The Gujarat electoral calculus

Part 2: The Factorial Impact Analysis of Gujarat 2012

This election analysis trilogy is dedicated to Offstumped (Shashi Shekhar), one of the finest political brains that the Indian right has produced in the digital era.

The weaker the data available upon which to base one’s conclusion, the greater the precision which should be quoted in order to give the data authenticity.

– Norman Augustine

Most of the past electoral data became redundant in Indian politics from 2008 onwards because of an exercise known as delimitation. This is the one single factor that has forced political parties, contesting candidates, psephologists and pundits to completely alter their electoral thinking. So much so that stalwart leaders had to change their geographical locations in order to survive the machinations of delimitation. For instance, just last month, the ghost of delimitation forced 2 of the tallest leaders of Himachal Pradesh to change their pocket boroughs and shift to totally new constituencies. Both Virbhadra Singh (5 times CM from the Congress party) and Prof Prem Kumar Dhumal (incumbent CM from the BJP) had to shift from their respective assembly seats.

Gujarat too has had its share of delimitation woes. In fact, in a nutshell, it can be stated that Gujarat 2012 is an election of three D’s; Delimitation, Drought and Developmental politics. While drought should adversely affect the fortunes of the ruling BJP, developmental agenda should be pro-incumbent. That leaves us with the X-factor of delimitation, the impact of which is difficult to gauge at the outset.

The urban nature of Gujarat

We have already established in the part 1 of this series that about 42% of the Gujarati population lives in urban clusters of towns/cities & metropolitans. What is important in the 2012 context is the re-organization of this 42% population through the exercise of delimitation.

[Data Source: West-Zone Delimitation Commission, Election Commission of India]

Today there are about 69 assembly segments, more than 1/3rd of the total assembly strength, where urban voters constitute 50% or more votes. Even among the remaining 113 assembly segments, at least 30 seats have significant amounts of urban areas within the boundaries (about 25%+ urban voters). Thus, essentially, in 99 assembly seats urban voters play a key role in deciding the winner.

BJP has been consistently outperforming the Congress party in the urban assembly segments of the state, both in the assembly polls as well as in the LS polls. For instance, even in the previous 2009 LS polls, when the BJP’s performance in the state was below-par and its urban vote-share had been dented (as demonstrated in part 1 of this series), yet, even then, BJP led in 49 of the 69 urban dominated assembly segments (post-delimitation). This performance of the BJP is likely to improve in the upcoming elections as the party’s urban-vote tends to improve in the assembly election scenario (refer to part 1).

[Data Source: Election Commission of India]

Apart from the urbanization impact, delimitation has also redrawn the boundaries of a majority of assembly segments. About 60 assembly segments have completely changed in nature, while at least another 80 have also been impacted in one way or the other.

Drought and the rural vote

Now that we have analysed the urban vote, it is time to take a closer look at the rural voters concerns. In the rural scenario, the other “D”, drought, is the biggest factor in Gujarat 2012 assembly elections.

The impact of drought on electoral outcomes can never be underestimated in the Indian electoral context. In fact, except for the communists in West Bengal, no government has ever been re-elected in a drought year in Indian elections after emergency.

This was a partial drought year in Gujarat for 3 main reasons;

  1. Only certain geographical parts were affected by drought
  2. Drought like situation was rescued by some late rains in August & September
  3. Gujarat government’s initiatives over the years have reduced the impact of drought on the rural agronomy

Thus the impact of drought might not be as severe as in some other states in the past. Yet, worryingly for the BJP, the areas that bore the brunt of drought 2012 – Saurashtra & North Gujarat – happen to be the electoral strength areas of the ruling party. Till August this year, there were 10 districts which had up to 23% deficit rainfalls (i.e.) 10 districts had recorded rainfalls less than 150 mm till august, which happens to be the main sowing season.

One way of gauging voter preferences in a drought year in Gujarat is by extrapolating assembly segment lead positions of parties in the 2004 LS polls when Gujarat (as rest of India) was just recovering from a spell of severe drought.

