Friday, February 17, 2017

Psephology Rocks: Uttar Pradesh and Why You Should Care

psephology
(noun) 1. The study of elections.

Part of the joy of elections and my amateur study of them is stumbling across an election that you didn't even know was going on and realizing that it's kind of a big deal- so imagine my excitement when I realized that legislative elections in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh were underway!

Indian elections are probably my favorite things in the world...  their national elections are the largest exercises in mass democracy anywhere in the world and it takes them about a month to get all the voting done- Uttar Pradesh is it's largest state with a population of just under 200 million and it's legislative election kicked off on February 11th and it's going to last until March 8th. In a word: awesome.

(Parenthetical time: elections in India are pretty much ignored by the US media and that needs to change- a point that John Oliver made on his show a few years back. India is a large and growing economy and it's going to be very important in the 21st Century- so pay attention, damn it. Plus, there's this describing their very first elections, taken from Ramachandra Guha's excellent history of independent India, India After Gandhi: The History of The World's Largest Democracy- appropriately, the title of the chapter covering their first elections is appropriate- it's entitled: 'The Biggest Gamble In History.'
Some numbers will help us understand the scale of Sen's enterprise. At stake were 4,500 seats- about 500 for Parliament and the rest for the provincial assemblies. Some 224,000 polling booths were constructed and equipped with 2 million steel ballot boxes, require 8,200 tons of steel. To type d collate the electoral rolls by constituencies 16,500 clerks were appointed on six-month contracts. About 380,000 reams of paper were used for print the rolls. To supervise the voting, 56,000 presiding officers were chosen. They were aided by 280,000 "lesser" staff members; and 224,000 policemen were put on duty to stop violence and intimidation. 
The elections and the electorate were spread out over an area of more than 1 million square miles. The terrain was huge, diverse, and- for the project at hand- sometimes horrendously difficult. In remote hill villages, bridges had to be specially constructed across rivers; in small islands in the Indian Ocean, naval vessels were used to take the rolls to the booths.
At the time, the size of the Indian electorate was 176 million- 85% of which could not read or write. 389,916 phials indelible ink were used to avoid impersonation. Right now, the size of Uttar Pradesh's population alone is larger than the Indian national electorate in 1952.

Their elections are the largest exercises in mass democracy in human history. Each and every national election in Indian should be a headline grabbing event- and no joke, I would love, love, love to get a grant large enough just to go spend a month there and watch their elections up close. If there's one thing that could prod me into rolling up my sleeves and getting a PhD, it's India and it's democracy- it's Constitution especially bears further study, as Guha's book calls it the most significant political document since the American Constitution.

It's a nation of over a billion people that has a democracy that is vibrant and fascinating and while perhaps, not perfect- it had a brief hiccup in the late 70s during Indira Gandhi's 'Emergency' period- it still stands today. And to me, that's awesome.)

Anyway- so Uttar Pradesh- why should you care? Well, I don't know if it's a bellwether state every time around, but The Economist seems to think that it's going to be a good indication of how the next national election- scheduled in 2019 might go. It's early days yet, but this is what I've dug up: there are some indications of worry for the BJP- but to the benefit of the Samajwadi-Congress alliance, which is bypassing the BSP (lead by former Chief Minister Mayawati- who is one of the most powerful women you've never heard of.) But then again, there's also this report which seems to indicate things are sunny and awesome for the BSP.

Who the hell knows how it's all going to end up? The election is a month long...  so, put a reminder on your Google calendar and when you see that random news article about the final results of the elections in Uttar Pradesh go by, click on it and read it. These elections and this part of the world is important, damn it. We should be paying attention.

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