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Revolutionizing Indian Election Analysis


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Analysis of the 4th list of BJP – Part 1: The UP 53

BJP came up with its 4th list of candidates for the LS polls over the weekend and it looks like finally the jigsaw is falling in its place. As would be the case with any political party, especially the frontrunner, there is some amount of heart burn among those who have been denied a ticket to fight elections, but overall BJP seems to have avoided any major mishaps. For an antagonistic media and the intellectual class who were pinning their last hopes on a big fight erupting in the saffron camp vis-à-vis Sushma Swaraj-Murli Manohar Joshi v/s the new BJP, were left disappointed. Even minor acrimony in the form of Kalraj Mishra-Lalji Tandon types didn’t arise, so the newspapers started reporting names like former MLA, Ram Iqbal Singh and Nawal Kishore Yadav etc. who are not recognizable even within their own constituencies – such is the precipice of the intellectual falling down.

There is one clear pattern that is emerging from the BJP ticket distribution this time, that there is no pattern at all! For instance, in Bihar’s first list of 20 odd names, there were as many as 9 new entrants, but hardly 4 names out of 53 announced in UP can be termed as outsiders. What does this tell us? BJP is looking purely at electoral math independent to each state rather than working on any single political philosophy. Thus if bringing outside talent suits the political environment prevailing in Bihar, then a pro-BJP wave in UP only helps core ideological elements rather than turncoats. This “winnability being the sole criteria” will hold the party in good stead in the summer of 2014 notwithstanding whatever minor acrimonies are as of today.

There is one surprisingly negative aspect to BJP’s ticket distribution though – it seems the party somehow doesn’t have the same clarity in the smaller north-western states (the Punjab-Jammu belt) as in the heartland (UP-Bihar region). As it is the Jammu shenanigans has already become famous, now BJP seems to have made a mess in Punjab and parts of Haryana too. Will these small bits and pieces hurt BJP, or will the larger picture camouflage these minor indiscretions remains to be seen.

Uttar Pradesh

The 53 names announced from UP are a unique balancing act that has Amit-Shah and Rajnath Singh written all over it (there are some reports suggesting that the western part of the state had that latter’s imprint while the eastern parts were left to the former). Could this list have been better? The answer to that question would always be yes, but then the nature of elections is such that trade-offs are simply unavoidable. The bottom line is that this probably is the best possible list of 53 names that the party could have come up with under the circumstances. Now let us analyse UP as four sub-regions, for Uttar Pradesh is literally a country within a country.

Purvanchal

This is the Bhojpuri heartland of eastern Uttar Pradesh which shares its socio-cultural moorings with western Bihar (the Buxar-Champaran belt) which was historically ruled by Kashi Naresh (the emperor of Benares) with the oldest city in the world, Varnasi as its capital. Purvanchal is not only made up of 23 LS seats of Uttar Pradesh but also influences a dozen LS seats of western Bihar. Thus with a chunk of 35 MPs, the political importance of this region can never be overestimated. Amit Shah, the trusted lieutenant of Modi and in-charge of UP affairs, had realized long ago that winning Purvanchal would be the key to mission 2014 so he was always clear about BJP’s prime ministerial nominee contesting from this region. Although there is no real data to prove that a popular leader contesting in a particular region makes any difference to the party’s eventual seat tally, what cannot be denied at all is that Modi’s contest from here has immensely enthused ordinary workers.

Varanasi: Narendra Bhai Damodardas Modi, BJP’s prime-ministerial candidate, will be contesting from the oldest city of the world. BJP has three sitting MLAs in Varanasi North, South and Cantonment assembly segments, which have total voters of about 12 lakh plus. Assuming 60% voting at least, roughly 7 lakh Varanasi city voters (of all the three assembly segments) should go out to vote on the 12th of May as Varanasi will go to polls on the last day of polling. Our current conservative estimates based on ground reports (not on actual survey) suggest that BJP and Modi should take an almost unassailable lead by getting around 4 lakh votes (out of 7 lakh possible turnout in the city). There are roughly 7 lakh voters in the two other Kurmi dominated assembly segments of Rohaniya and Sevapuri. The Kurmis, like any other OBCs in the heartland have tremendous goodwill for NaMo, so BJP should once again get anywhere about 2-3 lakh votes in these two assembly segments put together, assuming a turnout range of 55-60%. In the 2009 LS polls, BJP’s Murli Manohar Joshi had won this seat by a margin of 17k after securing 2 lakh+ votes. This time we are projecting that Modi could get anywhere between 5 to 6 lakh votes and win this seat easily with a margin of 3-5 lakhs, no matter who contests against him. Rating: Super Positive

Salempur: Ravindra Kushwaha has been given the party ticket from this Kushwaha dominated seat in a strategically brilliant move, for he happens to be the son of Hari Kewal Sharma, a four time Samajwadi Party MP from Salempur. Former PM, Chandrashekhar’s son Pankaj Shekhar was eyeing this seat, but BJP seems to have kept only winnability as the criteria in deciding the candidature. There has been some resentment among BJP leaders like Ram Iqbal Singh about ticket being given to a new inductee, but most of these leaders are well past their sell-by dates. Rating: Positive

Bhadohi: Virendra Singh Mast, a product of the Ayodhya movement and twice MP during the 90s from neighbouring Mirzapur, has once again been resurrected by the party despite him losing 1999 and 2004 LS polls and even failing to save deposit in a by-election from Ballia necessitated by the death of former PM Chandrashekhar. Many see his candidature as a wasted opportunity, but the fact is that Virendra Singh still has clout and has a decent chance of emerging victorious in a close three cornered fight between BJP, SP and BSP, especially because he has been working on the ground for the last couple of years. With the prevailing Modi wave in this region, BJP should manage to take this seat, where it had finished a distant fifth in 2009 behind parties like Apna Dal, but the 4 lakh plus Brahmin votes will be crucial for the party in the end analysis. Rating: Average

Chandauli: Here the contest is mainly between SP and BSP, BJP has nominated ex-MLA, Mahendranath Pandey who has the dubious distinction of getting only 57k votes and finishing fifth in Badohi in 2009. Only a massive Modi wave can potentially cause a miraculous victory for BJP here. Rating: Negative

Jaunpur: Former minister Umanath Singh’s son K.P. Singh has been given the party ticket from this important upper caste bastion in a move that has surprised many observers. Here BSP’s Dhananjay Singh (sitting MP), who is widely seen as a sort of Rajput Robinhood was ahead in the race until now. Can K.P. Singh recapture this seat? There are two X factors that will decide BJP’s fate here – 1) Swami Chinmayanand, a former minister of state for Home in the Vajpayee government and four time MP (including Jaunpur in 1999) can create mischief for BJP although his clout has decreased considerably over the last decade and 2) support of local BJP leaders like Seema Dwivedi, the Mungra-Badshahpur MLA and 2009 MP contestant who is upset at being denied ticket this time. Congress has nominated popular Bhojpuri Superstar, Ravi Kishen from this seat who may also dent the ‘secular’ votes adding drama to the contest. Rating: Average

Machhlishahr: Former Apna Dal leader Ram Charitra Nishad has been nominated from here. This constituency will see a three cornered fight between SP, BSP and BJP, in which sitting MP Toofani Saroj of SP seems to have an edge. BJP can still win this seat if it can get the crucial support of Khateek voters who seem to be shifting allegiances in the 2014 polls. Rating: Below Average

