What We (Don't) Learn About 'Indians' From The Indian Election

Call me bitter because my own prognostication was off, but as I mentioned in the post where I attempted to test my own sense of general trends in Indian politics against my ability to predict election results, I find rapid post mortems from the very institutions and people who failed to accurately predict the elections both puzzling and structurally insidious.  Setting aside the comments that are deliberately designed to further political ambitions (i. those from Mamata Bannerjee or Rahul Gandhi or many others), the extent to which the media and 'analysts' play a role in quickly constructing a narrative about the results of the election is seeming like as much of a ritual as the one they engage in during the voting itself (writing about the 'world's largest democracy' etc.).   It's almost like India is developing a multi-headed hegemonic chattering class to go along with its 'democracy' ;)

Don't get me wrong - I know the temptation and do succumb to easy explanations.   Moreover, it is worth noting that the Indian government can conduct as complicated a process as staged elections involving hundreds of millions of people.  But the lack of self-reflection--one might even say hubris-- on the part of the media.  There are hundreds of millions of people who vote in a very complicated process involving many political parties in many different political contexts, and within 24 hours, the literati feel equipped to provide a ready explanation of what it all means.  That's not to say that no explanations are possible or that these are malicious people - I know at least one of the writers I cite below and they're quite lovely- but it seems irresponsible not to spend the time to give these several hundred million people an explanation worth having about all the things this election might demonstrate.  In some cases, this is implicitly noted by the manner in which the stories are written - some stories contain far more facts and far less speculation about what 'Indians' think.

Anyway, I mainly wanted to use this space to offer you some examples for good cheer and ironically my flatmate has asked me to explain the Indian elections to her :).  Hopefully someone will soon have more productive commentary to offer than my carping, but for now, here you go - have a good chuckle at some of the claims being made:

The Hindu: The Indian National Congress and its allies stormed back to power in the Lok Sabha on Saturday as the country’s voters decisively indicated their preference for a stable government in New Delhi.

The Times of India: India has yet again been surprised by Indians....This election was supposed to be without any national issue. The Indian voter, however, had different ideas — he has voted with his feet for a coherent and stable government.

New York Times: The Congress Party’s showing vindicates the prime minister’s efforts to deepen a strategic partnership with the United States at a time when the Obama administration is deeply concerned about security in the region, chiefly in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Wall Street Journal: Congress' victory can hardly be seen as an approval rating for the way things have been. Rather, it is a reflection of the type of government, ideologically and practically, that Indians need and want, at least right now. The multiple terrorist attacks of the last few years, from Guwahati in the east to Mumbai in the west, show that a nation cannot leapfrog from socialist state to superpower without getting a few basics right along the way.

Summary: 
The Indian elections are over, the predictions are wrong again, and the media still thinks it can tell us what it all means...

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The entire electoral process

The entire electoral process in India is studded with uncertainties.. Even the India media failed to predict the resurgence of the Congress Party!!

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