Small battlegrounds can make a big difference


The prospect of success also creates the possibility of success



The first general election of the next decade has begun. Its results will determine whether India gets stable governance or whether power in Delhi over the next ten years will be synonymous with fractious politics. If there is no stable government this year, we will not see one for a few elections to come. National parties which have offered a coherent centre to coalitions will fracture, and be replaced by makeshift alliances of incompatible but equal satellites.

Those who understand the temperamental nature of any electoral season know that predictions are risky. It is far safer to keep your eyes open and mouth shut. But if you had to lay any bets, how would you start? Open up the map and check out what may be called pinprick constituencies. These are the marginal seats where victory went to one party by a statistically inconsequential figure of around 15,000 votes or less. This will be more illuminating precisely because their random existence, outside any cluster that suggests geographic logic. If there is consistency in disarray, it means consolidation towards a national party. If not, seats are travelling in disparate directions.

The first challenge before Modi, if he wants to take his party to the top position, is to protect BJP’s few marginals and displace Congress from its thin space. It is only after this that he can attempt the surge to 200-plus by generating huge momentum in seats where BJP lost by substantial numbers. Delhi will let you know if this is going to happen, because in 2009 the winner was known long before counting was complete. Congress swamped BJP; its smallest win was in South Delhi, by 93,219 votes, and largest in East Delhi where Sandeep Dikshit got 241,053 votes more than Chetan Chauhan.

If one right partner generates arithmetical progression then two can fashion a geometric leap.

Modi cannot take a switch in swing for granted, for while national factors do shape currents on the surface, there are always extremely strong local whirlpools just below which can pull in the opposite direction. In Delhi, the Aam Aadmi Party is in play because it can mobilize anti-BJP electorates without the burden of anti-incumbency. In fact, AAP would have done significantly better if it had refused regional power. Still an infant, it is more effective as a toddler of promise rather than an adult on steroids. It was too early to risk the loss of innocence.

Since the principal contenders in any seat generally take between half a million and 600,000 votes between them, a two per cent swing in favour of BJP will help it win those seats where the margin was 20,000 or a bit more. Nitin Gadkari will need just that to take Nagpur from Congress. But despite the current rise of confidence in the Shiv Sena-BJP camp, Gadkari understands the wisdom of an insurance policy in a volatile and over-leveraged business. Small parties with three to five per cent support provide such invaluable insurance. BJP has made this vital breakthrough in Maharashtra and Bihar.

By himself Ram Vilas Paswan cannot win a seat in Bihar. But add him to a larger formation and it has a multiplier effect. If one right partner generates arithmetical progression then two can fashion a geometric leap.

The prospect of success also creates the possibility of success. There are always a dozen reasons for a decision, but a key card prevails over competing negatives. In this election, voters want a stable government because that is essential for any resolution of the economic crisis. Small allies can see that as clearly as anyone else. Moreover, an alliance with a potential winner fetches higher rewards. In south India, BJP is the small party, and therefore needs to hitch a ride with someone else to maximize the conversion of support into seats, as is happening in Tamil Nadu. In Kerala, where no one is offering a ride, BJP votes will wander in that useless space called purgatory; neither in heaven nor hell.

Politics might be hell, but victory is heaven.


  1. Kotsenburg only qualified for the final in Saturday morning’s second chance semi-finals and following Thursday’s heats had criticised the judges’ scoring after he failed to earn a direct route into the final.

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