When 30 isn’t enough

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The stunning results from the Delhi elections have left pollsters and political parties scrambling for answers.

The BJP camp must be perplexed. After all, the party largely managed to retain its vote share when compared to the 2013 elections.

In addition, this is similar to the vote share the party received in the 2014 LS elections and the subsequent assembly elections.

Year of Delhi elections BJP Vote Share (%)
1998 34.02


2008 36.34
2013 33.07
2015 32.2


Recent Elections BJP Vote Share (%)
2014 LS 31
Jharkhand 2014 31.3
Maharashtra 2014 27.8
Haryana 2014 33.2

The big lesson for the BJP is that 30% isn’t enough if voter preferences consolidate.

 As the Congress vote share sinks in many states, its erstwhile vote bank is looking for credible alternatives. Unfortunately for the BJP, it has not yet managed to shape its social and economic image enough to appeal to these voters.

This is both good news and bad news for all parties involved. The Congress desperately needs to get its house in order, but there is clearly a large space for pro-poor, secular politics.

The BJP has a large vote share to capitalize on if it can appeal to it. Yes, polarization works in increasing vote share (as evidenced in Karnataka and U.P). But this polarization may have limited fruits in a hungry, new India

For AAP and other parties, it would appear that voter consolidation is happening at a radical pace. Parties and leaders with a positive mandate and promises have a ready audience. But as the BJP and Modi have fast discovered, this is also an impatient, punishing, new India.


Why the phantom voter matters?

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As exit polls and political analysts take center stage, an undiscussed entity that may determine Delhi’s next government: The Phantom Voter.

A recent study by Janagraaha found that 1 in 4 persons registered on the Delhi voters list needed deletion. The Delhi Election Commission survey last year found 15 lakh non-existent voters in Delhi. In a closely fought election like the current one, these phantom voters could make a crucial difference in determining the results.

In an attempt to clean the electoral rolls, the Janagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy carried out the Proper Urban Electoral (PURE) exercise to verify the accuracy of voters list. The exercise started with Bangalore constituencies and has recently been extended to Delhi.

Chart 1 looks at the number of voters to be deleted in 8 constituencies in Delhi as determined by the Janaagraha PURE survey. Chart 2 looks at the margin of victories in these constituencies in the 2013 assembly elections.

All data is taken from Janagraaha’s PURE list and the Election Commission of India.

Deleted Voters-page-001Victory Margin-page-001

This phenomenon is not unique to Delhi. In the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, more than 500,000 voters were registered in Bangalore. Compare this to the numbers from 2008 to 2013, just 80, 683.

In Varanasi, the UP State Election Commission found that more than 300,000 names were repeated (i.e, present more than once). The Commission is currently weeding out genuine name overlaps with repeated voters.

In a closely fought election, where a few hundred votes could make the difference, these phantom voters could decide victory and defeat. Delhi’s fate may lie with them.

Why Rajasthan got it wrong?

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This article originally appeared on IndiaSpend.


A Rajasthan government ordinance linking electoral eligibility to educational qualifications will likely disqualify more than 60% of current village-level officials from standing for local elections.
It would immediately disqualify at least 47% of women from standing; the female literacy rate, according to the 2011 census, is only 53%.The Rajasthan government ordinance requires zila parishad (a body representing a collection of villages) and panchayat samiti (village committee) members to have passed class 10 and sarpanch candidates to have passed class 8.With the courts refusing to immediately interfere, it seems most likely that the ordinance will be in effect for ongoing local elections.Given that education rates are tied to gender, class and caste, this ordinance, one argument goes, will particularly affect already disadvantaged sections of society, allowing the elite to take over governance.

We looked at the educational qualifications of elected panchayat samiti members in the 2010 elections and at data specific to scheduled caste and scheduled tribe members of panchayat samitis, all data being sourced from reports of the Rajasthan State Election Commission.



To be fair, there is evidence to prove that more educated panchayat members may ensure better governance. A recent paper argued that local government officials with lower levels of education adversely affect the quality of public services.However, given the low literacy levels in rural Rajasthan, enforcing educational eligibility may change the democratic quality of the state. According to the 2011 census, Rajasthan’s literacy rate is around 67%, below the national average of 74%. A plea from retired election commission officials and judges also pointed out that only 5% of Rajasthan’s female rural population has studied beyond grade 5.There already exist several restrictions to election eligibility in India. Some are in place to ensure that legal equity is translated to representational equity (for instance, reservations). Others disqualify candidates found guilty in a court of law.

In 1994, the Haryana government passed a legislation barring candidates with more than two children from contesting in sarpanch, zila parishad and panchayat samiti elections. In a case called Javed v. State of Haryana, the Supreme Court upheld the legislation, citing reasons of national interest. It ruled that the right to stand for elections was not a fundamental right.

The judgment came under much criticism and led to adverse consequences, such as candidates giving up their daughters for adoption to avoid disqualification.

The Supreme Court ruling has also been used as a justification for the current ordinance in Rajasthan.

Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje pointed to the success of a directive that mandated the presence of a toilet to contest panchayat polls. She said: “Rules such as mandatory construction of toilets and minimum educational qualifications have far-reaching implications. Over the past year, two lakh toilets were made in the state, but after the state government made it mandatory to have a toilet at home to contest the panchayat polls, this figure stands at six lakh in a matter of a month.”