Azamgarh: Sitting MP Ramakant Yadav who has won this seat thrice since 1999 on three different party tickets has been re-nominated by the BJP. Ground reports suggest that there is considerable local level anti-incumbency against Mr Yadav, especially among the upper caste Rajput community. He is still considered as “Yadavon ka sher” in Azamgarh though. There is also deep polarization among Muslims in this constituency who are backing SP to the hilt here. If Mulayam Singh contests from this seat then it could be almost a single horse race, otherwise BJP can make a fight of it, but this is a difficult seat for the party to retain. Rating: Below Average

Roberstganj (SC): This is a seat where BJP still has definite presence as a party, but Chhotelal Kharwar has been given the party ticket much against the wishes of party cadre. There is a great deal of anti-incumbency against the non-performing Pakauri Lal Kol, the sitting MP of Samajwadi Party, but since BJP’s ticket here has left a lot to desire, this is now a three cornered fight that needs massive groundwork by the cadre to win. Rating: Average

Ghosi: Former minister Harinarain Rajbhar who had joined SP a few years ago only to return back to the saffron fold has been given ticket here. He used to represent Siar assembly seat in Ballia district during the 90s but had lost out after delimitation and was waiting for long to resurrect his defunct political career. It seems to be a calculated risk taken by Amit Shah to give ticket to Rajbhar instead of other contenders like Vijay Pratap Singh. Thakur votes will be crucial here and Modi wave may come to BJP’s aid. Rating: Average

Ballia: Bharat Singh is again one of those who is part of the “deadwood” of the BJP who had lost even the assembly election in 2012 by a big margin. This is a seat where Neeraj Shekhar (former PM Chandrashekhar’s son) still holds sway and it is unlikely that he would be defeated this time too. Rating: Negative

Gorakhpur: Yogi Adityanath had improved his victory margin from 1.5 lakhs in 2004 to 2 lakh+ in 2009, the guess is that he may double that margin this time with much higher turnouts expected. Rating: Super Positive

Bansgaon: This is again one of the strength areas of BJP where Yogi Adityanath wields influence and Kamlesh Paswan, the sitting BJP MP, has made his own in the last few years. As of today Paswan is ahead in all the 5 assembly segments with massive leads in Chauri-Chaura and Rudrapur areas. Rating: Positive

Lalganj: Neelam Sonkar has once again been given the BJP ticket to take on BSP’s Baliram. Sonkar who had lost the previous encounter by less than 40k votes is much stronger this time, and so is the BJP. As of today BJP is ahead in Nizamabad, Phoolpur-Pawai and Lalganj assembly segments, but the only problem area for the party and Sonkar is Atrauliya assembly segment as of now. Rating: Positive

Deoria: Kalraj Mishra has got the ticket from here much to the heartburn of former state unit president, Surya Pratap Shahi, whose supporters have even burnt effigies of Rajnatah Singh. This time BJP has an edge in this seat but a lot depends on how much support Kalraj Mishra will get from the local leaders of the BJP, especially the likes of two-time MP Prakashmani Tripathi and Surya Pratap Shahi. If BJP leaders and workers bury their differences (especially along Thakur-Brahmin fault-lines) then this is a sure-shot seat for the party, or else BJP will have to struggle to cross the finish line. BJP is ahead of its rivals in Deoria town, Pathardeva and Rampur Karkhana areas, but the problem areas are Fazlinagar and Tamkuhi Raj assembly segments. Rating: Positive

Maharajganj: This is the rare eastern-UP seat that Congress had won in 2009, but BJP has nominated Pankaj Chaudhary once again – he is a 4 time MP from here. This time again old warhorse Pankaj Chaudhary has an edge, especially as the sitting Congress MP has been a big under-performer. Recent recruits R.K. Misra and Prem Sagar Patel (formerly BSP) who were expecting an MP ticket from here could create some problems for Pankaj Chaudhary, but it is still quite difficult to see BJP losing this seat. Rating: Positive

Basti: This is one of the baffling decisions of the party, for Harish Dwivedi, who had not only lost the 2012 assembly election from Basti town by a margin of over 20k, but had also finished 3rd has been given BJP ticket. This is a seat which is usually given to Thakurs, so it is even more baffling that BJP has made such a poor choice. It is said among some circles that BJP president Rajnath Singh has scuttled the chances of many Thakur ticket seekers which has created all this mess. There was talk of Fateh Bahadur Singh getting the ticket from here which would have been a far better choice for the party. Rating: Negative

Western UP

This politically significant Jatland shares its demographics with Haryana, parts of eastern Rajasthan and outer Delhi. 5 of 10 BJP MPs from Uttar Pradesh came from out of these 27 Lok Sabha seats in the 2009 election. BJP has announced 18 names in this region and is yet to decide on the remaining 9. With roughly 22-25% of the population, Jats are the most important political group of this region. Muzaffarnagar riots and the consequent polarization had made this one of the most favourable zones for the BJP, but there is some amount of heartburn among Jats because of ticket distribution. But the fact is that most Jat voters have already made up their mind to support BJP and the party has done a decent job of ticket distribution to keep all the other ethnic subgroups happy.

Muzaffarnagar: Of all the contenders in the fray for this very significant seat, BJP has chosen possibly the best man to represent the party instead of rabble rousers like Sangeet Som, which has sent a clear message that Modi’s agenda is one of development. Dr Sanjiv Baliyan, agricultural scientist is an emerging Jat icon and represents the suave face of Jat politics who talk of ideas to solve problems rather than simply create violent agitations. Dr Baliyan has the potential to be a new age Chaudhary Charan Singh in the next few years and create a dynamic shift in the socio-political landscape of Jats, which surely augurs well for the BJP. This is a seat that BJP will win with a thumping lead. Rating: Super Positive

Kairana: Again the choice was simply clear, Hukum Singh, the sitting MLA and a towering Gujjar leader who was seen as playing a major role in not only keeping the Hindus united but also calming the nerves by talking peace during the Muzaffarnagar riots. This should again give BJP an easy victory here. Rating: Positive

Saharanpur: Sitting MLA of Saharanpur, Raghav Lakhan Pal has been given the ticket from here which is a decent choice, notwithstanding the fact that sitting MP Jagadish Rana of the BSP was interested in BJP ticket. In the polarized atmosphere prevailing in this region, BJP should take this seat. Rating: Positive

Bijnor: Advocate Rajendra Singh has been nominated as BJP candidate here, but Kunwar Bharatendra Singh, the sitting MLA of Bijnor would have been a far better choice. Now it is almost a three cornered fight between BSP, BJP and RLD (especially after RLD nominated actress Jayaprada from here) with Chandpur, Hatinapur and Meerapur assembly segments holding the key. As of today, BSP seems to have an edge in this three-cornered battle. Rating: Below Average

Moradabad: Kunwar Sarvesh Singh of the Thakurdwara-Bilari royal family, a Bahubali of western UP and 5 time MLA of Thakurdwara has been re-nominated from this seat where he had lost to Mohammad Azharuddin by about 50k votes in 2009. This time BJP has a big lead in Thakurdwara, Barhapur and Moradabad town assembly segments which should help Mr Singh to easily sail through from this constituency. As Congress, which had won the previous election, has nominated Rampur royalty Noor Bano, there is a definite possibility of a split in minority votes between Congress and BSP giving BJP a clear edge. Rating: Positive

