These days I get nightmares. Most of the nightmares are about that one awful day when I finally get up only to realize that all the taxi Apps have disappeared from my mobile phone. Yes, every single one, be it Ola or Taxi4Sure or Uber, imagine all of them suddenly disappearing from the scene and you no longer get those awfully discounted rides. Our commuting lives would then go back to square one. We would be at the mercy of ill-tempered old taxiwallahs and atrociously overcharging autowallahs. For somebody who commutes regularly in different cities of India using public transport this would be nothing short of a nightmare.
“I have made more money in the last 6 months than I have ever made in the last 6 years” Manjeet Singh confessed to me on that busy stretch of Gurgaon-Delhi expressway in between musical interludes on the FM radio. “For every ten rides that we complete in a day, Ola is now paying us 3000 rupees as bonus. Many drivers have bought a second taxi using all the money that they have made over the last few months” he further enlightened me with a broad smile on his face.
There is a mad rush among the various competing Taxi-App companies to enroll as many cabs as possible and be the number one service provider. The competition is so tough that not only are these Taxi-Apps not charging any money for their services but are also instead paying unheard of incentives to taxi drivers and commuters alike. “Today there are 24000 Ola cabs in the city” informs another cabbie in Bangalore, “last Sunday 16000 of us completed 10 rides each and all of us were paid 3000 rupees incentives!”
In cities like Bangalore and Delhi, even students are using cabs these days by downloading an app which offer 100 rupee discounts on the first ride. “4 students hired my cab one day from the airport and they would stop the cab after every few kilometers and rebook using the mobile app from a different phone as each one of them had an app downloaded and a ready 100 rupee discount. Thus they completed their entire trip almost free of cost and it was beneficial for me too as it helped me complete 10 rides that day” Manjeet Singh narrated his taxi-tale with jest. “In fact sir jee, these days even construction labourers in Dilli hire a cab sometimes and pay 10-20 rupees each to reach to their work in the morning” his amusing tales continued. There are so many tales that I have heard from the cabbies of the mobile app generation that I might have to come out with a mini booklet to recount them all.
No wonder I get nightmares these days of all the Taxi-Apps disappearing from my phone. I am so accustomed now to travelling cheap with a happy cab driver that I may find it difficult to get back to my haggling old ways of trying to save the last penny from an overarching autowallah.
This is how much we love a freebie. It is ingrained in us middle and lower class material beings to get the maximum bang for the buck. We simply cannot be any other way. I know at the back of my mind that this Ponzi scheme of taxi-apps cannot go on forever and these Olas and Taxi4Sures and Ubers will start demanding their pound of flesh at one point of time or other. I also know that once these Apps start demanding their pound of flesh I (and the cabbie) would have to pay for every free ride I have ever had, and some more, with interest, but I just want to make merry as long as it lasts.
Therefore I understand the Delhi voter. In fact I empathize with him (stress on the “him” as women are usually far more farsighted than us men). Yes, he has made a bad choice, but he has been offered a free wifi to book a free taxi along with free bijlee and free paani and free what not. How could he say no to all that? Yes, this Ponzi scheme of Kejriwal will come to an end at some point of time, but as long as it lasts why shouldn’t the Delhi voter not enjoy it? “We will always have Modi ji as the back-up for good governance, let us get free WiFi from the state government for some time at least” as one student volunteer of AAP put it so succinctly during my travails for a pre-poll survey.
The freebies that AAP offered were supplemented by a fantastic media campaignthat worked against the BJP at every step of this election. Yet it would be a fallacy to conclude that AAP won Delhi just because of freebies and the media, for the mistakes that BJP committed were far too many as we examined in our last pre-poll survey just 2 days before the polling day. Thus, BJP which was initially enjoying a clear lead began to rapidly decline even as AAP’s fortunes were on the ascendancy.
Did BJP know about this changing trend in Delhi elections? Obviously the party did. We, despite being an independent pollster, informed the party at least on two occasions about the trend that was going against the saffron party. What did BJP do about the feedback is a matter of concern for all those who have been supporting the party to alter the destiny of India.
The problem with BJP’s electoral machinery right now is that it is too deeply aligned to the trend – which essentially means that the party can produce stunning results when trends are favourable to it as it did in the national elections last summer or in Haryana and Maharashtra. We believe there are no systems in place within BJP’s electoral machinery to fight elections when the trend goes against the party.
