6 May 2019

People Voted for Vikas in Phase Five

We have been exploring an oft-used word this election season — vikas, or development. On a day when turnout has been mostly flat across Uttar Pradesh, we believe people voted for very different versions of development.

Narendra Nag

The loudest version of development is the one you hear most often from BJP supporters, “Vikas!” with capital V and an exclamation mark. It seems to mean strong, authoritative, nation building, where after years of believing that the world sees India as a weak, poor country, where the only thing that is exported is a docile version of Indian culture, this section wants the country to be powerful, muscular, and respected.

We know this version well — it’s what is signalled everytime Prime Minister Narendra Modi talks about national security, or an aggressive posture in the neighbourhood, or about how world leaders welcome him into their homes and lives with open arms.

And it certainly seems to resonate well with men (typically younger men) across caste and community lines.

But, by and large, we think a large section of women care about a very different kind of vikas — it comes with a small-v, isn’t loud or aggressive, and promises different types of security — economic, physical and social. And they don’t seem to be looking for big promises, but simple things that work.

The Ujjwala Gas Scheme is a good example of a big idea that misses out because of a simple problem — a gas refill is too expensive. If the cylinder had been smaller, the refill would have been cheaper (and more frequent — but that’s not an issue). Much like the one-rupee shampoo sachet showed how to take a useful, desired product and make it available to people whose purchasing power didn’t allow them to buy a regular bottle of shampoo.

Then there are the people who are looking for work, for an entrance exam to be held for government positions, for dues to be paid by the state government, for local business to pick up so they work more days of the month — and they have been seeing their MP putting little to no pressure on the state government. For them, Vikas, means change — a change in their circumstances. The BJP tried to head this off by changing sitting MPs with new candidates, but we believe it hasn’t worked today.

We saw more people vote for vikas with a small v and vikas as in change than for “Vikas!” across UP today.

Couple that with a formidable Mahagathbandhan election machine that we saw in action today — workers for the SP and the BSP have figured out what they need to do, and how they need to do it. We didn’t see any hesitation. Much credit must go to BSP supremo Mayawati who has a strong, unambiguous message that she is now completely invested in the alliance with SP chief Akhilesh Yadav.

Our models are predicting an extreme situation in one seat and we may see a shocking result in phase 5 — unimaginable when polling started today morning (and very difficult to contemplate even now as polls close). And no, it has nothing to do with the Congress party losing a prized seat.

What’s clear is that development matters — but for the have-nots, the less-privileged, the oppressed — development doesn’t mean aggressive nationalism.

In 2019, the gap between the Indian village and the Indian metro is wider than ever before. This gap shows up best in what people think the visible markers of development represent. Let us give you a simple example — a good road represents convenience and comfort to most people who live in a metro. A good road with a cheap mode of transport represents economic opportunity to someone living in rural India. Not just because they will use it to travel, but traffic will increase to their village as well.

We leave you with this thought as we continue to spin up more machines tonight to crunch the signals we are seeing. Signals that point to a strong message being sent to the BJP by a silent majority that are trying to let their votes do the talking.

These notes are an experiment in data-driven points of view. We are immersing ourselves in information screens and data patterns and allowing ourselves to connect dots. We emerge to write a note — like the one you’re reading — which is our best understanding at a given moment in time. We believe ourselves to be correct in the moment, but are happy to be proven wrong. In either case we learn and improve.

It's Time to Adjust our Weights for the BJP
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