Rampur: With two time MP, Jayaprada shifting party and LS seat, there is a wave for change in this parliamentary constituency where BJP has nominated Naipal Singh, MLC. This is Azam Khan territory, where former UP CM Kalyan Singh still holds sway due to significant presence of Lodh votes. In a polarized atmosphere where Lodh votes are back to the saffron camp in a big way, BJP may win this seat from under Azam Khan’s nose. There was a section within BJP which was demanding ticket for Muqtar Abbas Naqvi, which would have been simply disastrous for the party, but Amit Shah and team seem to have once again kept “winnability” criteria on top. Rating: Average

Meerut: Rajendra Agarwal, sitting MP, has been re-nominated from here. With Congress nominee, actress Nagma being virtually out of contest even with RLD support, the main fight here would be between BJP and BSP. BSP will likely get the support of Muslims and a large section of Dalits, whereas BJP should get full support of Jats, OBCs and more importantly the upper-caste votes (which went to BSP in large numbers even in 2009). BJP is enjoying a clear lead in the three segments of Meerut (North, South and Cantt.) along with Hapur assembly segment, so it is advantage Mr Agarwal. Rating: Positive

Baghpat: Although a better candidate like say, Shahendra Singh Ramala, could have possibly made the BJP’s cause easier, but in the end analysis, former Mumbai top-cop, Satyapal Singh could be a giant killer here. History has shown us that usually it is the members of educated civil society who stand a better chance against established names in difficult electoral contests. Although Ajit Singh was on a back-foot after Muzaffarnagar, he seems to have regained some of the lost ground due to Jat reservation and Rakesh Tikait’s joining of RLD. This is now an almost equal contest with probably even a slight edge to Ajit Singh. Modi Nagar, Baghpat town and Siwal Khas assembly segments probably hold the key this time around. Rating: Average

Gautam Buddh Nagar and Bulandshahr (SC): BJP has nominated Dr Mahesh Sahrama and Dr Bhola Singh respectively from these constituencies and both are on a very strong wicket. BJP had lost Gautam Buddh Nagar narrowly last time by 15k votes and has re-nominated its sitting MLA from Noida. This time the party has significant leads in Noida, Khurja and Sikandrabad assembly segments, so it should be a much easier task to win. Similarly in Bulandshahr where Debai assembly segment had cost the party dearly last time, there is a big lead for BJP this time around. Rating: Positive

Aligarh and Firozabad: Both are difficult seats for BJP as Satish Gautam may find the going tough for himself and the party in Aligarh where Congress and BSP seem to be in a direct fight. Similarly, in Firozabad, three time MP, S.P Singh Baghel has been nominated by BJP, but he is facing a very tough battle against Akshay Yadav, Mulayam’s nephew and son of Ram Gopal Yadav. Rating: Below Average

Agra: Sitting MP of BJP, Dr Ramashankar Katheriya, has definite advantage from Agra so he has been re-nominated. Etmadpur and Jalesar assembly segments hold the key, for BJP seems to be reasonably ahead in two out of three Agra town assembly segments (North and South). In Jalesar, S.P. Singh Baghel still holds significant clout which may help BJP much in the upcoming polls. Rating: Positive

Mainpuri: It really doesn’t matter whom the BJP nominates, for this is Mulayam Singh Yadav stronghold and SP will likely win it again with a big margin. Rating: Negative

Etah: If Mainpuri belongs to Mulayam Singh, Etah is Kalyan Singh territory, so Rajvir Singh, his son is virtually undefeatable from here. Rating: Positive

Aonla, Bareilly and Philibit: Dharmendra Kashyap, Santosh Gangwar and Maneka Gandhi have been nominated from these seats. All three are stalwarts in their own right and are expected to win these seats easily for the BJP. Rating: Positive

Awadh

The central Uttar Pradesh region which had stopped supporting BJP for some time now, evidenced by the fact that BJP’s lone MP from entire Awadh region came from Lucknow in 2009, is once again looking towards the saffron camp with hope. Can BJP recreate its old magic is the million dollar question.

Lucknow: BJP president Rajnath Singh will be contesting from this party stronghold, which was once represented by former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee. BJP hasn’t lost this seat in close to 25 years, since 1991, so this is considered as a “safe seat” for the party. The only new X factor this time is that the last 5 BJP victories from here have come from Brahmin candidates, whereas this time a Thakur is contesting from here on the party ticket. In fact, this seat has been an unofficial Brahmin reserved constituency where Brahmins have always won it since 1971, except for a very low turnout 1989 election. Despite this history, Rajnath Singh is expected to win this seat by a big margin. Rating: Super Positive

Kanpur: Dr Murli Manohar Joshi, veteran BJP leader and possibly the tallest standing Brahmin face after Vajpayee has been allocated this urban seat which Congress had won in the previous three elections through Sriprakash Jaiswal. This seat should once again see a straight fight between BJP and Congress with others vying for a distant third position (including AAP). Congress as a party and Mr Jaiswal himself personally are both facing huge anti-incumbency so it is advantage Joshi here. Rating: Positive

Sultanpur: In a very good move, BJP has shifted Varun Gandhi to this Nehru-Gandhi loyalist seat. Here he is not only expected to win, but win big, especially now that Sanjay Singh has moved to the Rajya Sabha. Though Sanjay Singh’s wife Amita Singh is contesting on the Congress ticket from here, she might not be able to challenge Varun Gandhi. Of the 18% Brahmins, 27% OBCs, 6% Thakurs and even 24% Dalits, Varun will likely get a lion’s share of the votes, while the 21% Muslim votes may get divided between Congress and Shakeel Ahmed of SP. Varun Gandhi’s roadshows and Nukkad public meetings are attracting huge crowds, indicating which way the wind is blowing. Rating: Super Positive

Kheri: Ajay Mishra has been repeated by the BJP in a calculated risk by the party managers. He is the sitting MLA of Nighasan where he is likely to get a big lead of 30k+ (he had got a 20k vote lead even in 2009 LS polls). There is a huge vote polarization along religious lines here and since Congress and BSP have both fielded Muslims and SP has re-nominated Ravi Prakash Verma, BJP stands a decent chance of causing an upset victory. If Ajay Mishra manages to get leads in at least 2 out of three other assembly segments of Palia, Gola Gokrannath and Lakimpur, then BJP will be in the game. Rating: Average

Sitapur: Another of the Kurmi dominated seats where BJP has nominated Rajesh Verma, a new entrant to the party who was a two time MP from here on a BSP ticket and still holds considerable sway. This is a difficult seat for BJP to win, but in a multi-cornered fight with a Modi wave coupled with the personal hold of Mr Verma can help the party. Rating: Below Average

Hardoi: Usha Verma of the Samajwadi Party, who is also the sitting MP, has strong pockets of influence in this parliamentary seat and also there are hardly any negatives against her. BJP has bungled up by nominating Anshul Verma here, so SP has a clear advantage. Rating: Negative

Misrikh: BJP has nominated a very strong Smt Anju Bala for this reserved constituency, where a large number of Dalit voters, especially Chamars are expected to support her rather than the BSP. There are mainly 5 lakh Pasi voters, 4 lakh Chamar voters, 4 lakh Brahmin, 1.5 lakh Kurmi and 1 lakh Lodh voters here; BJP is expected to get a big chunk of Chamar, Brahmin and OBC vote making it easier for Anju Bala to win this seat. Rating: Positive