A democracy allows each person to vote for the candidate best suited to speak about their issues and interests. This democratic ideal breaks from the past where ruling classes were based on social ties, land ownership and other markers of privilege. By enforcing educational qualifications, the Rajasthan state government could be accused of violating this principle.

This law was passed via an ordinance, which means there was no debate or discussion amongst elected officials. Raje’s motivations may be well-intentioned but passing an ordinance in haste could have adverse effects.

Of Friends and Foes

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Wily alliances have generally been the backbone of state and national politics in India. For the first time in  decades, we are seeing a single party (the BJP) contest and win elections on its own. However, it’s not just a resurgent BJP that is breaking ties with its allies. A battered INC too chose to go the Maharashtra elections on its own. How much of a difference did the lack of alliances make? And whom did it hurt the most?

In today’s post, I look at close contests in the Maharashtra state elections and the difference an alliance could have made to these contests. A close contest is defined as a victory margin of 5000 votes or less. I looked at the winning vote margin and tallied the combined votes of the losing alliance to see if this would have made a difference.


The INC/NCP combine took the biggest hit. An alliance between the two could have salvaged over 30% of these close contests. And sometimes by a huge margin. For eg: In Melghat, the BJP won with 57,ooo votes. The NCP came in second with 55,000 votes and the INC with 48,500 votes. A combined fight would easily have taken this seat. Even in seats that technically qualify as ‘no difference’, the NCP-INC combine lost with a very slim margin.

It is clear that no matter what NCP-INC would have lost the state. Anti-incumbency and a resurgent BJP worked against it. However, smarter politics could have helped mitigate the extent of this lose. The INC has always been able to reinvent itself and its ability to ally with local leaders has been a large part of this. The push  and pull of alliance politics have led to unlikely bedfellows, have sometimes led to policy paralysis and often acted as a check on the power wielded by national parties. If the INC intends to remain relevant in national politics then it needs to choose its friends and foes carefully.

What Women Want

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Election 2014 set historical trends for female voters with over 65% of them exercising their franchise. For today’s post, I look at constituency level data on female voters and compare it to party victories in these constituencies. The data is fairly clear: the BJP does not do well in constituencies with the highest female voter turnouts. Interestingly, it is regional parties that hold sway in these constituencies.

To be clear, this data doesn’t point to direct co-relation. A lot of constituencies with high voter turnouts are in the South and the East, neither of which are saffron bastions. However, it is telling that the BJP’s win % increase from 11.4 – 78 as female voter turnout decreases. If the BJP wants to increase its foothold in these regions, it would need to appeal to the female electorate. The party’s retrograde attitude to sexual violence and it’s attempts to control female choice must be re-examined if the party wants to solidify its current position in the Indian electorate.

Graph 1 looks at win % in constituencies with female voter turnout of 75%and above (148 seats). Graph 2 looks at constituencies with female voter turnout of 65-75% (130 seats), Graph 3 looks at constituencies with female voter turnout of 60-65% (88 seats). Finally, Graph 4 looks at constituencies with female voter turnout of less than 60% (179 seats). Only parties which won more than 4% of the seats have been included in the graph.

75%65-7560-65Less than 60

Social Media and Elections 2014

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A lot was made about the impact of social media in the last elections. The Modi campaign was credited with creating a convincing media blizzard which other parties failed to emulate. But did this really translate into actual seats? To answer that question, I look at party victories in Lok Sabha constituencies with high, medium and low impact of social media.

Thankfully, the good people at IRIS Knowledge Foundation had already classified the constituencies in these categories. The methodology is detailed in their report, it isn’t perfect but it will do for this post. 16o Constituencies are labelled as High Impact, 67 are labelled Medium Impact and 60 are termed Low Impact. The remaining 256 are termed No Impact and not considered for the purposes of this study.

High Impact

Medium ImpactLow Impact


It seems clear that the BJP took a much larger share of the pie in LS seats with a high social media impact. A direct co-relation to social media cannot be made. The BJP has traditionally done better in urban seats which have a high social media impact. However, part of the credit for its unprecedented performance in high impact seats must definitely lie with it’s extensive social media campaigning.

Yes, social media may seem constrained to certain populations right now. After all, 256 of the seats qualified as no-impact. However, there is strong evidence to suggest that a lot of power lies in good social media management. The methods of political campaigning are slowly shifting in India. The BJP definitely seems to have benefited from it. Other parties would do well to take note of this trend.

Maharashtra: What has changed since 2009?

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Change in Number of Seats-page-001The Maharashtra state elections are fast approaching. Riding high on its Lok Sabha victory, the BJP-SHS combine is expected to unseat the 15 year old INC-NCP government. Today’s post looks at vote share data from the recent Lok Sabha and previous state elections. What does this data indicated for the upcoming ballot race?

Graph 1 looks at the change in number of Lok Sabha seats from 2009 to 2014 general elections. Graph 2 looks at the change in vote share between 2009 and 2014 elections. Graph 3 looks at the number of close contests won by each party in the 2009 state elections. A close contest is defined as a victory margin of less than 10%. A huge thanks to the Election Commission for all its wonderful data.

The INC-NCP combine won 75 of these close contests in the 2009 state elections. 85 seats had a victory margin of less than 5%. It is clear that even in 2009, the INC-NCP had a tough time retaining its power. The battle seems even more uphill now.

Change in Number of Seats-page-001 Vote Share -page-001Close Contests-page-001