Introduction: India Votes for No Change in the 2009 Lok Sabha Elections
The results for the month long Indian Lok Sabha elections are out and India has voted back the incumbent Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) into power with a decisive verdict, surprising many observers.
As I write this post, the results for 480 out of the 543 seats have been declared. The Congress is leading in more than 200 seats and UPA is less than 20 seats away from reaching the magic figure of 273.
The verdict is a reminder of the Indian electorate's love affair with the Nehru-Gandhi family and a coming of age of sorts for Rahul Gandhi, the young scion of the family. A jubilant Sonia Gandhi reiterated that Manmohan Singh will be Congress Party's choice for the prime minister. Manmohan Singh will be the first Prime Minister after Jawaharlal Nehru to return to power after a full five-year term.
The verdict has also led to some serious soul-searching within BJP. It seems that Lal Krishna Advani's political career is all but over. It will be interesting to see if BJP moves away from its Hindutva roots and repositions itself as a Right of Center party or becomes even more hardcore Hindu Right under the leadership of someone like Narendra Modi.
Some of the biggest upsets so far: Ram Vilas Paswan, Ram Naik, Renuka Choudhry, Vinod Khanna, Meera Sanyal and Captain Gopnath lost the election while Shashi Tharoor won by a record margin.
Summary of Reactions from Indian Bloggers and Twitter Users
The Congress supporters are jubilant, and the BJP die-hards are understandably glum, but most neutral Indian bloggers and Twitter users are happy with the verdict, for more reason than one.
The two national parties — Congress and BJP — have increased their tally by 40-50 seats. Both Congress and BJP have a more-or-less similar forward-looking national agenda (apart from BJP's obsession with Hindutva), unlike the regional parties who are focused on caste, language and state affiliations. The consolidation of the national vote is a sigh of relief for the urban Indian “elite”, who were worried about the increasing fragmentation in Indian politics.
The UPA is 15-20 seats short of the 273 seats it needs to form the government. This precludes the possibility of the opportunistic horse-trading many observers were expecting in the aftermath of the elections. The (almost) clear verdict for UPA is likely to result in a stable government that lasts for five years and isn't held hostage by the narrow agendas of the regional coalition partners.
The decisive Congress victory has also surprised most observers. Most predictions and opinion polls had predicted an indecisive verdict with a close finish between BJP and Congress and a rise in the power of the regional parties.
Some observers will see the verdict as a validation of the tried-and-tested methods of political campaigning in India. The BJP ran an aggressive 360 degree campaign on mass media and digital media, but it didn't work, like its 2004 India Shining campaign. The Congress ran a traditional campaign, focused on movie songs, local rallies and the charisma of the Nehru-Gandhi family, and succeeded. I would caution you against reading too much into this coincidence and mistaking it for causality. It's not BJP's campaign, but BJP's Hindutva ideology, that has failed the party. BJP has lost in spite of its brilliant campaign, not because of it.
#IndiaVotes09: Reactions from Indian Twitter Users
Twitter conversations related to the Indian elections fell into a few distinct categories, including retweets of news reports on the elections results, exuberance over the Congress win, some soul-searching over BJP's loss (from a very strong BJP support base on Twitter), and opinions on what the election results mean for India.
Apart from the themes I have talked about above, the #indiavotes09 hastag on Twitter had its own unique memes.
The first such meme was predictably self referential. After a handful of tweets on the #indiavotes09 hastag throughout the month long elections, the Indian Twitter community spent the day obsessing about election results, making #indiavotes the number one trending topic on Twitter. This led to the usual recurcive navel gazing about how an India-related hashtag is trending on Twitter and Economic Times even did a story on it.
@Hiway: Indian Twitter community too big and united to be ignored: #indiavotes09 is trending. (we've made many topics ‘trend’ recently)
Dina just pointed to an interesting graphic on the irrelevance of trending topics on Twitter, which should dampen the exuberance over #indiavotes09 trending on Twitter.
The second #indiavotes09 meme was about the failure of BJP's aggressive digital campaign.
@MaheshMurthy: #indiavotes09 Don't think BJP campaign was brilliant. Strategy to project LKA as a strong leader was clearly wrong.
@MaheshMurthy: #indiavotes09 I dont think most of us thought we had weak leadership, or even if we did, that it was a big problem.
@MaheshMurthy: #indiavotes09 BJP would have had a better chance if it focused on the difference they would make that was relevant to us.
@MaheshMurthy: #indiavotes09 BJP campaign used the right medium: social/digital – but offered no relevant message. They were tuned out.
@MaheshMurthy: #indiavotes09 Googler to me: Advani using them as he wants to connect with young. For that you need medium AND message.
Other Twitter users also had interesting comments on BJP's campaign –
@Dina: I don't buy that BJP tactics were brilliant. To add to @maheshmurthy ‘s response, there were no conversations. It was classic push advertising.
@NikhilNarayanan: The Bloggers for BJP has just 120 bloggers as per lkadvani.in (count taken 2 days back). 120 is a very small number.
@Danishk: The issue with BJP campaign as I see it was they forgot that most people looking at those ads are learned people unlike masses.
@Amit3D: 30 million people access internet daily in India. Approx 10 mil voted and saw BJP's digimedia campaign. Don't think that was enough.
