I had planned to make this post when the elections, which seemed inevitable at that time, were declared. Unfortunately, it turns out that we will not have the elections after all. But I might as well make it.
Every time an election is held in our country, opinion polls try to predict the result. Virtually every time, they get their call wrong – even the exit polls. This fact will invariably be presented by our pundits with a sense of wonder that is usually reserved for divine miracles. The people of India, it will be said, have kept their cards close to their chest, and though illiterate and uneducated, have managed to fool all the pollsters to give their verdict.
Once the election concludes, the Popular Will, which could not be discerned by the hundreds of surveyors who went around the country questionnaire in hand, is instantly understood by the pundits even when they are half-way around the world and columnists for the New York Times. Two weeks before the elections, the best scientific models are unable to answer the simple factual question of which way the results will sway. But a day after the results are known, everyone knows, without any need for evidence, what went on in the minds of the people as they were voting.
That is how the common wisdom that the general elections of 2004 were a popular vote against the reforms came about. That is also how everyone knows that Chandrababu Naidu was voted out because he neglected the villages at the cost of Hyderabad. (Why did he win once then? No one knows.)
If we are honest with ourselves, we will have to admit that no one has a clue about which way the Indian voters vote, and once they have voted, the process of translating the votes to seats makes it pretty much impossible to draw a causal chain between the intention of the voter and the “Popular Will” as expressed via the seat position in the legislature.
If pollsters and pundits cannot call an election a month in advance, it is very likely that those in the government will be unable to take a guess as to which policies will win them the next election five years away. If democracy means that rulers govern according to the will of the people, then India’s democracy is broken.