Debating India


The wave and what caused it

Tuesday 5 April 2005, by JOSHI*Dhananjai , YADAV*Yogendra

The Congress sweep came not so much by snatching votes directly from the INLD or through alliance arithmetic as by capitalising on a strong wave of resentment against the Chautala regime’s perceived authoritarianism, nepotism and corruption. Yogendra Yadav and Dhananjai Joshi draw on a post-poll survey conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies to present this exclusive analysis.

HARYANA HELD out no surprises on the morning of February 27. The anticipated electoral wave may not have been huge, but it was impressive by Haryana standards . The State has witnessed electoral sweeps in Lok Sabha elections, but Assembly elections have tended to be fragmented affairs, producing few overwhelming victories. The Congress, in particular, has not registered spectacular victories in this State. Since 1967, when the State’s first election was held, this is the first time that the Congress has got a two-thirds majority. Its previous best was in 1972 when, following the garibi hatao wave and the victory in the Bangladesh war, the party secured 52 seats in the then 81-member Assembly. The most spectacular victories in the State were registered by non-Congress forces: the Janata Party won 75 seats in the 1977 wave and the Lok Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance won 76 seats in the Devi Lal wave in 1987.

Given this background, the Congress’ tally of 65 seats this time should be noted. But the real significance of the victory goes beyond numbers. The Congress had lost the last two elections in the State. There was a real danger of the party sinking to a sub-optimal level, as it has in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, and getting caught in a spiral of defeat. This verdict has saved the Congress from sliding into that position, at least for the time being.

Compared with the 2000 Assembly election, the Congress has gained 11 percentage points in the vote share this time. In comparison, the losses of its opponents are smaller. The Indian National Lok Dal has lost about three percentage points, while the BJP has actually gained 1.4 percentage points. But that is deceptive, since both the BJP and Lok Dal did not contest all the seats last time; in real terms, both the parties suffered a sharp erosion in their votes-per-seats contested. The Bahujan Samaj Party also suffered an erosion after the exit of its leadership from south Haryana. Interestingly, despite all the talk of the rebel factor, the vote share of the Independents has actually declined by as much as 7.3 percentage points.

An analysis of how votes changed hands across the two Assembly elections shows that the Congress victory did not depend on snatching votes directly from the INLD. The party retained three-fourths of those who voted for it last time, while the INLD retained only a little over half of its voters. This difference gave the Congress a head start of seven percentage points over its main rival. The Congress got another three percentage points from ex-Haryana Vikas Party voters; in contrast, the INLD got a negligible share. This lead was enough to give the Congress a big victory. The net gain of 3.2 percentage points that the Congress had from the INLD - it snatched six percentage points from the INLD but lost 2.8 points to it - further boosted the Congress’ vote share and created a wave effect.

In a classic wave election like this one, it is tempting to say that everything went against the loser and that the winner could do no wrong. Hence the post-result commonsense: the INLD president, Omprakash Chautala, erred in breaking up his alliance, did not do much for the development of the State, and was punished for the doings of his son. The Congress, on the other hand, is said to have got everything right: it merged with the HVP, it selected candidates well , it managed factionalism , and so on. A close analysis of the result with the help of a post-poll survey conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) helps refute some of the simplistic conclusions.

Was this election decided in 2004?

In a way it was. And that is why a lot of discussion on the campaigning and the selection of candidates may be besides the point. As many as 58 per cent of the voters had made up their mind about who to vote for well before the campaign began; only 13 per cent made up their mind in the last few days. In Bihar the corresponding figures were 35 per cent and 29 per cent.

In overall terms, this verdict was a replay of the 2004 Lok Sabha elections when the ruling INLD faced a crushing defeat. The Congress’ tally of 65 almost matches the figure of 71 Assembly segments in which the party led last year. It has actually improved its vote share by half a percentage point since the Lok Sabha elections. This indicates a significant improvement, since the vote share of major parties in an Assembly election tends to be a little lower than in an election to the Lok Sabha.

The BJP’s vote share has dropped from 17.2 per cent in the Lok Sabha elections to 10.3 per cent in the Assembly elections, confirming once again that the party is not much of a force in State politics.

In comparision, the INLD improved its vote share by four percentage points; however, in terms of seats its tally of nine is about the same as the 10 segments in which it led in the Lok Sabha election.

If one looks at the micro picture, a lot has changed between the Lok Sabha and the Assembly elections.

