The massive Indian poll show — the greatest on earth — is over with the completion of the voting process on Sunday to elect the 17th Lok Sabha. Around 60 crore electors out of a possible 90 crore pressed the buttons on electronic voting machines to send 542 representatives to Parliament. It was truly a spectacular event, in which 8,000 candidates from dozens of parties — and Independents — were in the fray.
There was only a very small increase in the percentage of voting in 2019 over the last Parliament election in 2014. But the 67 per cent who voted comprise almost equally men and women, with the menfolk being ahead by just 0.4 per cent. Women stepping out to vote in large numbers is perhaps the most significant takeaway from this election, marking a shift in the gender pattern.
Given the rising female participation, it is ironical that too few women were in the fray as party nominees. For reasons that aren’t wholly clear, parties don’t seem to regard women as “winnable” candidates. Conseque-ntly, barely 10 per cent of MPs in India are women, and many of them have familial links with prominent male political leaders.
The exit polls that were available on Sunday have spiced up political calculations with the finding that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was winning big and set to begin his second innings. It has to be seen if these calculations are confirmed by the actual count.
Exit polls in India have had a far from robust record. While they have been around in patchy form from the late 1990s, such surveys have increased since the 2004 Lok Sabha polls where they were hopelessly out of kilter with ground reality. They not only failed to point to the Congress’ return at the head of the UPA, each gave then PM Atal Behari Vajpayee — who ran on the “India Shining!” slogan — a big cha-nce of victory. In 2009, they showed the BJP and Congress neck and neck when, in fact, the Congress was far ahead and Dr Manmohan Singh became PM for a second term.
The exit polls showed the trend right in 2014, although they mostly failed to indicate the impressive nature of the BJP’s victory under the leadership of Narendra Modi. But pointing to the correct trend could not earn the pollsters big brownie points as anyone on the street was feeling the “Modi wave” anyway. This time around, there is no “wave” or “undercurrent” being felt by the man or woman on the street. So let’s just wait for the real verdict.