2004 LS polls, assembly segment leads

[Data Source: Election Commission of India]

{Saurashtra & Kutch = Assembly seats of Kutch, Surendranagar, Jamnagar, Rajkot, Junagadh, Porbandar, Amreli, Bhavnagar and Dhanduka LS seats

North Gujarat = Assembly seats of Mehsana, Patan, Banaskanta, Sabrakanta and parts of Kapadvanj LS seats

Central Gujarat = Assembly seats of Ahmedabad, Gandhinagar, Anand, Kaira, Dohad, Godhra and parts of Kapadvanj LS seats

South Gujarat = Assembly seats of Chota Udaipur, Baroda, Broach, Surat, Mandvi and Balsar LS seats}

In the drought election of 2004, Congress was leading in 92 assembly segments, while BJP maintained pole-position in 89 assembly segments (JDU led in the 1 remaining segment). Congress’ best performance was in North & Central Gujarat and to some extent in Saurashtra, despite of the fact that the drought was spread across the state.

Modi’s Achilles heel is drought

This time the maximum impact of drought is seen in the North Gujarat and Saurashtra regions. There are a total of 72 assembly segments which have had some impact of drought or drought related difficulties this year. These assembly segments can be further classified as direct impact segments and peripheral impact assembly segments;

[Data Source: Election Commission of India]

  1. Directly impacted assembly segments are constituencies that have borne the full impact of drought and are typically segments with large concentration of voters in the hinterland areas and very little urban areas – 49 assembly seats – in these 49 segments BJP has an overall lead of about 376912 votes or an average lead of 7700 votes in each assembly segment. Congress has won 14 of these seats, while BJP has won 35.
  2. Peripherally impacted assembly segments are constituencies that are largely semi-urban or urban assembly segments surrounding the drought impacted areas of a district or region – 23 assembly seats – in these 23 segments BJP has an overall lead of about 271526 votes or an average of 11800 votes in each assembly segment. Congress has won only 4 of these seats, while BJP has won 19.

At least theoretically, BJP can be defeated in these 72 drought affected assembly segments and that is a definite worry for Modi. Typically in rural Gujarat, small and marginal farmers are majorly into dairy farming, thanks to AMUL, and especially during drought years most small farmers concentrate more on the milk economy and escape the brutal impact of drought. It is the medium and large farmer that bears the maximum brunt of drought in Gujarat.

  • Typically 70% of all medium and large farmers are from the Patidar or Patel community
  • In Saurashtra an average of 25% of all voters are Patidars or Patels, whereas in North Gujarat, Patels constitute about 20% of the populace, thus giving us an average of 22% Patel voters in Saurashtra and North Gujarat.
  • In the post-delimitation era, average electorate size of an assembly segment is about 1.6 to 1.8 lakhs.
  • If an average 60% of voters turnout to vote on election day, then roughly 1 lakh voters would have exercised their franchise in each assembly segment.
  • At 22% population share, an average of 20 to 22 thousand Patels should turn out to vote in each assembly seat of Saurashtra and North Gujarat.
  • We have seen in part 1 that 52% to 70% of Patels vote for the BJP – 52% in LS Polls and 70% in assembly polls.
  • Even assuming that an average 65% of Patels in Saurashtra and North Gujarat have voted for the BJP, it means about 13000 to 14000 Patels have voted for BJP in each assembly seat in 2007 elections.

    Thus for an anti-incumbent impact of drought to have any realistic chance of succeeding, 50% to 80% of the BJP’s Patel vote should shift away from it – 7700 to 11800 votes in each of the 72 drought affected constituencies.

The presence of GPP along with drought could potentially achieve this micro-shift of vote-share away from BJP in Saurashtra and North Gujarat. But three aspects must be noted before reaching out to conclusions purely on the basis of drought-Patel-Vote paradigm;

  1. There could be gains in the vote-share of the BJP in the non-Patel vote; mainly in Muslim and Koli votes (we will further analyse the Muslim vote separately in the next part).
  2. The shifting away of Patel vote from the BJP might not accrue to the Congress and actually go to “others”
  3. The shifting away of the drought-Patel vote could affect both Congress and BJP; there are 19 Congress seats among the drought impacted 72.

