Numbers do not feel.

Elections are also about consolidation of sentiment Is it the new trend
Voices Opinion Wednesday, March 22, 2017 - 16:21

It takes time to read and understand a trend. There is Brexit, there is 'Nexit' in some quarters who wish to see Europe crumble and then there is who cares about polls and scare mongers. This piece is about concern and consolidation of a global trend that numbers or data points failed to spot and will continue to do so for a while.

A massive wave paused on a small coastline in Europe recently but not before pouring cold water on pollsters and fear-mongers. It brought glad tidings, the most important one being if there were to be a penalty box for pollsters, it would be over-crowded. Brexit was a no-brainer, Clinton was a no-brainer, remember? And elections in the Netherlands also went away from brainy analysts causing much fidgeting and fumbling. Closer home in Uttar Pradesh (UP), the decisive mandate for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) un-chocked discussions which will have to find new meaning and newer relevance.

In my view, we are seeing a large consolidation of issues that speak to local realities where uncertainty is the common ground. Consolidation can be around an idea, a policy, a vote, a family, an institution, a country or the returns in the third quarter. Prelude to a consolidation can be fear or ambition or both. What do people do when they are afraid? They typically seek solace in the known, which is another word for consolidation. If this sounds simplistic, its because that's how it is and it is perhaps the simplicity that has escaped lofty analysts. The message is that politicians and opposition have to engage intelligently if they want votes and nobody has a monopoly over 'intelligence' or 'perception.'

Ahead of the Dutch results, experts spoke about the Donald Trump wave from across the Atlantic which would be all over Europe beginning with Holland and making it’s way later in the year to France and finally Germany. In fact this time last year, Geert Wilder’s anti-immigration, anti-European party the PVV appeared poised to snatch power. The Dutch have managed to defang him but the issues raised during the campaign â€“ immigration, Muslims, racism â€“remain relevant. I read reports including from India that Europe was going to fall apart, come-unstuck and the the 28 European Union (EU) countries in the union would go their own way. It was reported that some 300 journalists covered the Dutch elections waiting for the domino effect to aid destroy Europe and drive each country more protectionist and less free. Journalists are not pollsters and those of us who pretend to be are doing a disservice all around. 

Europe is not falling apart as many in India, influenced by media in the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US) would like the world to believe. I vividly remember the reportage of the Sochi winter Olympics in Russia. While American reporters generally covered it like a war (some wrote long pieces on WW2), European stories were about the games. That is a generalisation, but the drift was clear. Europe is the world’s bloodiest continent and it’s regions and countries have been at war and peace for hundreds of years. The continent’s electoral systems have stood the test of time and fire to take on radical challenges to mature leadership. This is an advantage that continental democracies have over the US and the UK where, when push come to shove, the centre kicks in. Obstacles to Wilder’s success, Marie Le Pen’s National Front in France or the AfD in Germany are part of this democratic stir. There is already talk that France's Marie Le Pen will most likely make it to the second round and in a run off, will lose. 

But to dismiss the results of the Dutch elections as anything more that a question mark would be imprudent. Continental Europeans are asking themselves this question â€“ how prudent is it to understand the past and not examine the future ? In this conversation, the media is also viewed with suspicion as the â€˜Brexit media’ as much as the pollsters. What these two constituencies did not know or did not share was that their means of assessment and dialogue was out of touch with reality. branch they are sitting on.

Continental Europeans are consolidating around Europe which is their joint identity. The fact of the matter is there is no country in continental Europe where a party or parties demanding departure from the EU is anywhere near a majority. That is because continental Europe’s raison d’être is Europe, a complex construction of interests, trade and security. Consolidation is a people's thing as well and for now they seem to be having a direct conversation with democracy, akin to what we are seeing in UP. 

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