Unnao: It is difficult to understand the logic of nominating an outsider like Sakshi Maharaj in this Brahmin dominated seat (about 4 lakh Brahmin votes) where Congress’s Anu Tandon had won a thumping victory in 2009 with a margin of over 3 lakhs. Sakshi Maharaj is well past his prime and will need a herculean effort to defeat the very clinical Anu Tandon. Rating: Below Average

Mohanlalganj: This reserved constituency is a stronghold of the SP, which has re-nominated its sitting MP, Sushila Saroj and BJP has simply shown no “thinking out of the box” by nominating ex-MLA Kaushal Kishore who stands little chance of upsetting the Samajwadi applecart. Rating: Negative

Farrukhabad: This high profile seat of Salman Khurshid is likely to see a major change in this election, but BJP has nominated Kalyan Singh’s right-hand man, Mukesh Rajput who had unsuccessfully contested from here in 2004 LS polls but had subsequently joined Kalyan Singh’s RKP only to lose the 2012 assembly elections from Bhojpur (where he finished second, ahead of the BJP). The onus is now on Kalyan Singh to win this seat for BJP and defeat the current External Affairs Minister in the UPA government. This could well see a close 4-cornered fight like last time when hardly 10-15k votes separated each of the top 4 contestant. Kaimganj, Bhojpur and Farrukhabad assembly segments hold the key to victory here. Rating: Average

Etawah: In this SP bastion, about 1 lakh plus Chamar voters, 1 lakh plus Brahmin voters, 80k Rajput and 60k Lodh voters are all ganging up against the Samajwadis and in favour of the BJP which has wisely nominated Ashok Dohre who is resourceful enough to win this reserved seat. Rating: Average

Kannauj: Another SP stronghold has been attacked by the BJP, where once again a good nominee by the party in the form of Subrat Pathak is attracting all the upper caste votes of Brahmins, Thakurs and Baniyas (numbering up to 3 lakhs). If BJP manages to also get the non-Yadav OBC votes of roughly another 2 lakh plus, then a surprise defeat of SP (represented by Akhilesh and Dimple Yadav over the last 5 years) cannot be ruled out! No wonder Mulayam is suffering sleepless nights and keeps targeting Modi and BJP in every speech of his. Rating: Average

Fatehpur: Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, the MLA from Hamirpur and a fiery speaker has been nominated from here. She has managed to completely polarize upper-caste (mainly Thakur) and Nishad votes in her favour. Currently BJP has taken big leads in Fatehpur and Khaga assembly segments and is also ahead in other areas. Right now BJP has a definite edge on this seat. Rating: Positive

Barabanki and Kaushambi: Both are difficult seats for BJP where Dalit votes, especially those of Pasis will make a big difference. In Barabanki, there are 6 lakh Dalit votes (about 60% of them Pasis) and 2 lakh Kurmi voters who will eventually decide who wins this seat. In Kaushambi too, BJP is facing an uphill task of attracting a combination of Dalit-Brahmin-OBC votes. Priyanka Rawat and Vinod Sonkar have been nominated from Barabanki and Kaushambi respectively. Rating: Below Average

Faizabad: 5 time MLA from Ayodhya and one of the original icons of Ram Janam Bhoomi movement has been nominated by the BJP to represent Faizabad in the 16th Lok Sabha, notwithstanding the heartburn it has caused to former MP Vinay Katiyar. Here again there is a BJP wave and the party is way ahead of the rest thanks to a very good ticket decision. Brahmins + Thakurs + Kurmis + Other Upper Castes account for close to 6 lakh voters here and all of them seem to be moving towards BJP, which is also getting a section of Dalit (Chamar) votes here. BJP is ahead in Ayodhya, Rudauli and Milkipur assembly segments as of today. Rating: Positive

Bahraich: Savitri Bai Phule, the sitting MLA of Balha is the BJP nominee here, which is another very good ticket by the party. As of today BJP is ahead in Balha, Bahraich and Mahsi assembly segments and is expected to have a very good showing in this parliamentary constituency. Rating: Average

Shrawasti: This is one of those dud decisions by the party that can possibly be overlooked in the overall scheme of things as Daddan Mishra is not only a deadwood but also very few Brahmin voters are present here (about 60-75k). One wonders how leaders like Daddan Mishra continue to survive despite finishing third in the 2012 assembly election (from Bhinga assembly segment of Shrawasti). Rating: Below Average

Bundelkhand

The lone seat that has been announced as of now is Jhansi, from where the veteran Sadhvi Uma Bharati will be contesting on the BJP ticket. She still has a larger than life presence here in Jhansi and should easily win this seat with a big margin. Rating: Super Positive

Note on Ratings Game:

Super Positive: Victory by big margin

Positive: BJP being ahead of the rest

Average: Tough contest but winnable for the BJP (especially in a wave election)

Below Average: BJP behind as of now, but the seat is not “unwinnable”, provided party puts in hard work and lady luck shines on its candidate

Negative: No chance of winning for BJP

(Part 2, consisting of non-UP states like Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Haryana and Punjab will be uploaded tomorrow)


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Uttar Pradesh, the darling of 2014

There is a funny anecdote doing the rounds in the power corridors of Lucknow that has been regaled at various political meetings in the last few weeks. As recently as in the last month of 2013, a well-connected and well-known businessman apparently approached the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, the young and ‘dynamic’ Akhilesh Yadav, for a large project clearance. He was told by the CM frankly to first get all the necessary clearances from “below” (meaning the lower level clerks and babus) and he would then do the needful. The persistent businessman apparently spent considerable capital to grease the necessary palms and got all the “lower level” clearances in record time and returned back with the “approved” proposal to the CMO. This is when he had to face the most humiliating surprise from the young CM of UP, who shyly retorted back that the businessman has to now get approval from “above” (meaning Mulayam Singh Yadav).

This incident in all its glory (pun intended) is symptomatic of all that is wrong with the government of Uttar Pradesh, where the Chief Minister of the state is nothing but a glorified messenger who keeps relaying messages between the restless Samajwadi party cadre (read ‘goonda elements’) and his overarching father. While on the one hand, the lower level SP leaders and workers have formed a powerful cabal with government babus to run a parallel administration smeared in massive corruption and goondaism in distributing various government contracts, on the other hand Mulayam Singh Yadav and his brothers interfere in every decision that the CM tries to take for day-to-day administration of the state. The result of all this is total anarchy, as we have seen in scores of communal riots spread across the state in the last two years.

To be sure, Uttar Pradesh is like a country within a country, with a population of 20 Cr plus and a demographic that is as complex as any; it is a hard state to govern, but what the young Yadav has done is totally messed up this state. It is in such a background that this most populous state will be going to polls with the rest of India in the summer of 2014 and will possibly be the crucial deciding factor on who rules India for the foreseeable future. The state of UP has never been more crucial to the politics of India for almost three decades (the last time it played an important role was for a brief period of one and a half years in 1998 during the Vajpayee era). In more ways than one, 2014 will possibly restore the political glory of Uttar Pradesh to the pre-90s level when it was always regarded as the Kingmaker.

