Activists of the BJP and Shiv Sena were despairing almost till 4 pm yesterday as voting in Mumbai was hardly indicative of the people’s urge to participate in democracy, the heightened political sensitisation since 2011 notwithstanding. The turnout was a trickle even as booth managers complained up to 6 lakh adults did not find their names figuring in the electoral rolls despite months of applications to Election Commission officials. But the attendance peaked as the show drew to a close, and India’s business capital finally managed to break its sorry record of 2009. This was a repeat of the scene in Bengaluru in the previous round of polling. In the rest of the 117 constituencies whose turn it was to choose people’s representatives on 24 April, the public response was heartening: West Bengal 81.4%, Puducherry 80%, Tamil Nadu 73%, Assam 77.6%, Madhya Pradesh 66%, Jharkhand 63.5%, Chhattisgarh 66%, Uttar Pradesh 60.12%, Bihar 60%, Rajasthan 59% and Maharashtra 55.26%. History of correlation between voter turnout and election result has a pattern to it: The higher the votes, the more likely it is that the government will change. A negative emotion, after all, drives people stronger than a positive one, as a ‘feel good’ NDA had experienced in the summer of 2004.
Both media and society indicate now that the people have had enough of the UPA dispensation. Whether that translates to a ‘Modi wave’ is a matter of finer psephology. Unlike in early 2013 — when analysts argued the non-Congress, non-BJP seats could outnumber the sum garnered by the two national parties — it is now believed that the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi has cast a spell across the nation. However, in parts of the country where the party’s organisational wherewithal leaves a lot to be desired — West Bengal, the Northeast and Dravidian States (barring Karnataka) that is — an increased vote share may or may not imply more seats than the previous tally from these places. It depends on the passion of Modi’s cheerleaders in these regions: Non-Bengalis and neglected Bengalis of north Bengal, those distrusting the AGP’s ability to challenge the Congress in Assam, the rest of the Northeast that has traditionally been with any party or coalition that occupies the Centre, the Dalit-OBC combine in Tamil Nadu, those with closer cultural ties with north India in Andhra Pradesh and the RSS election machinery lately activated in Kerala. Karnataka has voted for different parties for the State and Centre in simultaneous or consecutive elections, going by the convention. When the whole of Odisha will have voted, chances are high many Odiyas would be fatigued by Naveen Patnaik’s BJD; but they aren’t going to the Congress. Putting all of this together, the BJP is either a gainer in terms of seats or a spoiler helping some regional players whose luck was otherwise running low. In any case, since Maharashtra is going the Shiv Sena way, anti-incumbency against a smaller NDA constituent Akali Dal in Punjab shouldn’t alter much the total secured by the principal challenger in this national game.
Raking up an unfounded controversy over Modi’s private life and bringing in Priyanka Gandhi for the campaign, thereby fascinating the media, are signs of the consequent frustration in the Congress. Addressing the issues of alleged, rampant corruption and policy paralysis would have served the oldest party better when the country had erupted a few years ago. The epitaph of UPA rule is as good as written now. With about half of India having decided which way to go, 16 May will only place the elegy on the current government’s tombstone.