How you Could Have Made Money From the Karnataka Election Coverage

Elections throw up a dizzying number of possible coalitions and outcomes. In the recently concluded Karnataka assembly elections, many newspapers, TV channels and political analysts learnt it to their dismay. Based on the initial leads, they declared BJP the winner, only to realise later that the political script was unfolding in a very different way.

Around 10:30 AM yesterday, there was a strong consensus on my twitter timeline that BJP had ‘bagged’ Karnataka. Convinced of the ‘verdict’, commentators moved on to ‘explain’, ‘analyze’ and ‘draw lessons’ from the verdict! It puzzled me to the extent that I put out the following tweet:

Wrong to call Karnataka right now. If BJP doesn’t cross halfway mark, a Congress/JDS alliance may not be ruled out.

Why one should have anticipated the possibility of Congress and JD(S) coming together? To see the logic, begin with a basic tautology: a politician covets political power. Politicians, while forming a coalition, wish to form government. This is partially correct; but, not the whole story. Otherwise, what prevents the whole legislative assembly from coming together and forming a ‘super alliance’?

Such an alliance is guaranteed to rule forever.

The reason why such ‘super alliances’ never get formed is not because they are unethical or ideologically incongruous. The real reason is that politicians worry about ‘intra-alliance’ power too. They dislike being a small player in a large coalition. That is why a ‘typical’ political coalition is medium-sized: big enough to cross the halfway mark, but not big enough to make each slice of the pie too small.

Following this general principle, it was obvious from the initial leads that Congress and JD(S) combine was the most natural post-poll alliance. A BJP-JD(S) combine would have been too big to be stable, given the numbers. In a way, the initial bounty of MLAs that BJP harvested also diminished the probability of BJP-JD(S) coming together! BJP had to cross the halfway mark on it’s own, possibly aided by independents and/or poaching.

Looking at the election this way totally changed the interpretation of the emerging scoreboard. Except may be for a brief period, BJP never crossed halfway mark on it’s own. And from 1.15 PM onward, they were firmly trailing behind the combined strength of the Congress and JD(S). And then around 2.00 PM came the bombshell announcement: Congress had offered unconditional support to JD(S) which wasted no time in accepting it.

And this was not merely an academic speculation. Since stock market was bullish on the BJP victory, there was a narrow window in which you could have capitalized on the misleading headlines: you could have shorted NSE benchmark index and made some quick bucks.

I am still regretting the missed opportunity.

Beyond petty politics

A few days ago my office folks had a long debate on the morality of voting. This entire conversation was ignited when one of the colleagues questioned how non-voting is considered to be a lesser moral position that voting. The conversation that followed was a like a strong debate where both sides had valid arguments. On one hand came the argument that supported non-voting as a lesser moral activity since it’s about the aggregates impact that registering the discontent has as opposed to not voting. On the other hand, it was argued that going to the voting booth to cast a NOTA (None Of The Above) vote was as good as showing dislike for all parties and emphasised on how little an impact a single vote has in such situations. I supported the latter. 

All of this conversation reminded me of a brilliant book by José Saramago called Seeing. Here’s the brief summary from a review:

The story begins with those ordinary citizens, who not so long ago regained their sight and their tranquil day-to-day lives, doing something that seems quite unconnected with vision or lack of it. It is voting day, and 83% of them, after not going to the polls at all in the morning, go in the late afternoon and cast a blank ballot.

We see the dismay of bureaucrats, the excitement of journalists, the hysteria of the government, and the mild non-response of the citizens, who, when asked how they voted, refuse to say, reminding the questioner that the question is illegal.

I will not ruin the book for you but it was interesting to remember how the story shows that coalitions and disagreements between parties is a much smaller problem for a democracy compared to apathy of the people. The citizens in the book were not just indifferent to who came to power but did not see how the person who did come to power would make any difference to them. This stark realisation brings forth the significance of governance and institutions structures that secure the incentives and relations between the civilians and their governments, beyond the rigmarole of political terms.

While the Congress and JD(S) government come into an agreement over Karnataka’s election, it is time to see beyond the petty politics and realise that although there has been just 0.9 per cent of NOTA votes this time, it is more than six smaller parties in Karnataka, including two parties with a nation-wide presence. 

PS: I would also highly recommend Death at Intervals by José Saramago.

Election Manifestos and Cow Dung

There seems to be no dearth of effort from the two national parties to woo the voters of Karnataka. Unfortunately, very little of it is geared towards long term growth strategies, employment creation, or raising the income levels. Can you identify the key differences between the two parties’ manifestos?

Spot the difference! From The Indian Express, found on Twitter.

As you can notice, there is actually not much of a difference between the two parties’ promises. Both the manifestos are ripe with populist schemes – from free laptops and smart phones, to Indira Canteens and gold and cash for marriages. Why does the government have to pay for ornaments and weddings, I will never understand.

To add to all of this, the BJP is also promising a farm loan waiver for loans up to 1 lakh. This follows a mini farm loan waiver done by the present Siddaramaiah government in 2017.  How many more times should we do farm loan waivers before the farmers are made better? The answer is not blowing in the wind. (Apologies to Nobel Laureate Mr. Dylan)

Finally, the BJP manifesto also proposed the launch ‘Gobar-dhana Yojane’ to help farmers monetise cow dung. Then, at least the cow dung will be worth more than these manifestos.