- Was it the promise of a color TV as against a computer, which decided the fate of Jayalalitha in Tamil Nadu?
- Was it Buddha Babu’s practical communism, which fetched him a landslide victory in West Bengal?
- And what were the governing factors in Assam and Kerala where no party emerged the outright winner?
- If the 2006 state elections are anything to go by, the mind of the Indian voter still remains a puzzle for our politicians and the result-predicting pundits.
On one side, we have Tamil Nadu where the magic of the Kollywood matinee idols spills over into politics. Following the example of MGR and his protégé Jayalaitha, more and more stars are aspiring for the Chief Minister’s post. The average voter in Tamil Nadu, it is believed, is lulled by the theatrical abilities, on screen persona and charisma of these stars. Yet, the Tamil voter has exploded the myth by resisting the charms of Ms Jayalaitha and voting for the DMK and the aged Karunanidhi in the current assembly elections and the preceding parliamentary elections in 2004. This complete volte face baffled many, including Jaya herself. Once again the Indian voters, in this case the Tamil voter, proved a puzzle to the political pundits. They proved that they aren’t starstruck fans. If dissatisfied, a leader will be chosen based on his or her ability to lead the state to prosperity and welfare..
If there are contradictions in voter behavior within a state, there are greater contradictions in voter behavior across the states. It would be hard not to compare the inconsistent behavior of the Tamil voter with the ultra consistent behavior of the Bengali voter. For the 7th time the CPIM regained power and proved that in Bengal at least there could be no other. The Bengali voter proves a stark contrast to the Tamil voter in yet another regard: An absolute indifference to the matinee idols and other glamorous entities. For a state, which has time and again degraded itself by its emotional outbursts during cricket matches, Bengal is surprisingly rational in the choice of its leader. There is no buying of false persona, charisma or emotional speeches, not even the ones delivered by the firebrand Trinamul Congress leader, Mamata Banerjee. Be it the laid back, hard core communist Jyoti Basu or the dynamic, development oriented Buddhadeb Dasgupta, Bengal has made its verdict clear by choosing CPIM. The Bengali voter is predictable and they may not baffle the political pundits, but what remains a puzzle is the reason behind this consistency. It is a fact that the city lagged behind in development and languished in poverty during the tenure of Jyoti Basu. Yet they favored him. It is a fact that the city was plagued by frequent strikes and increasing joblessness while the IT industry and foreign investments were booming across India. Yet they favored communism. The question is why? Why this ardent support? The answers are still a list of “maybes.”
Kerala, the state with 100% literacy rates and a close cousin of Bengal in its culture and traditions, is however a far cry from the eastern state when it comes to consistency. The state has been oscillating between Congress and CPIM for years for no apparent reason. Like Bengal, Kerala’s CPIM lineage has spelt disaster for the state’s development. Yet even in the current polls of 2006, CPIM rules the roost and the mind of the Keralite voter is as much a mystery as the rest.
This colorful subcontinent of India has people and mindsets, which are as diversified as its cultures, traditions and topography. The Indian voter has a mind of their own and often leave their leaders confused. Unlike the US and Great Britain and several other countries, the Indian voter has many parties to choose from and this is perhaps one of the causes for his complex behavior. It still fails to explain phenomena such as the one seen in Bengal or the preference shown to uneducated CMs like Laloo and Rabri Devi.
Perhaps it can be said that the unpredictable nature of the Indian voter is the real strength of India. No one party can sit complacent in the hot seat for they can never take the public for granted. By keeping the leaders guessing and confused, the Indian voter gets to rule and isn’t that what true democracy is all about?