In one out of every three seats, the party that led in the Lok Sabha polls failed to win the seat in the Assembly elections.

The Congress managed to retain 54 of the segments where it led in the Lok Sabha election while the others mostly failed to retain their segments.

In terms of voters, the Congress could retain 80 per cent of those who preferred it in the Lok Sabha election; the corresponding figures for the INLD was 71 per cent and for the BJP 44 per cent.

Did the Jats desert Chautala?

Actually, the Jats did not desert Mr. Chautala. But then the Jats did not vote en bloc for the INLD last time either. To read every verdict in Haryana as an expression of the changing mood of the Jat voters is a mistake.

It is true that the INLD lost heavily in those areas of Haryana identified as `Jatland’, but from this is not a basis for inferring that the community turned against Mr. Chautala’s party. The 17 predominantly urban seats and the 15 rural seats in south Haryana do not have a significant population of Jats. The Congress traditionally does very well in these areas. This time, it won every single urban seat and registered a very impressive 22-percentage points swing in its favour as compared to the last Assembly elections. It did not do very well in its traditional stronghold of the Yadav and Meo-dominated rural areas of south Haryana. The absence of any serious challenge from the INLD in this region meant that the Independents, mostly Congress rebels, emerged as the main opposition and restricted the Congress to just eight seats here.

There are as many as 35 rural seats in Haryana’s heartland where the Jats are the largest and decisive caste. The Congress won 28 of the `Jatland’ seats, a huge gain of 20 seats compared to the last election. The INLD could pick up only one seat in this region and suffered a loss of nearly eight percentage points in the vote share. The only region where the INLD retained some presence was the northern belt bordering the Punjab, in which Mr. Chautala’s home district of Sirsa is located, where it got seven seats. The Congress was wiped out from here last time; it won 14 seats this time.

This regional pattern, however, is not a reliable guide to the caste-community pattern of voting. A look at the direct evidence from the CSDS post-poll survey shows that it is wrong to assume that the INLD was defeated due to the Jats losing their confidence in it. The Jats are only about a quarter of the State’s electorate and can be hopelessly outnumbered in a polarised Jat versus non-Jat contest. Besides, it is not true that the INLD enjoys en bloc support among the Jats. Even at the peak of the INLD’s success in the last Assembly elections, a little less than half of the voters from this caste supported the INLD-BJP alliance; a significant minority went with the Congress and the Independents even in that election. This time the picture was no different: 40 per cent of the Jats voted for the INLD, while about a quarter each voted for the Congress and the Independents. In other words, the INLD did not lose many votes among the Jats, the Congress did not gain much among them.

At the same time, the Congress did not benefit from anti-Jat polarisation.The Congress secured a near-majority of the votes of other castes/communities (except Dalits) and made big gains compared to its poor show in the last Assembly elections. The INLD did get a fair share of support from the non-Jats, the "upper castes", the Other Backward Classes and Sikhs. The BJP got a fair share of the votes of the Punjabis, its traditional support base. However, it was way behind the Congress when it came to this group and among the "upper castes." Basically, this election was not about Jat versus non-Jat polarisation.

How crucial was the INLD’s break-up with the BJP?

The alliance arithmetic did matter in this election, but it was not crucial. The INLD and the BJP had an alliance in the 2000 Assembly election. Notwithstanding huge difficulties in the alliance - Mr. Chautala had put up Independents to defeat BJP candidates - the move succeeded in expanding the INLD’s social base and was critical to its victory. As it did in alliance with the Akalis in Punjab, the BJP’s "upper caste" and urban support had supplemented the INLD’s rural peasant base. This alliance collapsed before the Lok Sabha elections and could not be revived in the Assembly elections either.

The defeat would have been less humiliating had they had fought together. But it is unlikely that these two would have been able to convert sure defeat into victory. If the votes secured by the INLD and the BJP candidates in this election are merged, the combine emerges on top in as many as 29 constituencies, as against the measly 11 they managed. But even this would have left the Congress with a clear 51-seat majority. This of course is a hypothetical calculation. In real life, votes do not add up this way. But the conclusion is quite clear: an alliance with the BJP could not have saved the Chautala regime.

Similarly, while the HVP’s merger with the Congress just before the Lok Sabha election did help the latter, it was not crucial to the overall victory. The HVP did not have much to offer to the Congress. At the time of the 2004 Lok Sabha election, the HVP commanded only six per cent of the votes. Of these, less than half voted for the Congress, and that too mainly in the constituencies where the Congress put up candidates from the Bansi Lal clan. The expectation that this merger would significantly shift the Jat vote in favour of the Congress was belied. Outside Bansi Lal’s pocket borough in Bhiwani district, the HVP’s merger made little difference to the outcome.

