Here is a question. If you stood at New Delhi Railway Station and spoke to 7000 randomly chosen people, how many BJP supporters would you meet? Going by the BJP’s 38.5% vote share in the just concluded election, a decent estimate would be around 2700 people. The real number, of course, could be a bit higher or a bit lower.
How much higher or lower could it get? Could it be that 6000 of them were BJP supporters? Could it be that just 1000 of them were BJP supporters? Both would be surprising.
How about this? What if there were just 5 BJP supporters among 7000 people you meet in Delhi. That sounds near impossible, right?
Well, it did happen. During the counting of votes on Tuesday.
These are the party positions after 14 rounds of counting at Mustafabad seat in Delhi. You can see that BJP candidate and sitting MLA Jagdish Pradhan has raced to a near 30,000 vote lead over his AAP rival. In an Assembly election, a lead of 30,000 would be considered fairly decisive. It would seem that Mr. Pradhan was on his way to retaining his seat comfortably.
And then something incredible happens between Round 14 and Round 23. Here is Round 19 for instance.
In this round, AAP’s Haji Yunus has received 7904 votes to just 36 for the BJP! WHAT? How?
This trend continues all the way between Round 14 and Round 23. Each time AAP’s Haji Yunus piles on thousands of votes, while BJP struggles to hit even triple digits.
By Round 23 it is all over.
AAP received 6878 votes in this round and the BJP just 5! AAP’s Haji Yunus has now taken a comfortable lead of around 20,000 votes over the BJP and he cruises to victory.
Is this a technical glitch? A fraud? Manipulation in counting of votes? Was the election stolen? If you showed this sudden and extreme change of fortunes to anyone, they would suggest rushing to the Election Commission to file a complaint.
But, of course, the BJP, which is the losing party here, did not complain. They weren’t even surprised. Surely that is because they understood the demographics of the area and expected nothing else.
After the BJP’s defeat on Tuesday, we have been exposed to endless gyaan about how AAP worked miracles in education and health. What was this 6878 to 5 result about? Can you say seriously that it was about education and health? Remember that the BJP candidate was leading by around 30,000 votes until Round 14. How much disparity in education and health could there possibly be within a single seat in Delhi that we get a North Korea style landslide of 6878 to 5 in favor of AAP candidate Haji Yunus?
Every Indian needs to know what happened in Round 23 in Mustafabad in Delhi. Because it tells us what really lurks under the surface of Indian secularism.
In principle, voting allows us to decide who governs us. But a closer look shows that the electoral process forces us to make all sorts of difficult choices. The most basic of these is there while we may care about many issues, we get just one vote. When you break it down by candidate and by issue, you realize that it’s a very complicated optimization problem. Also, there is the system. Do you vote for an MLA or a Chief Minister?
And then there are the unknowns. About a month after election results, people of Maharashtra found out that they had voted for a Congress government.
Similar problems would exist in every electoral system. More Americans voted for Hillary Clinton, but Donald Trump won anyway.
When you grapple with all these unknowns, you realize how fragile democracy actually is. And how easily it can be hijacked by single issue voters. Which is likely what happened in Mustafabad.
A group of dedicated people who care about one and only one issue can easily overwhelm the majority. AAP’s Haji Yunus probably has to do little on education and health and development. He knows his 6878 to 5 landslide victory has nothing to do with those issues. As long as he keeps his single issue voter happy, he is safe.
AAP’s Amanatullah Khan won from Okhla by a huge margin of almost 1 lakh votes. Is Okhla the most prosperous part of Delhi, with the best schools and hospitals? Probably not.
This is not just a Delhi phenomenon. Hyderabad is one of India’s top metros. Since 1989, it has been under the control of the Owaisi family that runs MIM. How can a vibrant metropolis be under the thumb of a party like MIM? Anyone will tell you that it’s because MIM controls the “old city” of Hyderabad. The old city area does not lead in education and health: in fact it is the poorest part of the city. But that matters little, because the area is full of single issue voters. On a side note, when was the last time you heard a liberal complain about the polarization that allows MIM to keep Hyderabad?
Yes, the people of Delhi wanted AAP this time. Even if BJP had won Mustafabad, there was no stopping Kejriwal. But elections come and go. Single issue voters stay exactly where they are. The rest of the public goes through mood swings. Ultimately, the single issue voter, who never changes their preference, will prevail. The system is designed to reward such behaviour.
Each time, the single issue voter tries to get a bit more space for their cause. Sometimes they may succeed in pushing ahead. Sometimes not. If their party doesn’t win this time, they wait at the same point for five years and try again. The takeaway is that they are never in retreat. Over time, they will prevail.
Think about Shaheen Bagh. The media has stopped covering them now. By all accounts, the supply of Biryani, whether ‘kudrati’ or otherwise, seems to have run out. But remember that this crowd watched and cheered as a mother slowly dragged the life out of her 4 month old baby. Day by day, bit by bit, slowly and painfully. The cheering crowd has no regrets. The mother has no regrets. In fact, she has become a hero. Absolutely chilling crime against humanity committed in cold blood. This is the level of commitment that the single issue voter brings to the table.
Perhaps you are not among the single issue voters. You may have different priorities. You might be willing to strike a compromise with the single issue voter for the time being. Fine, but remember that the compromise will always come from your end. Expect no compromise from the other side. If a mother is willing to part with the life of her baby for the sake of her cause, what could possibly make her change her mind? She has already beaten the strongest instinct in all of nature, drilled in by millions of years of evolution. You stand no chance of convincing her. The single issue voter will not move back one inch and will not stop until they win 100%. It may take five years or hundred years, but the single issue voter will prevail.