Economic and Political Weekly had a special issue recently which analysed the State elections held in seven states recently, just wanted to share some major trends/changes that I noticed, which I think will be important now and in the future in deciding India’s leadership.
- Delimitation: The election constituencies were recently changed to reflect the changing demographics in India. Thus, migration is making available more constituencies in urban areas. This is bound to have an effect on the political fortunes of the BJP, whose voter base has normally been urban.
- Young, educated, upper caste: Have always been the backbone of the BJP. The factors can be many: BJP is seen as less corrupt, cultural nationalism is always attractive to those whose bellies are full, the anonymity of the urban area might increase the nostalgia of the upper castes who anyway see Congress as anti-Brahmin etc.,
- Not-so-young, not-so-educated, lower caste: Have tended to support the Congress (even though they lost in OBC dominated MP and Chattisgarh), for probably no other reason than familiarity with the party and inability to relate to BJP’s ideologies. Minority voters have also supported the Congress, but atleast in Karnataka, the BJP is trying to remedy this by fielding or buying Muslim MLAs.
- Urban-rural/rich-poor/male-female divide: Democracy in its infancy in Western Europe, traditionally reserved suffrage for ‘those that deserved it’, which usually boiled down to male, educated, moneyed/landed citizens. In fact, even 100 years ago most European countries did not allow women to vote (Switzerland allowed them at the federal level in 1971, at lower levels only in 1990!!). Thus, most of Western politics still bears that stigma of the artificial caste system enforced – The proportion of male, educated, rich people voting is greater than the other end of the spectrum. India granted universal suffrage ( much to the scepticism of the elite media and politicians) and the structure of Indian politics has accordingly been the reverse (now you know why all the ads to vote feature only young urban kids!!). Thus, until (God forbid!!) mass migration from the rural areas is complete, the village will play an important role in politics.
- BSP: The Bahujan Samaj Party has started showing good performances outside its traditional base in U.P, especially in Rajasthan, Delhi and M.P. Even though it does not have many seats to show for its efforts, a party run for Dalits by a Dalit can only go upward from its present position, even more so considering that lower caste mobilization is hitting new highs.
- Anti-incumbency?: Atleast the major elections – M.P and Chattisgarh for the BJP and Delhi for the Congress have shown that assuming parties won’t remain in power just because of some vague anti-incumbency feeling among the electorate is false. There has been a definite correlation between voter’s perception of developmental performance of the government and its political fortunes in the elections.
- Too many cooks: In Karnataka and M. P, the sheer number of potential C.M candidates in the Congress, which inexplicably decided not to propose a C.M candidate till elections were over, has been pointed out as one of its failures. In both these states, Congress was supposed to have a good chance of winning. In contrast, the record-breaking win for Sheila Dixit in Delhi where she was projected as the de facto candidate even though party policy said otherwise helped pull it through.
- Ego before party: both national parties are guilty of this, and recent news has shown even more problems in the BJP camp, which is never a good omen. Congress seems to have realised this and not too many controversies have surfaced from their side.
All in all, even though I was expecting a BJP victory at the national level, unless something drastic happens, a hung parliament seems to be the most likely result, especially after looking at the state polls analysis. No party seems to have a clear edge, and BSP might just play kingmaker this time around, with Cong almost surely losing CPI(M) and RJD and BJP losing Biju Janata Dal (the new RSS sarangsanchalak seems highly pro-BJP, which for them is good). Will be an interesting contest!!