Uttar Pradesh is also the graveyard of political analysts who have tried to understand her since time immemorial. The sheer complexities of this state offer us such confounding array of possibilities that it is but natural for an analyst to miss out on some vital narratives that may prove costly at the end of the day. For me personally, Uttar Pradesh has been like a teasing lover who holds a million secrets in her bosom but only reveals the cleavage to titillate me into believing that I have seen a glimpse of her soul. The purity of my lust; a lust to analyze Uttar Pradesh; is what has been driving me in to her heart for so many years now. Yet, how does one analyze the electoral scenario of UP with certainty? How can one wrap her infinite bosom with ideas, words and numbers? How can one discover specificity in true ambiguity of the UP voter’s mind? This is an attempt to decipher Uttar Pradesh through a quadrilateral factorial index to discern electoral pattern out of chaos.

The Uttar Pradesh Electoral Quadrilateral

UP TurnoutsRoughly 5.5 Cr votes were polled in Uttar Pradesh in the 2009 LS polls, while it went up to 7.5 Cr in the 2012 assembly elections of the state. In 2014, Election Commission figures suggest that about 13.5 Cr voters of Uttar Pradesh would be eligible to exercise their franchise in the upcoming elections. The state has generally seen a sub-50% turnout in the LS polls in the recent past, but the polling percentage had gone up to 59% in the assembly elections of 2012. Logical progression of electoral trend data suggests that roughly 55% polling should be reported in the 2014 LS polls (which is always slightly lower than preceding assembly elections across India). Thus about 7.5 Cr UP voters are likely to participate in the democratic process in 2014, which is 2 Cr more than the previous election.

UP Vote Share 2009In 2009, there was almost a 4-way split in UP, with BSP topping the heap and BJP ending at the bottom. Such a 4-way split is unlikely to occur this time around and what is more likely is that one or two parties may go on to dominate the electoral scene. The last time a single party dominated UP was in 1998, when BJP had got 2 Cr plus votes in the state with a total turnover of 5.65 Cr. In the 2014 elections two possible scenarios can unfold based on a projected turnout of 7.5 Cr – A] two parties (formations) can split amongst themselves roughly 5 Cr votes in an almost bipolar contest or B] a single political party can emerge as a big winner (like in 1998) with close to 3 Cr votes. As of today a 3-way split looks unlikely and 4-way split can almost be ruled out.

UP quadrilateral

In order to clearly establish the vote pathway, we have to use the UP electoral quadrilateral, which is essentially made up of the 4 important factors on which the state is likely to vote in 2014. This overall vote pattern of UP has not been subdivided into sub-regional or district wise categories in order to get a pan-UP picture. There could be various sub-regional distortions to this broad picture but most of them would cancel each other out. A deeper divisional level analysis of each of the 80 LS seats would be presented later in the run-up to 2014 here at 5Forty3.

The Caste-Vote Matrix

UP Caste MatrixThis is the new Verna classification of Uttar Pradesh’s modern day Electoral Vedic Dharma. The 5 modern Vernas/classes are divided as Upper Castes, OBCs, SC, Muslim and Others (Others include, Scheduled Tribes, Christians, Buddhists, and Sikhs etc.). The first four bigger ethnic groups are of political significance, whereas the smaller and more fragmented group of “Others” is of no practical importance in the overall scenario. For any political party to succeed in the electoral arena of this most populous state, it is of vital importance to get the major backing of one of these 4 groups – The Primary Vote – and also the minor backing of at least one or two of the remaining three ethnic groups – The Secondary Vote. For example: The Primary Vote of BSP was SC and The Secondary Vote was that of Muslim and Upper-caste (Brahmins) in the 2007 election when the party won an almost unprecedented mandate in the state.

The Upper Caste Vote:

Upper Caste Votes UPThe Brahmin vote has seen a 3-way split in the last decade or so after Vajpayee’s exit from the political scene, when it has been broadly divided between BJP, Congress and BSP (although BJP has always got a bigger share). If Modi and BJP are serious about winning 2014 then the cultivation of core Brahmin voters is an absolute must for the party, especially now that Congress is almost out of the scene in UP and Mayawati has also moved on to other strategies. What is important to understand about the Brahmin vote is that it is a 65-35 vote, in the sense that 35% of the vote is for local factors (of which the most important aspect is the contesting candidate) and 65% of it is the larger state/national level vote wherein party affiliations matter. Congress and especially BSP have been successful in getting the Brahmin vote mainly because of the second 50% – giving tickets to Brahmins and appointing Brahmin leaders to key local positions.

The Thakur vote also follows the 50-50 formula of general party affiliation and local factors, but has been split mainly between BJP and SP in the last few election cycles, although the Congress party was also a minor claimant of the vote in the 2009 election. As of today, the tallest standing Thakur in UP is Rajnath Singh and it remains to be seen how well he can knit the Thakur vote around BJP without making debilitating compromises at the local level. The Thakur romance with SP seems to be more-or-less over in the present scenario, yet candidate selection could be crucial for all political parties.

The Bania and other UC vote will also prove to be crucial in about 7-8 MP seats and as of today BJP seems to be getting the largest chunk. On the whole, Upper Castes of UP are fairly widespread across the state and are an important segment of voters – which is unique to UP among all of the heartland.

The SC Vote:

Sc vote in UPRoughly 1 Cr plus Jatav votes have been the mainstay of Behenji in UP politics. The Jatav Vote is essentially a 80-20 vote, in the sense that 80% of the vote invariably goes to Mayawati and only about 20% of it is dependent on local factors such as candidate selection. Although there are some signs of even Jatavs shifting to BJP in a polarized West-UP polity, overall this is a fortress that is unlikely to be breached anytime soon. The only problem for Mayawati is that the Jatav vote is widespread across the state and therefore doesn’t have the ability to convert votes to seats, so she needs additional votes to augment her core vote.

Pasi Vote is more of a 60-40 vote now, wherein 60% is affiliated to BSP; after the 12 year vanvas of RK Choudhary has ended with his return to the party fold; and 40% is dependent on local factors. Other groups of SC vote are essentially 50-50 votes that give other parties a chance to poach a section of the SC vote through localized realignments. Dhobis, Koris and Gonds (about 25 lakhs) are generally wooed by the Congress party, while Balmikis and Khatiks (about 12 lakhs) are more favourably inclined towards BJP. In a more polarized atmosphere, as seen in West-UP, sections of Dalit vote can also potentially shift towards BJP as it so happened in the early 90s.

The OBC Vote

OBC Vote in UPDespite being the largest ethnic grouping of all, OBC vote is a highly fragmented entity and gets splintered widely among different political formations. Yadavs form the largest block of the OBC vote and also are the most politically powerful with their 70-30 vote in favor of the Samajwadi Party. Only about 30% of the Yadav vote can be moved along local factors by other parties. The second largest grouping is that of Kushwahas who have begun to realize their political importance only lately. Kushwaha vote is generally a 20-80 vote, wherein 80% of the vote usually gets splintered along local fault-lines. If BJP’s recent efforts bear fruit and the party is able to bring the various subgroups (Kachhi, Murao, Koiri etc.) together, then 2014 would be almost the first time when Kushwahas would have played such an important political role, apart from 2007 when they generally voted for Maya.

The Kurmi vote has been a 40-60 vote in the recent past – 40% voting for Congress and 60% voting along localized alignments. With the decline of the Congress party in 2014, the Kurmi vote is up for grabs and both SP & BJP are eying this group with interest. As of today, the Jat, Lodh, Teli, Gujjar and Gadderiya vote is solidly behind BJP with an overall 65-35 inclination. The rest of the OBC vote is also significant and with Modi as the mascot, BJP would be vying with SP to woo these sections.