There are alternate mechanisms like STATE (Short Term Alteration of Trend Elections) which must be incorporated into the BJP’s electoral machinery to deal with elections where the trend is against the party if BJP wants to build a long term Indian empire. For instance in Delhi if there were proper systems like STATE in place the party’s reaction times would have been a lot better on a whole host of issues. Let us take the example of AAP funding scam which suddenly stirred the pot and could have potentially created great levels of resentment among the AAP volunteer system, but BJP’s response itself was quite half-hearted on this issue and it simply fizzled out within 48 hours.
Similarly, one of the big positives for the BJP going into this election was the lowering of fuel prices and control of inflation which we were able to discern in our very first poll survey. What did BJP do about it? Absolutely nothing! BJP’s campaign was already pre-designed along the lines of harping about AAP’s 49 day misadventure and the induction of Kiran Bedi into the party that they never really thought of reacting to genuine feedback from our genuine survey findings. By the time the Prime Minister made the “naseebwala” statement about controlling inflation it was already too late, for AAP had ceased the opportunity and had run a false campaign about “mehengai”. Even Shekhar Gupta and NDTV’s Prannoy Roy were able to discern AAP’s false campaign built on price-rise but BJP simply failed to understand the import of this falsehood in time. Here BJP failed to understand the basic rule of Indian elections where the loud noise built on a false campaign can succeed even while a silent campaign of truth fails.
Another aspect that should really worry the party was the incoherent social media campaign in an urban city-state like Delhi. The party must understand that its engagement with the internet support base is a continuous process and not just a once-in-a-five-year electoral phenomenon. Hope the party has learnt its lessons from Delhi and involves its SM base far more robustly in its future campaigns and also in formulating policy decisions by the government. BJP must remember that till the time it has a more favorable media atmosphere in place, social media acts as the great buffer which alters the narrative built by an antagonistic Dilli media.
To lose an election in which you are ahead takes a lot of mistakes to be committed and BJP has lost Delhi despite being ahead at the beginning of the race. What a loss this has been. AAP has won 53%+ popular vote share and a clear landslide while BJP has struggled at its base level of 34% which the party has had since 2 decades now. AAP has completely gobbled up Congress and “others” vote-bases while BJP has remained stagnant. It is as if Delhi has simply decided to temporarily disregard the Modi wave and not give any incremental vote to BJP. Instead all the incremental vote has gone to AAP. No pollster, including us at 5Forty3 datalabs could project such a landslide for AAP. This is what happens when there is a trend reversal in an election. After a trend reversal, the leading party manages to simply accumulate far greater vote-share than the whole opposition combined.
This Delhi result is a great wakeup call for the BJP as a party and the Modi government both of whom have been on a dream run for almost a year now. While BJP has been winning almost every election that it has come across, the Modi government too has had a dream like first 8 and a half months with fortune favoring it in a big way. Almost history defying levels of global crude prices and the consequent easing of inflation, the cyclical upturn in economic activity in India, the unusually long rope provided by central bankers of the western world leading to continuous availability of cheap paper money and Modi’s showman like approach to foreign policy had given this government an extended period of honeymoon. The adverse Delhi result, despite it being a glorified mayoral election, has come at the right time to remind us of the job at hand, a job that is not going to be easy at all.
To that extent the lackluster performance of BJP in Delhi has come exactly at a time when the Modi government needed a wakeup call. Yesterday, the government released the third quarter GDP numbers (new methodology) which showed a 7.4% uptick as compared to 6.9% last year, but the fact remains that there has been no real growth in terms of output and all we are seeing is value addition (which essentially means that there is no volume growth but we are producing stuff at a cheaper price). The real measure of economic growth in the third quarter of 2014-15 comes from the quarterly results of L&T which saw a dismal drop of 14% in standalone profits (L&T results are generally considered by economists as a good measure of economic activity due to its varied presence in the capital goods market). In fact, L&T’s has only been the latest in a string of disappointing quarterly results that have been defining the month of February which has so far seen the Sensex lose some 400 points in the last 10 days.
Thus the Delhi wakeup call is a stark reminder to the Modi government on the economic front too. Hope and good fortune have helped the BJP government for 8 months, now the ball is in Arun Jaitley’s court. Can Modi inspire the finance minister to really come out with a revolutionary budget that will power India to newer heights or will it be business as usual? February 10th Delhi result is just a minor blip on the Modi regime no matter what the media says, the real defining moment will come on February 28th.