How Narendra Modi uses narrative as a political tool to retain his voters and win over new ones

(This essay has appeared in the July 2019 issue of the journal ‘Seminar‘ under the title ‘Modi was the message’.)

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Narendra Modi’s use of narrative as a political tool is akin to how a versatile batsman plays cricket. He can deal with any kind of ball thrown at him, exploiting opportunities to score sixes and warding off threats to remain on the pitch. Continue reading “How Narendra Modi uses narrative as a political tool to retain his voters and win over new ones”

Why BJP will rule India uninterrupted for the next 30 years, till 2049

(This article first appeared in ThePrint on 5 June 2019.)

In a job interview, the hiring manager decided to put the candidate at ease with small talk. He asked the candidate, what’s your favourite fruit? Considering it is the season of mangoes, surely you like mangoes?

Instead of giving a simple answer, the candidate replied, “I do Vipassana”. The manager was flummoxed. What’s Vipassana got to do with any fruit?

The candidate went on to explain, “The mind constructs the flavour of the fruit. You can like or dislike any fruit you want. You can choose to like mango, you can choose to hate it.” Continue reading “Why BJP will rule India uninterrupted for the next 30 years, till 2049”

Inside Valsad, the bellwether seat that always votes for party which goes on to rule India

By Shivam Vij

(This article first appeared in ThePrint on 22 April 2019.)

Valsad (Gujarat): Valsad is famous for three Ms — mosquitoes, mangoes and Morarji Desai. Continue reading “Inside Valsad, the bellwether seat that always votes for party which goes on to rule India”

On getting elections right and getting them wrong

 

Pro-BJP trolls on Twitter keep saying I’ve got no election right. Ever. 

The accusation is made repeatedly to delegitimise my reporting and views on elections. So here are some elections I’ve got right: 

Uttar Pradesh assembly election 2007: “The BSP is hoping not just to form a coalition government but one that lasts five years.” 

Bihar assembly election 2015: “Based on recent travels in Bihar, here is this writer’s admittedly subjective view of why the Grand Alliance’s prospects look better than the NDA’s in Bihar.” https://shivamvij.in/2015/10/12/10-reasons-why-the-grand-alliance-is-doing-better-than-the-nda-in-bihar/

Karnataka assembly elections 2018: “Perhaps there is a hawa — the hawa of a hung assembly. The perception that a hung assembly is likely might just result in one.” 

Gujarat assembly election 2017: Anger against the BJP will not turn into a victory for the Congress. 

Telangana assembly election 2018: “There are two reasons why the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) could overcome the arithmetic advantage of the opposition.”

In the Uttar Pradesh assembly election in 2017, I did a deep dive into Kasganj, the state’s bellwether constituency, and clearly found the BJP was likely to win the bellwether seat.

Despite what bellwether Kasganj said, I wrote like many others there was no wave in UP and I stand by it. There was instead an undercurrent for the BJP, because a wave screams at you. But I did write on 22 Feb 2017: “The lotus could be blooming.”

Most recently, I stuck my neck out on 7 December 2018 to say the BJP was not going to win a single state on 11 December – not even Madhya Pradesh or Chhattisgarh – and I did so even before the exit polls were out.

Only fools try to predict elections and one inevitably falls into the trap. There are very few people, if any, who get all elections right. Politicians and parties themselves get their assessments wrong. So-called scientific opinion and exit polls often get them wrong. And so do I. Most embarrassingly, I felt Mayawati would prevent the BJP from doing too well in Uttar Pradesh in 2014. That is what happens when you don’t travel and don’t talk to voters and theorise from Delhi.

One of my greatest regrets is to not have travelled in the 2014 elections. I was instead sitting on the desk and working my ass off to help a brand new website establish itself.  One of the reporters of this new site felt the BJP would win only 9 seats in Bihar, something that trolls wrongly attribute to me. I am also wrongly given the flak for another reporter who travelled by train from Assam to Kashmir and couldn’t see the Modi wave anywhere!

About the important Phulpur Lok Sabha by-poll in 2018, I wrote the BJP could win. I got it wrong because I didn’t speak to too many upper caste voters, presuming they will vote for the BJP anyway. As it turned out, they didn’t turn out to vote! Nevertheless, here’s the key thing I got right in Phulpur: the BSP’s Dalit voters were happy to vote for the SP.

The BJP and its organised troll armies make your life hell if you suggest the BJP is losing and it wins instead. I know journalists who maintain the default position “BJP is winning” only because they fear the consequences of saying “BJP is losing” when the BJP does win. There is at least one journalist who lost a job under BJP pressure only because she got an election wrong in this manner. Is it really a big deal to express one’s sense of an election to find out one was wrong?

