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Is Hazare the new swing factor in polls?

So the Congress party lost all three by-elections last week. As expected , their spokespersons continued to display false bravado, trying to shrug off the defeat and underplaying the Anna factor. Their fake overconfidence is almost cute. You want to give them a hug for trying to do their job even in the worst circumstances. The winners too, particularly the BJP, seemed somewhat surprised. Still figuring out how to react, they were dismissive of Anna’s role, claiming the victory as entirely their own.
And yet, one hopes the parties do not believe the spin they dish out. There are big lessons from the recent elections for both. No, neither is it game over for the Congress, nor is it guaranteed victory for the BJP. Also, team Anna does not decide who wins an election or who doesn’t. Yet, having them on your side or against significantly affects a party’s election results. The victory margins in Indian polls are slim, with a significant portion of voters being passive – that is, they vote in a predictable pattern that doesn’t change over time. In such a scenario, a relatively small number of enlightened, floating votes can alter election results. Statisticians will agree that even if 20 million Indians switch their vote, the election results will be dramatically different. Anna’s team is clearly inching towards having that kind of support base.

The Congress (or any party) should realize, that even though team Anna members cannot win an election (given passive voters will never vote for them), they can influence enough voters to make a party win or lose an election. In that sense, Anna’s team is one of the most powerful lobby groups India has ever seen. Fortunately, they are lobbying for a corruption free India, a cause that is good for the country.

Hence, just three tips for the Congress. One, do not give mixed signals to team Anna. While one day a minister will fold hands and speak obsequiously to ‘Anna ji’ , the next day he would dare Arvind Kejriwal to contest an election. That is foolish. Simply accept team Anna as part of Indian political reality. Two, figure out who the next leader is – if it is Rahul Gandhi, he has to begin taking centrestage. This strategy of letting others take the muck and wiping his chair clean until he arrives, will not work. Either he should take the heat, or give someone else the reins. It may be abold move, but replacing the PM right now may just be what the doctor ordered to show that you are serious about change. Such big scams have happened; in any other organization, heads would have rolled. Why haven’t they in the Congress?

Three, blatantly obvious, is to pass the Lokpal bill. No whining, no clever debates, no bashing team Anna , media or opposition. As one ad says – just do it. And when you do it, don’t get super-clever , high-IQ lawyers to modify clauses that take away the spirit and essence of the bill. Too many eyes are on the bill now, and frankly, no matter how smart your people are, they can’t outsmart millions.

These are exciting times for Indian politics. Younger leaders of both major parties can use the current turmoil to initiate change within their own party, which not only positions their party to win elections, but is also good for the nation. For, whether Congress or BJP, all we want is a better India, isn’t it?

Happy Diwali.
Chetan Bhagat in TOI.

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