@Amit3D: So I guess BJPs digimedia campaign was big #FAIL. india is not US in numbers when it comes to internet.
@Sanjukta: Exactly what I just said. No body likes spamming. All those over the top in your face campaign backfired.
@mohyt: BJP poll results make me wonder if they'd lost by bigger margin had they not done their huge Social Media Marketing campaign #indiavotes09
@GasperDesouza: Advani tried an ‘Obama’ in India, online campaign, et al. Now his head is on the BJP chopping block #indiavotes09
@b50: wishes the BJP well. They fought a hard, aggressive campaign. Best of luck for 2014. Be an Opposition we can be proud of. #IndiaVotes09
@mudittuli: BJP campaign managers are always disconnected with reality, they tried to do a Obama but got slapped in the face #indiavotes09
@NairArun: BJP's online campaign was desperate and tacky. The intent was to replicate Obama's success, but the execution was poor. #indiavotes09
I tried to argue on behalf of BJP's strategist Sudheendra Kulkarni, but I'm clearly in a minority today –
@Gauravonomics: BJP has lost in spite of its brilliant campaign, not because of it. #indiavotes09
@Gauravonomics: I agree that the BJP/ LKA strategy backfired. I meant that the campaign was brilliant at a tactical level. #indiavotes09
@Gauravonomics: The BJP campaign did have grassroots online support. Friends of BJP. Bloggers for Advani. Too many BJP supporters on #indiavotes09
@Gauravonomics: The fact that it didn't work (due to message etc.) doesn't mean that BJP's (digital) campaign was flawed #indiavotes09
@Gauravonomics: In fact, I feel a little sad for Sudheendra Kulkarni. Given what he had to work with, he did a really good job. #indiavotes09
The other big meme on Twitter today was writer and Congress candidate Shashi Tharoor live-tweeting the election results –
@ShashiTharoor: I have won with a majority greater than any Congress candidate in Tvm in 30 years… Truly humbling. Now the real work begins.
@navinpai: Wow….just found out @ShashiTharoor tweets!! I wonder if he does it or gets a crack team of writers to pen down 140 characters!!
@ArunRam: @ShashiTharoor Congrats! Hope the Congress party gives you a key cabinet post. India needs more professionals like you in politics.
@SheetalDube: I am wondering if the Indian cabinet might witness the highest % increase in literacy level with the inclusion of @ShashiTharoor.
@manishd: @shashitharoor, I think you would be the first MP to be on twitter. Great way to keep in touch with the electorate. We need more like you.
@SepiaMutiny: Congratulate Shashi Tharoor directly: @shashitharoor (see his live tweets as the results came in!) #IndiaVotes09 (via @sajahq)
@viveksingh: Looks like @ShashiTharoor is the most popular politician amongst the twitteratti #indiavotes09
@GauravKanoongo: How many Indian politicians are here on Twitter? I know about only @shashitharoor #indiavotes09
@acmhatre: @ShashiTharoor in all honesty, I didn't think you would win but congratulations. No the real test begins.
So, the top May 16 memes on #indiavotes09 were: 1. #indiavotes09 trending on Twitter, 2. BJP's aggressive digital campaign failing, and 3. @ShashiTharoor live-tweeting the election results. What else did I miss?
#IndiaVotes09: Reactions from Indian Bloggers
The same themes have also been dominant in the Indian blogosphere reactions to the election results.
Veteran film director and independent candidate Prakash Jha reflects on his loss in Champaran.
Dina Mehta thinks that the Mumbai terrorist attack did not affect the elections because people do not want more fear and hatred and negativity being imposed on us by our politicians. In another post, Dina argues that Indian voters have voted for good governance and progress rather than good politicians.
Industrialist and independent member of parliament Rajeev Chandrashekhar compares his election predictions with the results and finds that, like most other pundits, he was way off the mark. The Overlord points out that both the Indian online community and the poll pundits were wrong in their election predictions.
BJP supporter Yossarin Offstumped says that the Indian electorate has voted for stability but chosen the wrong national party. Atanu Dey believes that the election results are a setback for India's development. BJP supporter Brajesh Mishra says that, instead of grieving, BJP should introspect and start preparing for the next elections. Friends of BJP co-founder Rajesh Jain says that BJP needs to decide if it wants to be Right of Center or the Hindu Right. Sush Jaitley analyzes what went wrong with BJP and says that BJP needs to apologize to the country. Jai Mrug at DNA says that BJP is back where it was a decade ago. B Raman at Rediff does a good roundup of the post-election conversations on pro-BJP websites.
Mehul Srivastava at BusinessWeek does an analysis on what the results mean for Indian politics. Zoya Hasan at DNA says that the verdict is a reaffirmation of the Indian electorate's faith in the Nehru-Gandhi family. Sidharth Bhatia at DNA believes that the vote for Congress is a vote for an inclusive India. An Indian Muslim says that the results are a verdict against divisive politics. S. Mitra Kalita at WSJ calls the verdict a victory for the global Indian.
I'll be updating this post with reactions to the Lok Sabha results from Indian bloggers and Twitter users. Please leave tips to interesting posts and your own reactions in the comments section.
Cross-posted at Gauravonomics Blog, my blog on social media and social change.