The Muslim Vote

Muslim VoteThis is possibly the biggest monolith of all the votes of UP, for close to 90% of the Muslim vote would be anti-BJP in nature. It has been divided neatly into 4 parts, which are not essentially antagonistic to each other; for instance, a vote for SP based on local loyalties can also be a defeat-NaMo vote and vice-versa. This is possibly the biggest burden that the Muslim voter of UP carries on his shoulder, for he thinks that it is his responsibility to prevent Modi from becoming the next PM of India.

The Women Vote

There are roughly 6 Cr women voters in UP today and as is the trend these days (including in UP 2012), the female voters are likely to out-vote men by about 2 percentage points, which means about 3 Cr 40 lakh women voters are projected to exercise their franchise in the next general election. In India, women have never been treated as a solid voting bloc, but now there is a definite divergence emerging in the female voting pattern (for a detailed analysis read https://5forty3.wordpress.com/2013/12/16/the-heartland-secrets-what-women-want/ ). Most political parties are either unaware or just do not have the wherewithal to understand the evolution of the women vote which is changing rapidly with each passing day.

Gender Vote weightage in UPIn Uttar Pradesh, 1 Cr 13 lakh more women participated in the election process in 2012 as compared to 2009, while the number of corresponding men voters increased only by 92 lakhs. The relative weightage of women voters increased by 4 percentage points from 2009 to 2012 – it was 42% in 2009 and 46% in 2012. That means 4% more women voters were able to decide electoral outcomes in the state in 3 years’ time.

Women voters tend to vote for better governance and stability and are relatively less corruptible therefore not influenced by last minute inducements (one of the primary last minute inducement for male voters is alcohol, which is almost overwhelmingly gender specific). In 2012, women voter turnout was 2 percentage points higher than men and most of them voted for a young Akhilesh Yadav in the hope that he would give better governance, but that mandate has been totally misread by the Samajwadis. Similarly in the 2009 LS polls, in the 21 LS seats that the Congress party won in UP, women voter turnout was a good 1 percentage point higher than the state average, which suggests that the women voted for Congress in the hope of a stable, performing government at the centre. Unfortunately, the women of UP have been betrayed twice and are waiting silently for their vengeance in 2014.

As per our calculations based on field studies, past poll surveys by CSDS and past electoral data of gender vote divergence, roughly 15% women voters have differing choices as compared to their corresponding male counterparts in Uttar Pradesh. This divergence is seen to be sharper in small towns and villages as compared to cities and also more prominent among lower economic strata as compared to middle class (a detailed study of different states will be presented later in the run-up to 2014). Overall heartland trends suggest that 7% more women voters make their electoral choices based on day-to-day inflation, 2% based on gender issues, 2% for stability and 4% for other smaller factors. Thus with 15% gender divergence vote, women voters of UP form a solid block of 50 lakh possible votes of a projected 3 Cr 40 lakh turnover in 2014 which cannot and should not be ignored by any political party.

Governance Vote

Indian electoral history can be divided into 5 broad cycles;

Systems

2013 marked the advent of the development model of governance in India. Cutting across gender, caste, religion and sub-regional fault-lines is the governance vote which is gaining increasing importance in India. The value of the governance vote has tremendously increased in the last decade, which is the primary reason for various state governments being voted back to power. This is also a unique feature of North India, where state governments from Bihar to MP to Chhattisgarh to Haryana have all been continuously rewarded for good governance, whereas the south Indian polity is relatively more anti-incumbent in nature (Karnataka, Kerala TN and Goa being prime examples).

Many political parties are yet to come to terms with this new phenomenon of good governance vote. The old system of minimum payoff to the voters in return for their vote in the form of welfare schemes, reservations or even stability is dead now. The payoffs for voters have increased by leaps and bounds, for they now demand 24/7 power, better surface transport avenues and connectivity etc. It is not just SP or Congress, but even newer political parties like AAP have misunderstood their mandates from people and are busy providing welfare instead of governance.

In the entire North India, Uttar Pradesh is the only large state which has not had a single party rule in the last two election cycles (apart from Rajasthan and Jharkhand). Furthermore, UP has seen six different forms of governments (including president’s rule) since the dawn of the new millennium – a record only equaled by the highly fragile state of Jharkhand. Thus there is a powerful governance vote in UP which has been experimenting with different political entities in the last few years. This hunger for better governance in UP is so strong that the UP voter has flirted with 4 different poles in the last 4 large statewide elections – 2007 VS polls with BSP, 2009 LS polls with Congress, 2012 VS polls with SP and 2012 local body elections with BJP.

Thus now we have a new variable in the traditional vote-matrix of India known as governance vote (apart from caste, political affiliation, region, economic status etc.). Although it is difficult to quantify this new variable as of now without a robust survey of the present day Uttar Pradesh, we are using the traditional classification and assigning it an overall value of 6% (which may be a very conservative estimate). Thus at 6% of the total projected turnout of 7.5 Cr would be roughly around 50 Lakh votes.

National Vote

This is one of the most underestimated vote of Uttar Pradesh, a state that has traditionally played an important role in the national political movement. The UP voter has always prided his primacy in shaping central governments. But since the last two decades UP hasn’t played a meaningful role in the national polity and that has made the UP voter restless. This was in fact one of the lesser understood reasons of the 2009 vote for the Congress party.

Faizabad Cong PerformanceThe 2009 national vote was UP’s flirtation with the Congress party, when suddenly out of nowhere party candidates got votes despite little organizational support on the ground. For instance, take the case of Faizabad, where Congress emerged on top in 4 out of 5 assembly segments in the 2009 LS polls, but could not win even a single assembly seat in 2012 and even managed to finish in the 4th position behind BJP in 3 out of 5 seats in 2012 (even in Dariyabad, where Congress got more votes in 2012 than in 2009, the party was a distant 3rd behind SP and BSP). This pattern is visible across the state when we compare the performance of the party in 2009 to 2012. In fact, the national vote has further consolidated in the last 4-5 years and there is an even bigger presence in 2014.

Unlike other variables like caste or women vote, the national vote is not an independent block but instead is an appendage of those variables. For instance, any political party, like say Congress in 2009 getting 80 thousand Kurmi votes in Gonda LS seat would have accrued an additional 16000 Kurmi votes (20%) as the national vote appendage. This gives the frontrunner political party a unique 20% advantage in the LS polls – which is what Congress enjoyed to a certain extent in 2009 and BJP hopes to accrue with a much wider base in 2014 through an aggressive NaMo campaign in the state. The other component of the national vote is the Muslim strategic vote (as shown in the pie chart above) which runs as a counterbalance to the dominant party (BJP) in 2014 unlike 2009.

The three Vote Pathways of Uttar Pradesh 2014

Based on all the variables discussed in this paper, three possible Vote Pathways are envisaged for Uttar Pradesh in the 2014 LS polls.

Vote Pathway 01 – The least resistant pathway

Pathway 01

[Ex: Total Thakur Vote = 80 lakhs, but our field studies have shown that Thakur voter turnout is 5-6% lower than the total state average (projected at 55% in 2014), so roughly 40 Lakh Thakurs are likely to vote in 2014. Assuming that Thakurs are 50-50 voters (50% party affiliations and 50% based on local factors), then BJP would get the biggest chunk of the general vote = 15 Lakhs. If BJP then gets its ticket distribution aspect right, it also gets 12 Lakh localized votes of Thakurs.]

