The Cambridge dictionary describes it as a “very small amount” but ask anyone who knows Hindi, the person would say ‘baal baal bacha’ (a narrow margin) is what the idiom ‘by a whisker’ means. In election season, who else but a politician would be better suited to explain the gravity of this otherwise innocuous and oft-used idiom of the English language?
‘By a very small amount’–victory or defeat? The beauty of this idiom is that it can be used for either situations.
For instance, how do you describe a situation where someone gets elected as an MP or an MLA with just one additional vote? Is ‘by a whisker’ too general a description for it to capture the range of emotions that the victor and the defeated go through once the results are declared? Does this idiom do justice to the drama and trauma that the lack and presence of that one deciding vote can create?
Hang on. We are not in a philosophy class, so let’s keep things real.
Believe it or not, but this has happened in India. Not once, but there have been at least two occasions when a person was elected as an MLA after securing just one extra vote than the runners-up.
In the 2004 Karnataka assembly elections, AR Krishnamurthy of the Janata Dal (Secular) lost to Congress’s R Dhruvanarayan by just one vote. This happened in the Santhemarahalli (SC) assembly seat. Krishnamurthy garnered 40,751 votes while Dhruvanarayan emerged victorious with just one extra vote (40,752).
There have been at least two occasions when a person was elected as an MLA after securing just one extra vote than the runners-up.
The second such instance was during the 2008 assembly elections in Rajasthan. This was in the Nathdwara assembly constituency where Congress’s CP Joshi and BJP’s Kalyan Singh Chouhan were contesting against each other. When the results were declared, Chouhan got 62,216 votes while Joshi had to make peace with 62,215 votes.
This was a shocker for Joshi as he was not only the president of the Rajasthan Congress but also a frontrunner for the chief ministerial post. Though he led his party to victory, he lost his own seat by just one vote.
The matter went to the court and Joshi alleged that Chouhan’s wife had cast vote in two polling booths. The Rajasthan High Court ruled in Joshi’s favour but ultimately, he lost the case in the Supreme Court.
As luck would have it, a 2013 report in the Times of India mentions that reportedly CP Joshi’s mother, sister and driver could not turn up to vote for him on the polling day. Coincidently, in Karnataka too Krishnamurthy’s driver wanted to vote but could not do so because Krishnamurthy himself did not give him break from his duty on the polling day.
Irrespective of whether these anecdotes are true or not, what they clearly outline is the importance of every single vote in an election.
A recent example is from the Mizoram assembly elections that were held in 2018. In the Tuivawl (ST) assembly seat, Lalchhandama Ralte of the Mizoram National Front (MNF) defeated sitting Congress MLA RL Pianmawia by just three votes. Ralte secured 5,207 votes while Pianmawia got 5,204 votes in the election.
There have been at least two instances between 1962 and 2014 when victory and defeat was decided by 9 votes in a Lok Sabha election.
Dissatisfied with the result, Pianmawia demanded a recount of votes. The Election Commission agreed but even after recount, the vote difference remain unchanged.
In the Lok Sabha elections too, data of the Election Commission of India show that there have been at least two instances between 1962 and 2014 when victory and defeat was decided by single digit votes.
The first time this happened was in 1989 when Konathala Ramakrishna of the Congress won the Lok Sabha election from Anakapalli seat in Andhra Pradesh by securing just nine extra votes from the runners-up.
The second instance was in 1998 when BJP’s Som Marandi won from the Rajmahal Lok Sabha seat in Bihar. This time too, the margin was just nine votes.
Closer to date, in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Thupstan Chhewang of the BJP won from Ladakh with a victory margin of just 36 seats.
In total, since 1962, there have been eight MPs who were elected to the Lok Sabha with their victory margin being in single or double digits.
On April 11, as voting for the first phase of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections starts, these instances serve as a humble reminder that in an election, every vote matter.
As for the idiom by a whisker’ in the context of election results, AR Krishnamurthy sums it up well in a 2013 press interview saying he wouldn’t wish even his bitter enemy to lose an election in this manner i.e. by just one vote.
Too thin a whisker. Was it?
(IndiaToday.in does not claim that these are the only cases where victory margin was so narrow.)
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