Debating India

Behind an electoral wave in Madhya Pradesh

Saturday 5 April 2003, by KUMAR*Sanjay, YADAV*Yogendra

In this, the third of a five-part series analysing the recent Assembly election results in five States, Yogendra Yadav and Sanjay Kumar of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi, present the picture in Madhya Pradesh. The field work for the post-election survey was coordinated by Ram Shankar.

IN MADHYA PRADESH, it was not the verdict itself but the severity of it that surprised everyone. All the pre-election polls had consistently indicated a victory for the Bharatiya Janata Party. Still, the impact of the BJP wave was something of a surprise. Of the 228 Assembly seats for which results have been officially declared, the BJP has won 171, representing a three-fourths majority. The BJP has surpassed its previous record of winning 169 of the 230 seats in the new State of Madhya Pradesh, while the Congress won only 39 seats and barely escaped its worst-ever record of 1990.

In psephological terms there is nothing surprising about the verdict. While the Congress enjoyed a comfortable majority in the previous Assembly, it was sitting on a very thin margin of just one per cent in terms of votes. A small swing of 2 per cent against the Congress is all that the BJP needed this time in order to dislodge the ruling party. In the final analysis, the swing against the Congress was as much as 9.2 per cent. Although the BJP’s gain was only 3.5 percentage points, the shift was big enough to tilt the scales massively against the ruling party.

Finally, the BJP secured a 12-point lead over the Congress. The Congress polled 31.8 per cent of the votes, while the BJP polled 42.7 per cent. It might look odd that the BJP has won 75 per cent of the seats on the strength of just 42 per cent votes, but that is the logic of the first-past-the-post system that is followed in India. In this system, any double-digit lead in the popular vote results in a landslide in terms of seats. The winner takes all. The Congress cannot possibly complain, for it has been the beneficiary of this very system all along.

The verdict has all the features of an electoral wave that we have come to see so often in the last two decades. The wave broke all the traditional boundaries and levelled the electoral battleground. The BJP not only snatched back its traditional stronghold of Malwa but also managed to inflict a humiliating defeat on the Congress in the latter’s traditional strongholds of Mahakoshal and the tribal belt of Malwa. In these two regions, the swing against the Congress was more than average, at 13.3 per cent and 11.2 per cent respectively. In Mahakoshal, the Congress won only 10 of the 57 Assembly seats, while in the tribal belt it won only five of the 28 seats. But this does not indicate that the Congress was in a comfortable position in the other regions of the State. It is only in the Chambal region that the Congress did not lose any seats, but that was mainly because it did not have too many to defend. The rout of the Congress was so severe that except in the case of four districts, the party’s vote share went down in all the districts.

Such a huge wave leads to a large-scale shift in votes. The post-election survey conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies confirms this. The Congress retained only 59 per cent of its 1998 voters, while the BJP retained 86 per cent. What made the difference was that among those who voted for the Congress in 1998, 22 per cent shifted to the BJP in this round, compared to only 8 per cent of the BJP voters who shifted in the opposite direction. The post-election survey also gives a clue about the pattern of the traditional voters of the different parties. In the survey, an equal proportion of the voters identified themselves as traditional supporters of the two big parties. But while 81 per cent of the traditional BJP voters voted for the same party, only 65 per cent of the traditional Congress voters voted for it. Among the traditional Congress voters, 19 per cent voted for the BJP. A large number of non-committed voters also voted for the BJP, which gave a clear lead to the party. This is very typical of a wave.

As in the case of the regions, the wave also reduced the differences between various social groups. The BJP led among virtually all the social groups, even those that traditionally supported the Congress, while improving its lead among its own traditional supporters. The survey indicates that the BJP retained and improved upon its traditional upper caste vote, including even the Rajputs, former Chief Minister Digvijay Singh’s own caste. The BJP’s strategy of projecting Uma Bharti, who belongs to the other backward class category, as the chief ministerial candidate helped it consolidate the OBC support base that the BJP has carefully cultivated over the years.

The findings of the survey suggest that among OBC voters, 50 per cent voted for the BJP and only 26 per cent for the Congress. The Dalit vote was divided as the Congress was damaged both by the BJP and the Bahujan Samaj Party. The Congress did obtain more adivasi votes than the BJP, but that is hardly a consolation, for the Congress vote has come down from 60 per cent or more to only 40 per cent among the adivasis this time. The BJP has improved its standing among adivasi voters, and the Gondawana Ganatantra Parishad (GGP) has taken away a significant chunk of Gond adivasi votes that were traditionally with the Congress. The division of adivasi votes benefited the BJP as it picked up 36 of the 41 Assembly seats reserved for the Scheduled Tribes with some help from its assured non-adivasi voters in these constituencies. The BJP gained votes across all classes, increased its lead among the well-to-do and secured a lead even among the very poor. As a social group, only Muslims stayed solidly behind the Congress. But that was simply not enough to save the Congress from its defeat.