The Development vote for NaMO

The third D of the Gujarat triangle is the development vote, which has now become synonymous with the NaMO vote. But the NaMO vote is not purely a positive vote for the BJP, in fact, it is a combination of +ve and –ve votes. For every vote in the Indian electoral system, there is a counter vote; for instance if a section of India votes for economic reforms, then there is a counter vote for that in the form of leftist/socialist anti-reforms vote, similarly if a section of voters still believe in voting for the Nehru-Gandhis, there is a counter vote that goes against the dynastic tendencies of Indian democracy.

We must understand the balance between pro-NaMO vote and the anti-NaMO vote in order to understand the construct of the overall NaMO vote in Gujarat. So, first let us analyse the components of each of these counter votes.

[Data Compilation based on past election performance + previous election surveys]

  • Essentially 50% of the urban and 27% of the rural Hindu vote is pro-NaMO, cutting across caste-lines (Hindu vote = Upper castes + a section of Intermediate castes + OBCs). Thus a weightage of 35%
  • The pro-reforms vote is essentially a Gujarati vote cutting across caste-religion-community lines that is of the business community which has hugely benefited by the 10 year NaMO rule. Weightage = 20%
  • The Modi-cult vote is once again a unique demography that largely consists of women voters who turnout in droves to vote for BJP and Narendra Modi in election after election. Weightage = 20%
  • Gujarat has historically been an anti-Congress state and has a traditional anti-Congress vote beyond the Hindu vote or the pro-reforms vote. Weightage = 15%
  • Gujarati society has always been against “minority appeasement” and that also manifests as an independent vote-block which might waver a bit this time around due to Sadbhavana of Modi, that is why a weightage of 6%
  • Minority vote is essentially anti-NaMO in nature and past voting patterns have suggested that 75% to 85% Muslims and minorities tend to vote against Modi in the state. Weightage – 8%
  • There is space for leftist, anti-liberalization vote in Gujarat, especially due to certain land acquisition policies and the resultant population displacements. This is the biggest anti-NaMO vote block in Gujarat and essentially brings in disparate groups of people under one umbrella of the socialist vote. Weightage = 15%
  • The Ant-MODI-cult vote is a new phenomenon that has developed over the last few years and consists of mostly former disgruntled BJP-ites and Hindutvawadis who are against personality cults. Weightage = 6%

[Data Source: CSDS + NES + BJP internal database + extrapolating data from Modi constituency, Maninagar]

The above chart is further corroborated by approval ratings of Narendra Modi as the CM of Gujarat, which usually fall in the range between 65% to 85% in all the surveys and opinion polls. Thus it can be safely assumed that 2 out of 3 Gujaratis easily endorse Narendra Modi, while 1 out of 3 are opposed to him.

A 70% approval rating or a 65-70% NaMO vote does not linearly translate into actual vote-share in a non-presidential Westminster style representative democracy like India. There are local factors that have a much more important impact in deciding the winner or loser of an assembly constituency, so there is a need to quantify the NaMO vote of Gujarat in terms of assembly elections.

[Data Source: Approximations of CSDS + BJP internal database of 2002 & 2007 assembly polls]

Essentially, about 75%-80% of the Gujarati voters tend to vote on local issues like Bijli, Sadak, Pani and the caste calculations of the contesting candidates and only about 18% to 20% of the voters (overall) tend to vote on general issues. Thus, in effect, the NaMO vote is derived from this 20% vote in an assembly election.

