The Verdict is Prannoy Roy and Dorab Sopariwala’s book on decoding Indian elections. At the outset it’s not an easy task, for this is a country has seen as many as 392 elections (376 state and 16 Lok Sabha polls) spanning over 67 years from 1953 to 2019. However, Prannoy has been covering elections since 1980 and so does have a ringside view of things so to speak. What makes the book work is the interesting nuggets and factoids such as his take on voter behaviour. The authors point out that for an issue to click it not only has to be important such as, say corruption, but it also as to fulfill one other condition – One side/party must be seen to be better at solving the issue than the other side.
“No matter how important an issue is for the voters if they feel that all parties are equally useless at fixing it, the issue does not affect voting choices,” the authors say. Which may explain why the Rafale issue raised by the Congress is failing to click! The authors quote the late Cho Ramaswamy to hammer this point home — How does a voter choose between a pickpocket and a thief? Another interesting observation is that “As the memories of the freedom struggle and the generations that fought for independence fade away, with them the trust that the voter once placed in the Indian politician diminishes”. Noting that of 650 mobile cellphone users, at least 350 million use smartphones, the authors conclude that 7.5% is India’s Mobile Rate of Growth.
More and more psephologists are pointing to the growing influence of the woman vote. Manu Sharma, a bright young psephologist from C Voter, told me on my weekly NewsX show Roundtable, “Women could be the swing factor in these elections.” The authors of The Verdict also have a chapter on the change in the reticent woman voter. Tracking the women vote, they say that the turnout went up from 46.7% in 1962 to 65.5 % in 2014. An increase of 18.8%.
Now, compare this with the male voter whose turnout went up only 4.9 % – from 62.1 % in 1962 to 67 % in 2014. Perhaps, this is why the focus is more on the women’s vote in both the BJP and the Congress campaigns. In fact, I am told that one of the reasons for fielding Priyanka Gandhi Vadra as a star campaigner was keeping the women voters in mind. However – and here is another interesting factoid from the book – the two states that have shown the highest women turnout are Bihar and Odisha while the two worst states are Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.
The book is not just a data minefield which alone makes it a very handy guidebook for journalists and political commentators interested in covering the election; but also has some useful anecdotes. While talking about what they call the State Capture of PSUs by the government, Prannoy refers to it as India’s version of one country-two systems – Socialism for the Rich, Capitalism for the Poor.
The authors recall how once a senior official at Doordarshan was asked by an influential cabinet minister to delay the 9 pm prime time broadcast and instead play a popular Bollywood song as the actress in question was at his place and they could all dance to that number!
Data crunching, item numbers and some on-ground analysis —whether you agree with them or not, its nuggets like these which make The Verdict a must-read in the middle of an election season!