The survey indicates that the BJP has made inroads into the rural areas as well, which were considered the traditional strongholds of the Congress. Among the rural voters, 42 per cent voted for the BJP and only 30 per cent voted for the Congress. In the urban areas of Madhya Pradesh, the gap between the two parties was much less, though the BJP took the lead.

In the face of this wave, nothing could have saved the Congress, not even the much-talked-about Congress-BSP alliance. Of the 171 seats that the BJP won, only in 36 does the BSP vote exceed the BJP’s victory margin. Even if one assumes that all these 36 seats would have been won by the Congress, in the absence of a BSP candidate, the BJP still would have secured a comfortable majority. The tacit understanding with the BSP did help the Congress in the Chambal region, but the help was simply not enough.

What caused this wave of anger? The simple answer is: non-performance, or at least perceived non-performance. It was the party’s failure on the basic issues of governance and quality of life that caused its defeat. The survey results indicate that 49 per cent of the voters were dissatisfied with the performance of the State Government. Even among the Congress voters, 22 per cent expressed the same opinion.

As many as 61 per cent of the voters thought the Digvijay Singh Government to be fully or somewhat corrupt. The resentment must be very high, for there is even an element of nostalgia for the previous BJP government that was in power from 1990 to 1993. At the end of the second regime, 36 per cent of the voters rated the Sunderlal Patwa regime to be better than the Congress government, compared to the 25 per cent that stood by the Digvijay Singh Government.

Voters were highly dissatisfied with the irregular power supply and the long hours of power cuts. The survey showed that 79 per cent of them felt that the quality of power supply had worsened in the last five years. Similar sentiments were expressed about the condition of roads in Madhya Pradesh. All of 62 per cent of the voters stated that the condition of roads had worsened during the last five years. About irrigation facilities for the farmers, 42 per cent felt that it deteriorated during the same period. Not surprisingly, then, for 65 per cent of the voters it was the problem of water and electricity supply that was the main issue while voting. No other issue, be it Ayodhya, Bhojshala or cow protection, generated any significant support. Digvijay Singh and his strategists thought that concerns about electricity and roads were predominantly urban concerns. But they were profoundly mistaken.

Electoral waves tend to be temporary and have in the past been reversed as easily as they came about. The Congress may be down, but with one-third of the popular vote it is certainly not out of the reckoning. It may not be easy for the Congress to bounce back by the next Lok Sabha elections, but in a two-party race the party is bound to be back.

There are some indicators, however, that suggest a challenge to the established two-party system of the State. The BSP may have lost all but two of its seats, and suffered a serious setback in the Chambal stronghold in its attempt to help the Congress and as a result of the split in the party before the elections. But on the whole the party has increased its vote share and has registered a presence in areas where it was non-existent earlier.

The BSP continues to be a big player in Madhya Pradesh politics. The much-talked-about Nationalist Congress Party proved to be a non-starter, but the Samajwadi Party has done very well by picking seven seats. The GGP may have won only two seats, but its votes in the adivasi belt of Mahakoshal can upset the settled equations. Put together, all these small players can fracture the political arena and it is not inconceivable that Madhya Pradesh may go the Uttar Pradesh way.


The survey methodology

This analysis is based on a post-election survey conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), Delhi, exclusively for The Hindu. The field work for the survey was conducted on December 1 and 2. The voters were interviewed in their homes soon after the voting was over on December 1. The field work was completed before the counting began on December 4. The interviews were conducted using a standard, structured questionnaire. In order to maintain confidentiality, dummy ballot papers and dummy ballot boxes were used while eliciting from respondents the answer to the voting question.

The sample was finalised in three stages. First, the Assembly constituencies were selected. Then the localities where the survey would be done were chosen. Then, the respondents were identified.

In Madhya Pradesh, the survey was conducted in a sample of 49 Assembly constituencies out of the total of 230. In the second stage of sampling, in each of the 49 Assembly constituencies four localities were randomly selected, the number adding up to 196. In the third stage of sampling, respondents were randomly selected from the electoral rolls of the chosen localities. In order to account for any non-response from the chosen voters, a slightly higher number of respondents was selected than the actual number of interviews that were expected to be conducted. Of the total of 3,528 respondents, 1,814 were interviewed in Madhya Pradesh.

A team of 100 field investigators and five supervisors conducted the field work. The central team at the CSDS comprised Himanshu Bhattacharya, Banasmita Bora, Chetan Bahrmoria, Abhay Datar, K.A.Q.A. Hilal, Bhaskar Jha, Purushottam Kumarr Jha, Dhananjai Joshi, Rajat Joshi, Manoj Kumar, Kanchan Malhotra and Ved Prakash.

Similar analyses pertaining to Delhi and Rajasthan were published in these columns on December 8 and 9. The series will continue.

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