A sham called election reporting

A ‘Kashmiri’ ‘Gurjar’ ‘Muslim’ is contesting the Dausa Lok Sabha seat. As an independent. For the simple reason that after delimitation, Dausa became a reserved constituency. Rerseved for the Scheduled Tribes. Meenas are ST’s. Gurjars wanted to be ST’s. Not only didn’t they not get that, they were deprived of Dausa, where the feudal PIlots had been Gurjar kings.

So someone thought of this simple idea: get a Kashmiri Gurjar. Kashmiri Gurjars are ST’s.

That candidate is campaigning around Dausa, and I gather that even the Brahmins of the area are supporting him! Him! A Kashmiri Muslim Gurjar!

Why? For the reason that they don’t want to let a Meena win. Political party notwithstanding.

This kind of phenomenon, of people turning against the dominant caste, was seen in the Rajasthan Assembly elections. Hindus forgot communal polarisation and voted for a Muslim to defeat a Jat. A member of a little known Scheduled Tribe won because nobody wanted the Meena to win.

So far, did you hear the name of any political party?

Okay, let’s have an example where we will talk parties.

In Uttar Pradesh, a CSDS survey said only 17% Brahmins voted for the BSP. Surprised? The media created the impression that Brahmins voted BSP in large numbers.

They did. Only in the constituencies where the BSP candidate was a Brahmin.

Well, ok, some Kanyakubja Brahmins perhaps voted in other places too. But the Saryupari Brahmins have much less love for the BSP because the BSP’s Brahmin mascot, Satish Chandra Mishra, is a Kanyakubja Brahmin.

Welcome to post-Mandal India. Political parties don’t contest elections. Castes contest elections through political parties.

Castes vote for a candidate of their own caste, sub-caste or gotra… “My gotra has seven villages, his gotra only two,” I heard from one candidate recently.

And how does the media report elections? It does by focusing on ‘star’ candidates, on tu-tu-main-main soundbytes, by opinion polls conducted even before candidates are announced, by making broad presumptions such as ‘Muslims are going to vote for Congress’.

It’s not as if journalists don’t know that elections are fought constituency by constituency, or that caste politics is not as simple as A plus B plus C, or that the first-past-the-poll system of elections makes opinion poll calculation of seats based on ‘swings’ meaningless.

Just that real election reporting is not sexy copy; the reader/viewer, who is middle class, is not interested in caste (presumably), because soundbytes, farcical controversies and visual-created news events make people hook to the TV channel and bring TRPs.

Let’s continue to imagine our world as the commercial media presents it to us. The real India, the real elections, are way too depressing, disturbing, disenchanting.

Let us celebrate our collective ignorance, let us watch our star anchors reflect our anger and rage, and let us continue to sip our wine.

How does it matter who becomes PM? Our lives will be the same.

Can’t the election commission let me vote through sms? One of the TV channels can help them. Going to a polling booth is just not worth it.

17 thoughts on “A sham called election reporting”

  1. Lets see how does caste make a difference in the 120 pre-dominantly urban constituencies after delimitation. Reservations are evil and a form of disenfranchisement for the voters. What if the STs want to elect a non-ST from their constituency.
    -Tarun

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  2. If you think caste is a non-issue in these 120 seats, you’re wrong. It may matter less, but it does. Besides, very few seats are 100% urban or rural in reality.

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  3. If caste is good for some purposes and bad for some purposes, what are we talking about. If it is good when it comes to reservations, how does it become bad when it comes to elections.

    ‘Welcome to post-Mandal India. Political parties don’t contest elections. Castes contest elections through political parties’

    Is that so simple. If Mandal is politically correct and good, how can some of its implications be
    bad?

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  4. Dear Mr Vij,
    I quite appreciate your rebellious and mostly cynical attitue towards the Indian state. I think one of the greatness of Indian democracy (which you may not agree with) is that it allows even the “anti-nationals” to have their point of view in public. I am aware of custodial deaths, displacements/mining, right wing hinudtva forces etc etc…..
    I thought on the issue of caste, you were celebrating mayawati’s politics. Her only agenda is to grab power by consolidationg the 12-15 per cent vote of a particular dalit gotr. I thought you were celebrating this kind of caste polarisation as it empowers the poor…… now you are criticising a Kashmiri Gujjar who is bridging the communal divide, thanks to caste…i fail to understand given your scheme of politics, why do you criticise such a development…….I thought you considered mayawati’s politics of dalit mobilisation to have a far more liberatory potential that the “secular” upper caste politics of the Indian left……and i thought you were smart enough to figure out these complexities!

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  5. I am not sure I get the drift of this post. I had read Dipankar Gupta’s piece in EPW where he mentioned that even if people vote on the basis of caste, no caste is in such a majority in any constituency that a candidate representing that caste will win on the basis of voting along identity lines. What do you think?

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  6. …the first-past-the-poll system of elections makes opinion poll calculation of seats based on ’swings’ meaningless.

    No – but you do need to be careful. If you are careless, then you can get misleading results. People like Yogendra Yadav who’s been in this business for quite long by now are very careful both with regard to the data collection methodology and the predictions they make on the basis of the collected data. Many others, unfortunately, are not careful.

    Incidentally, aren’t you being a little harsh on the media? You are ignoring the fact that journalists have limited time (on TV and print) and space (print) in which to present a coherent picture of a very complex election. Some simplification is inevitable. Caste might be – as you argue – totally ignored. But note also that entire swathes of the country – the North-east for example – are totally ignored. I can’t recall the last time I saw a report of the election scene in Arunachal Pradesh, for instance.