Was this an indictment of Chautala?

Undoubtedly yes, but not for the reasons one might naturally assume. When confronted with a stark choice, as many as 62 per cent said the Chautala-led INLD government did not deserve another chance. That is a strong and negative verdict. Naturally, the non-INLD voters were near unanimous in wanting to throw the Government out; the "upper castes" and Dalits were also very harsh. But it is important to note than as many as 45 per cent of the Jats also said that the Chautala regime did not deserve another chance.

The Chautala government was not voted out on routine developmental issues of bijli, sadak and pani. As many as 73 per cent polled felt that despite its shortcomings, the Government did work for the State’s development. A majority of the Congress and BJP voters shared this sentiment. Mr. Chautala also won kudos for interacting with the people, improving the condition of the roads and helping the farmers. But he was indicted for a worsening of the law and order situation, poor supply of electricity, lack of irrigation facilities and rampant corruption. What really went wrong was the Government’s image of being corrupt, dictatorial and discriminatory. Nearly two-thirds felt that corruption had crossed all limits. About the same proportion felt that Mr. Chautala and his sons had unleashed a reign of terror in the State. Significantly, about a quarter of those who voted for the INLD agreed with these accusations. Similarly, there was general agreement that the Government was discriminatory. Its attempt at doling out jobs to retain its base may have proved counter-productive, for an overwhelming majority found this biased. Even the majority of the Jats, who were otherwise willing to overlook Mr. Chautala’s faults, were resentful on this count. As many as 60 per cent of the citizens agreed that the Government worked only for the Jats; the "upper castes" and the Dalits were most resentful on this count.

All in all, the voters of Haryana ended up with an unfavourable impression of the Chautala Government. Only 27 per cent were willing to say that whatever the Government did was for the good of the State. About 23 per cent saw nothing positive in what it had done. The remaining 50 per cent had a more sober, but essentially negative judgment: the Chautala Government did bring about development but was guilty of boosting corruption and criminality.

Is this the end of the road for INLD?

Clearly not. The INLD is the second largest party in the State, has a decent vote share and can bounce back. While it has not quite outgrown its structural limitation (it is still disproportionately dependent on the rural and Jat votes), the party has taken some steps towards reducing this dependence. It has the solid backing of about a quarter of the State’s voters and perhaps the strongest organisational network in the State.

This can serve as the basis for bouncing back. But for this to happen, Mr. Chautala and his family will have to counter the perception that the INLD is the "ABC Raj" (A for Ajay, the elder son, B for Billu, the younger son, and C for Chautala) - a family fiefdom, and worse, one that was perceived as being arrogant, unaccountable and authoritarian.

There is hope for Mr. Chautala’s party. The post-poll survey indicates that there are lots of expectations from the Congress Government. In particular, the voters expect it will be better at curbing corruption, providing employment, preventing atrocities against Dalits and controlling lawlessness. If the Congress does not perform on these counts, it could be preparing the ground for Mr. Chautala’s return to power.



THE POST-POLL survey was carried out in 80 locations in 20 Assembly constituencies spread across Haryana. A total of 762 persons in the voters list were interviewed in their homes one week following the day of polling.

The composition of those polled: 45 per cent women, 81 per cent rural residents, 24 per cent Jats, and 24 per cent Dalits.

The survey was fairly accurate in estimating the vote share for all the leading parties except the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP); the discrepancies have been corrected by weighing the reported vote by actual vote percentages for different parties.

The survey fieldwork was coordinated by Harish Kumar, Department of Journalism and Mass Communications, MD University, Rohtak, and Bandana Pandey, Department of Advertising, Management and Public Relations, Guru Jambeshwar University, Hissar.

The central team that coordinated the effort at the Centre for Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) included V.B. Singh, Yogendra Yadav, Sanjay Kumar, Dhananjai Joshi, Kanchan Malhotra, Himanshu Bhattacharya, Krishan Tyagi, Ved Prakash, Rakesh Kumar and H.A.Q.A. Hilal.

The post-poll survey was supported by The Hindu and the Indian School of Political Economy, Pune.

SPIP | template | | Site Map | Follow-up of the site's activity RSS 2.0