  • This is the most likely path that BJP and Modi are attempting to take in UP, having met with resounding success in the neighbouring states of the Heartland in the recently concluded assembly elections – uniting the entire spectrum of Hindu Vote
  • This pathway encounters the least resistance as it even envisages an opposition alliance (between Cong and BSP or SP) and yet emerges victorious; the only possible roadblock in this model is of localized nature wherein if the party totally bungles up ticket distribution, then it may end up losing a big chunk of the local goodwill
  • This pathway is likely to produce stunning results for the party (of the 90s vintage) – BJP may win 50+ parliamentary seats while all other parties may have to scramble to take a dip into the remaining seats. This stunning performance of BJP is also mainly because the seat conversion ratio of this model is very high as it is spread optimally in about 300 assembly segments of 66-69 LS seats only.

Vote Pathway 02 – The midway

Pathway 02

[Ex: If 50% Jatavs turnout to vote in 2014 (field studies still show Jatav fatigue and 4-5% lower participation than state average turnout of 55%), then 80% of that vote would blindly go to Mayawati so 52 lakh Jatavs would have voted for BSP. The localized Jatav vote is accrued to other parties more (mainly BJP in 2014) as Jatav/SC candidates also contest from other parties in reserved seats]

  • This is the Midway path which is the optimum performance level of BSP (with or without a Congress alliance), wherein the party gets the biggest chunk of the general Muslim vote as Muslims of UP seem to have decided that Maya has the best chance of defeating Modi
  • The biggest problem with this model is that it is spread thin, covering almost all the 404 assembly segments of 80 parliamentary constituencies of Uttar Pradesh and therefore the seat conversion ratio could be lower.
  • BSP may end up with 35+ seat tally with this pathway, while BJP may get 25+ and other parties may share the remaining seats

Vote Pathway 03 – The most resistant pathway

Pathway 03

[Ex: The national vote for Samajwadis would be very limited in this election as the UP voter neither expects nor wants Mulayam Singh to have any role at the centre, therefore only 4% added vote-share]

  • This is the pathway that is most unlikely due to the horribly bad governance of  the Akhilesh Yadav dispensation and is totally dependent on Yadavs and a section of Muslims who may yet prop up the party (for example SC vote will simply never accrue to the party even in reserved constituencies in 2014).
  • SP still has tremendous hold over localized Muslim vote due to mid-level Muslim leadership and the favorable intellectual ecosystem – for instance, despite all the Muzaffarnagar shenanigans, SP still gets mostly good-press in the Urdu newspapers.
  • This model essentially produces a 2009 like result with the top 3 contenders all getting about 25 LS seats

Congress is going to be virtually absent in Uttar Pradesh this time around (even in family pocket boroughs), unless the party forms alliance with either SP or BSP. We will revisit these models if and when Congress is able to announce alliances, till then the party is virtually in the dark ages.

{This quasi-research paper is a result of hundreds of field studies, demographic tests, survey analysis conducted over many years by the author and also the result of thousands of man hours spent analyzing the voter rolls of Uttar Pradesh. The author takes responsibility for most numbers quoted in the piece which have been mostly rounded off for easy usage}


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The Heartland Secrets: What women want?

This post is dedicated to Jyoti Singh Pandey and all the women whom we failed as a nation

Women VotersIndian elections are always measured in terms of different social coalitions and the relative percentages of voting by caste and religious groupings. For instance, minority voting (a euphemism for the Muslim vote) is possibly one of the most analyzed voting pattern in the history of Indian elections (so is possibly the Dalit vote). This slicing and dicing gives us a clearer measure to understand the electoral landscape, but unlike in western democracies, there has always been a reluctance on our part in India to divide electoral blocks along gender lines. Thus all our electoral groupings are gender neutral – for instance, when we speak of the Muslim vote or the Dalit vote or the OBC vote, it is understood that we are speaking for both the genders collectively and no gender based discrepancies are expected or incorporated into our electoral models.

The patriarchal nature of Indian society has always provided us with very little incentive to invest our electoral studies with gender differentiation and it is far easier for us to assume that men make all the important decisions, including that of exercising the democratic franchise. Another factor that helped sustain this view for long was the lower participation of women voters in the electoral process. All of this has quietly changed in the last decade or so and we are left with our archaic election analysis systems which are hugely error prone because of such gaps in our understanding. This is an attempt here at 5Forty3 to rectify this anomaly and contribute to our understanding of the women vote.

Rajasthan TurnoutIncreased Turnout RajathanIn the Rajasthan election of this month something unique happened for the first time in the state when the women voter turnout was higher than that of men by more than one percentage point. Let us try and put this in a historic perspective; in 1998, the male voter turnout was a good 6 percentage higher than that of females. Going back a decade further in time, in the 1985 elections marred by the assassination of Indira Gandhi, when Congress swept back to power in the state, men voters outvoted women voters by a solid 12 percentage! Even in the last election of 2008, men had a gap of two percentage points over women. From being perennially behind, suddenly Rajasthani women seem to have decided to jump the queue and defeat their male counterparts in the race to democracy. A whopping 33 lakh 14 thousand extra women voted in this election as compared to 2008 (a 29% increase), contributing substantially to the 37 lakh votes overall lead of the BJP over Congress. This is a story that has been largely missed by a vast number of political commentators in India.

Chhattisgarh TurnoutBastar Division 2013This women voter turnout story is not limited to Rajasthan alone, for this happened even in other states, including the tribal dominated, Naxal affected state of Chhattisgarh. In Chhattisgarh too, women voters covered a 2.5% gap of 2008 to vote almost as much as the men in percentage terms. What is interesting is that they actually out-voted the men in absolute terms in the Bastar division, which is quite commendable because of the looming Maoist fear. It is indeed no small achievement for the women voters to outvote their male counterparts by casting 12 thousand extra votes in a region where there was a clear threat of violence by Naxalites.

How did this miracle of women outvoting the men happen? Or rather, why did this happen? To answer that question, I will first narrate an incident that happened in the month of August, when I was in a small town near Jaipur, where the then Rajasthan CM, Ashok Gehlot was addressing a small public durbar. As soon as he finished his speech, the male members among the crowd walked out of the venue, while the women formed a neat semi-circular queue and started chatting excitedly. A group of three officials of the Rajasthan government then set up an impromptu counter and started distributing 100 rupee bills to the women. This exercise was apparently part of the state government’s direct cash transfer (DCT) scheme which was then recently introduced.

RajasthanAfter the DCT exercise, we conducted a straw poll of some 18 women and were surprised to note that 50% of them very frankly asserted that they would vote for Vasundhara Raje’s party in the upcoming election – while only 30% wanted to vote for Congress and 20% were yet to decide. This enthusiasm to throw out the incumbent government, despite the immediate memory of the state largesse was quite extraordinary irrespective of our sample size or the randomization process. On probing further, many women told us that they would use the 100 rupees to buy milk for their children, but most asked the question as to what would they do after 3 days when the money would have all been used up?