    The question is whether the simplifications result in a misleading and totally incorrect picture of what’s happening. That might be the case but you need to argue more.

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  7. Zainab,
    If 20 people (20 per cent) people out of 100 people who vote are brahmins and they all vote for one party, and there is 50 percent voting in the constituency, then the brahmin will win! Caste mobilisation and politics has run out of potential. It seemed to have empowered the dalits, backwards and the voiceless, but what next. Perhaps the left-liberal parties like the congress and the cpi-cpi (m) etc are not that bad as they are made out to be by some. In organised mainstream politics, it is only these liberal parties that have taken on the right wing castist and communal elements. However, i am not at all denying the right-wing neo-liberal elements within these organisations who have are by no means pro-poor (who justify torture, displacement etc). Protest and struggle to make liberal politics more accountable is the answer rather than having faith in mayawatis and mulayams and the maoists. Their short history shows that they are very comfortable in allying with BJP. Our cynicism towards Indian state and liberal parties should not blind this fact. Fair the mulayams and mayawatis have been denied power and vocie for generation so they have the right to grab power by means that we think are “illegitimate” and “uncivilised”. But i would still be critical of them!

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  8. I am not sure how the response given above, I am presuming by someone else, responds entirely to my question. I am wondering, very seriously, as to whether candidates can continue to win on narrow identity appeals across elections? Don’t parties and candidates have the incentive to consolidate their vote base with every subsequent elections? Is it taking a very very narrow view of our electorate by suggesting that all they care for is the identity of the candidate? I think it is high time to examine into this more carefully.

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  9. I wanted the comments to play out a bit before I responded. My post was about the media, but the comments have anxiety to label Caste Politics as either Good, Bad or Ugly. That’s exactly what I don’t want to do. My point was that elections are about caste above all else in India today, and considering we are not even fully informed by the media about this, there is an information gap. In such a scenario, it is hasty to rush and label Caste Politics as Good, Bad or Ugly.

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  10. My point was that elections are about caste above all else in India today, and considering we are not even fully informed by the media about this, there is an information gap.

    Rather than telling it to the media, perhaps you should tell it to the psephologists whose work forms the basis of many media stories. You should tell them they are wasting their time: there’s a perfect way – the Shivam Vij way – of predicting electoral outcomes accurately.

    Even better, go tell it to our Supreme Court which has banned exit polls. After all, if elections take place mostly on the basis of caste, then exit polls cannot possibly influence the outcome in any particular way.

    Is it possible that elections cannot just be reduced to caste? Think of the follow simple hypothetical case. Suppose you have two parties, both of whom field candidates from the same caste in a particular constituency. Then, caste no longer matters for this election in the sense that either way, the candidate from the same caste wins. The electoral outcome will then be decided by other factors which might include matters like corruption, competence etc. Something like this, I suspect, happens in many (not all) constituencies – the major parties all field candidates from the same caste or religion. Once this happens, caste or religion ceases to be a determining issue and other factors come into play.

    So, it’s not that caste does not matter. Rather, note that if you can choose a candidate from Caste X, so can I. Then, caste effectively ceases to matter. And that’s why, predicting electoral outcomes is still a mug’s game.

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  11. “My point was that elections are about caste above all else in India today, and considering we are not even fully informed by the media about this, there is an information gap.”

    I am not convinced if this is true. On the contrary media has overplayed the caste factor. Sometimes it calls it vote bank of muslims, dalits, kamus, obcs etc. Read the coverage of various contests in different consituencies and you will find even more indepth analysis. Its a different matter whether its correct or wrong. Secondly i can mention at least two general elections where caste was not a factor. 1971, 1984 and 1989. Its too simplistic and sweeping to say Indian elections are about caste above all. Obviously you think Kashmir is not part of India..buts thats a different debate….

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  12. Thanks Shivam for this very revealing post. However, as the various comments point out, there is always a more complex logic at work in how people vote. Yes, caste is very very important and it remains even when main contending parties put up candidates from the same caste. For some kind of assessment is made by the caste group concerned, as to who might best serve their interests. I do agree with some of the other commentators including Zainab, that issues like those of class (or economic issues), community and policy in a general sense are important as well. What happens, it seems to me, is that in each constituency, these different factors get ‘fuse together’ or are articulated together into a distinctive configuration such that the relative weight of each factor will vary from constituency. This will depend upon the specific issues that are agitating people at a particular time, but also on which parties are in the fray in the constituency and who they field as candidates. In a manner of speaking, ‘tactical voting’ (which psephologists ascribe only to Muslim voters) has become the paradigm of voting behaviour in India. You could say that caste ‘overdetermines’ other factors today and yet you might find that in some contexts, in some states (say West Bengal) it plays a relatively minor or even insignificant role – though it is not absent. There class seems to overdetermine other factors. In the North East, it might be the role of the Indian army or state that might have overriding importance.

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    1. Aditya, I am in complete agreement with you. The stereotype of caste block voting is also another media creation and one of the things I was arguing for in my post was precisely the unwillingness to see ‘caste politics’ in all its complexity. While I didn’t mention non-caste factors, they are certainly at play. The points about tactical voting no being a preserve of Muslims, and that elections and thus voting behaviour is determined constituency by constituency, are amongst the things the media ignores because they don’t make sexy copy – and not because journalists can’t see as much.

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  13. I am still intrigued by Dipankar Gupta’s comments about the population composition of constituencies and no caste being in such a majority as to usher a candidate of their caste. Can you comment on this?

    Sure, there might be voting along caste lines initially, but how long can this trend continue? Surely, over time, other factors get fused in, as Aditya has pointed out.

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