Such is the fear of saying “BJP is losing” and getting it wrong that one news channels had dropped its Bihar 2015 exit poll because the numbers for the BJP looked too bad. That was the only exit poll that turned out to be right! I’m told the BJP’s organised troll armies have folders on liberal journos so whenever a liberal journo says anything against BJP/RSS/Hindutva, the folder is opened and the key words come out. Among them is “you never get an election right”. 

It’s okay to get elections wrong because it’s a pretty damn tough thing to get them right, for many reasons. One reason people don’t appreciate enough that public mood can and does change over the course of the campaign, from phase to phase. Many top editors, especially in news channels, have an easier time getting elections right because they have access to exit poll data collected during phases. The putting out of such data is prohibited by the Election Commission before the last phase.

It is not the reporter’s job to predict elections but it is the media’s job to gauge and reflect public mood around an election. This is incredibly important for democracy for many reasons. It’s important to know why people are voting the way they are. If, for instance, there’s a controversy about elections being rigged, you will need the media’s documented sense of the election as a reference point.

Everything you wanted to know about social media in Indian politics and elections

By Shivam Vij

(This article first appeared in The Telegraph on 31 March 2019.)

Sometime in the late 2000s, a young software engineer who voluntarily ran social media propaganda for the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party got an opportunity to attend a BJP social media meet in Bangalore. Among the people who saw this young man speak there was the then Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi. “Why don’t you do something for me,” Modi said to him, encouraging him to promote Modi on social media. Around the same time, the Congress party was telling Shashi Tharoor to go easy on Twitter.

Today that young man is arguably one of India’s most important people, part of a select group of people informally used by the top echelons of the ruling party and the government to influence the online narrative. He’s regularly trying to make this or that trend

on Twitter, running WhatsApp groups and Facebook pages that reach millions of people. When he met Modi during the 2014 campaign, the PM-to-be told him, “Keep it up. We have to make mainstream media irrelevant.” Continue reading “Everything you wanted to know about social media in Indian politics and elections”

In Uttar Pradesh, the third Modi wave is as strong as 2014 and 2017

By Shivam Vij

(This article first appeared in ThePrint on 15 March 2019.)

Phulpur/Jaunpur: There’s a lot that has changed in eastern Uttar Pradesh since 2014. Thanks to the Ardh Kumbh Mela, the government has laid out the best roads. On either side of these shiny new roads, stray cows chew away farmers’ fragile incomes. Smartphones are now ubiquitous. Yet, there’s one thing that has not changed: The popularity of Narendra Modi. Continue reading “In Uttar Pradesh, the third Modi wave is as strong as 2014 and 2017”

Remember Arvind Kejriwal? Here’s how AAP lost the national plot

By Shivam Vij

(This article first appeared in ThePrint on 25 December 2018.)

It seems like a long time ago when the AAP occupied the national political mindspace. Continue reading “Remember Arvind Kejriwal? Here’s how AAP lost the national plot”

When A Pakistani Hindu Visited Delhi’s Jama Masjid

By Shivam Vij

(This article first appeared in HuffingtonPost.in on 26 July 2016.)

 

Jama Masjid

On a hot summer afternoon in Delhi, my Pakistani Hindu friend was visiting the Jama Masjid. After all, he had come to tour Delhi. In the evening, we met in a restaurant in Connaught Place.

He was staying with a relative in Mehrauli, where the (Indian, Hindu) neighbour told him not to cross the road. “Muslims live there,” the neighbour warned. That was funny, because our visitor lived in Pakistan, where no roads could be crossed without meeting Muslims. Continue reading “When A Pakistani Hindu Visited Delhi’s Jama Masjid”

The Reader Is Not Interested In The Story

(First published in Scroll.in, 9 December 2014.)

Some years ago, I was a reporter in the founding team of a new news magazine. When the magazine launched, the marketing team sent journalists an email saying that we could gift four free subscriptions to anyone we liked, but could we please make sure the four recipients fell within the magazine’s TG? Continue reading “The Reader Is Not Interested In The Story”

Why Pakistan Exports More Mangoes Than India

(First published in HuffPost India in April 2017.)

It’s that time of the year again when Pakistani mango nationalists start beating the war drums, raising their claims of mango superiority to decibel levels that cross the noise pollution mark.

The campaign has begun. It’s not even May yet. Lies, damned lies and statistics are being used to suggest Pakistani mangoes are better. Looking for foreign approval as always, Pakistanis are tom-tomming export figures that show Pakistan exports more mangoes than India, even though India produces a lot more of them. Continue reading “Why Pakistan Exports More Mangoes Than India”