports realtime feed to the headquarters that are used to project trends by the hour. This is the high-quality stuff in election analyses that has been so far reserved to the Western democracies.

This is how 5Forty3 describes itself:

As India heads into arguably the most decisive election of 21st century, we at Five Forty Three bring you the most comprehensive coverage of election analysis. Neutrality is our virtue and data is our religion. Tapping the vast network of our on-the-ground political pundits spread across more than a dozen Indian states and combining it with psephological inputs from an experts panel, we present a one-stop platform for all the election analysis that you would ever need.

They need your financial support to last through this long election cycle, and sustain beyond that. They do have a subscription service that will give you more number crunching than you’ve ever seen. It’s also very very cheap: $10 or Rs. 500, less than your movie ticket! Even if you’re remotely interested in politics, please do subscribe. You’ll thank me for saying this now before the first major phase on Thursday, April 10!

If you want to go a step further to donate to the cause, please do so here:
http://5forty3.in/angel-support/