What is common between Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh? Or to be more specific, between Rajasthan and Bastar? In both the states, there were massive government dole-schemes especially centred around the women members of the family unit, thus classically we would have expected the women to go and vote for the sitting governments for their largesse. What happened is quite the opposite, women went out to vote in large numbers no doubt, but they went out to vote out the dole-serving governments. In Bastar, where the women clearly outvoted the men, the ruling BJP lost a massive 7 seats as compared to the previous election by winning only 4 out of 12 assembly segments, whereas the opposition Congress won 8 out of 12 seats while it had won only 1 seat in 2008. Raman Singh government literally survived this election by the scruff of the neck due to a huge helping hand of Narendra Modi. In Rajasthan where the women voters again went out to vote in unprecedented numbers, the Congress government was literally and totally wiped out of the electoral landscape despite spending 3000 crore rupees on various dole-schemes ranging from free medicines to free clothing to free food and free money in the last one year.

MP agri growthContrast this women voter behavior with that of Madhya Pradesh, where the women voters achieved a historic high of 70% turnout and the ruling BJP won a massive mandate for the third term. It was clearly a vote for development, for two of the biggest stories in Madhya Pradesh that have been mostly missed by the media narrative are Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s improvement of the power situation of the state (as most parts of the state now get 24 hours bijli) and the remarkable agricultural growth of the state. The almost consistent double digit agricultural growth in MP over the last few years has completely transformed not only the rural economy but also has metamorphosed the state from being a food grain dependent economy to a food grain surplus state – so much so that it is now competing against traditional agri-giants like Haryana and Punjab. Thus women voters have rewarded Shivraj Singh Chouhan with a third term, mostly because of his governance record than what the left-leaning news media touts as welfare schemes like Ladli Lakshmi or Kanyadaan Yojana. This has been the theme of women voters all across the heartland, from Uttar Pradesh to Himachal Pradesh to Rajasthan and even extending to Gujarat in the west – voting for progress and development.

On the first phase voting day in last year’s Gujarat elections, I was covering various polling booths in the Rajkot-Junagarh circuit of Saurashtra to just gauge the voters’ mood. Till about 2 PM in the noon, there was a discernible difference between rural voter’s interest in voting and the empty polling booths of urban pockets and towns. Saurashtra had witnessed a drought last year and also the presence of Keshubhai Patel’s GPP had queered the pitch in that part of the state. Around 2 PM in Jetpur town, when we had to literally wait for close to 20 minutes to interview about 3-4 voters (the voter turnout was so low), suddenly the tide started turning. At first it was a trickle, but in less than an hour it was almost like a hurricane, when large groups of women visited the polling booths of urban areas after finishing their daily chores. 70% women voted in Gujarat in last year’s election and it is an established fact that the women voters saved Narendra Modi from any anxious moments, especially in Saurashtra.

What exactly is this women voting pattern? Although by no means exhaustive, this blogger has conducted small field studies in the past and here are the findings, which are corroborated to a large extent by poll surveys conducted by other reputed organizations, like CSDS and AC Nielsen, in the past;

  • Women voters are generally less amiable to last minute inducements of cash and kind or alcohol unlike the male voters
  • At least 25 to 30% of women voters do have independent political choices from their male family members
  • Women have longer memories and tend to weigh the pros and cons much better than men, so they would rather vote for better governance that improves their lives in long-term than for immediate doles (for instance many women voters ask the question, how long will the government give these doles?)
  • At least 15% more women voters tend to vote beyond caste considerations than men
  • Inflation, especially food inflation, is the biggest issue for women who are entrusted with weekly/monthly budgeting for food in most households and no amount of state doles help ease inflationary woes
  • A clear pattern of women voting for better governance rather than doles emerges from the heartland – for instance, in Bihar women outvoted men by a solid 3 percentage points in 2010 and helped BJP-JDU sweep the election because of their better governance track record, whereas in Rajasthan women outvoted men to vote out the Congress government’s dole-nomics. Similarly, we have seen this discernible change in female voting patterns of MP and Chhattisgarh; while there was an overwhelming pro-incumbency vote in the former, there was voter anger in the later which was only blunted by a Modi campaign in central Chhattisgarh.

Our political class has been consistently reading the signals of empowered women voters wrongly. While women are voting for prosperity, policy makers are busy designing schemes of higher degree of state sponsored welfarism. In fact the situation in most parts of heartland is such that there are only different degrees of rights based economic packages, while the voters, especially women voters, equate state welfarism as merely a temporary patchwork for actual lack of governance. The Congress party, which has wrongly believed for almost 5 years that its stupendous victory of 2009 was only due to NREGA and farm loan waiver, has become a fulltime prisoner of rights based economic policies. Whereas on the other hand, when Narendra Modi talks of 24 hours power supply, or about skill development and women cooperative business models in his speeches, his message is attractive to even the rural and small town women voters. It is time now for Congress to acknowledge its mistake and change its messaging, if it wants to survive the 2014 hurricane.

UP turnoutAnother classic example of how most of the political class is behind the learning curve of empowered women voter’s choices is seen in the state of Uttar Pradesh. In 2012, historic participation of female voters in the UP election gave an almost unprecedented mandate to the Samajwadi Party and its young new leader, Akhilesh Yadav. As per CSDS post-poll survey: 32% women voted for SP, while only 28% men voted for the party. In less than 2 years, it is one of the most anti-incumbent states in India today as various poll surveys and ground reports have started indicating. The vote of hope in 2012 UP may well turn into a vote of despair by 2014. The Samajwadis have read their 2012 mandate so wrongly that it is almost a crime against the voting public. A vote for better governance has been converted into a vote for unemployment doles and free laptops and a myriad other freebies combined with the usual goondaraj associated with SP.

In the Mahakumbh of February this year at Allahabad, I was witness to an interesting new phenomenon. Like all Kumbh Melas, this one too had a lost-and-found counter where loudspeaker announcements are made continuously, but the general traffic was almost 50% less this year as compared to the past according to many veterans because of mobile phone penetration. On an average, four out of ten women who did come to the lost and found counters at the Kumbh had their own mobile phones and wanted loud announcements of their cell numbers so that the missing family members or friends could call them. A vast majority of these women belonged to what is classically described as lower economic strata of the society. What does this tell you? These are mobile phone owning empowered women who are now aspiring for a better life despite their economic hardships. They would any day want 24 hour power supply and better education for their children than FSB or free cash doles; this is why Modi’s message is more popular among these women than say Rahul Gandhi’s or Akhilesh Yadav’s.

The electoral signal from women voters is clear – better governance is what they want, not welfare schemes or doles, at least not in isolation or as a compensation for lack of development. In Madhya Pradesh or Gujarat for instance, state welfarism goes hand in hand with better governance models and economic growth, so the vote is clearly pro-incumbent in nature. In Chhattisgarh, Raman Singh needs to reinvent himself beyond the ‘chawal wale baba’ epithet if he wants to continue to rule; a job that was made easier by the Congress this time because it had no alternate narrative and simply promised more of the same dole-nomics like free rice instead of BJP’s 1 rupee per kilo (competitive welfarism is now passé). The argument that voter enthusiasm would be much lesser in the 2014 national elections as compared to state assembly elections is outdated, for we have consistently seen how the voters, women in particular, differentially apportion inflationary blame on central government than state governments. For those who want to take on Modi in 2014, your time starts now, create an alternate message of governance instead of relying on doles, for the women of heartland are likely to turnout in the largest numbers ever for a parliamentary poll and their vote may totally surprise policy makers, leaders and intellectuals alike.