  • If X = Pro-NaMO vote, then anti NaMO vote = X/3
  • Let us consider the lower limit of 18% voters voting in an assembly election on non-local factors
  • Let us further deduct a 3% as margin of errors
  • Thus general factors, Y = 15% of votes in each assembly election
  • Let us extrapolate Y = X
  • Now the NaMO-vote M = X-X/3 which is = 15-15/3 = 10%
  • Thus NaMO-vote M = 10% in each assembly segment

Now Let us consider an example:

In Bhavnagar rural assembly segment there are 2.2 lakh voters and if as a historical average 63% of the voters turn out to vote on December 13th, then essentially about 138000 voters would have voted in the assembly polls

Extrapolating the above NaMO-vote equation, M = 13800

Thus, the BJP candidate starts the race with an advantage of 13800 votes, whereas the Congress candidate has to first secure 13800 votes over and above the votes that he may or may not accrue due to local factors

In other words, all other factors being equal, BJP candidates should always win by a margin of 10% votes in each assembly election, whereas Congress candidates can only win where local factors are completely skewed against the ruling party.

This also explains the 10% margin that BJP has maintained over Congress in the assembly elections, even if it means hitting the magical 50% vote-share since 2002 onwards.

The electoral impact of GPP and “others”

[Data Source: Election Commission of India]

{1990 “others” vote-share of 35.24% is inclusive of Janata Dal votes; 2012 “others” vote-share of 18% is projected and not actual}

  • Since 1998, Gujarat has essentially been a bipolar polity with BJP and Congress at the opposite poles
  • For the first time since 1995 there are such a large number of contestants per constituency in Gujarat assembly elections – more than 9
  • Historical evidence suggests that for every increase of 1 contestant there would be a commensurate increase of a minimum of 2% in the overall vote-share of “others”; therefore 18% projected vote-share of “others” in 2012 elections
  • In the last 2 assembly elections, the 2 principal players, BJP & Congress have been together securing about 90% of the total votes and any dramatic drop in that percentage can alter the electoral outcomes in a big way
  • Presence of organized parties like GPP can corner a significant chunk of the votes in the upcoming elections – even a 5-6% vote-share by the GPP can make a big dent in the no: of seats secured by a party, especially that of Congress
  • Other than GPP, there are players like BSP, JDU, SP, Sadbhavana Manch and rebels & independents who can corner anywhere between 9 to 12% of the total vote-share

In order to understand the movement/flux of the vote from the principal players to the “others”, one must analyse the past vote-share data. Since the number of strong “others” is higher in Saurashtra than other regions of the state, let us consider the vote share data of some of the districts in Saurashtra.

[Data Source: Election Commission of India]

  • Congress vote-share is more susceptible to a flux than the BJP vote-share in Saurashtra; in fact, it can almost be deduced that the Congress vote-share is inversely proportional to the vote-share of “others”
  • BJP vote-share remains more-or-less intact, in other words, BJP vote-share is independent to the impact of the “others” vote-share up to reasonable levels.
  • When the “others” vote-share remains in the range of 8% to 18%, BJP vote-share remains undisturbed, but once the vote-share goes beyond 20% – as seen in the Bhavnagar LS polls, when Gordhanbhai Zadafia contested as an MJP candidate – BJP also starts losing its vote-share
  • Interestingly, even when the “others” vote-share is as high as 30%, BJP maintains a decent 4% gap over its nearest rival, Congress.
  • If the projected “others” vote-share of 18% holds true in 2012, then it could potentially create a sweep/landslide like situation in favour of the BJP, because it is Congress that is likely to lose vote-share in the “18%-others-vote” scenario, rather than the BJP

Impact of turnout on electoral outcomes

The last aspect in our understanding of Gujarat assembly elections 2012 is the turnout factor. Classically, in the Indian context, higher voter turnouts mean anti-incumbency and the increased chances of the ruling party being voted out. In the case of Gujarat, the reverse has been true almost always. BJP’s performance has always been better when the turnouts are higher, whereas that of Congress are improved in low turnout elections.

One primary reason for this unique Gujarati phenomenon is that the BJP voters tend to participate less at times (like in LS polls) due to either voter-political-fatigue or due to lesser incentives to vote, whereas BJP voters tend to vote in large numbers during assembly polls when they have a greater incentive to vote. The alternate theory is that the large Gujarati middle class (semi-urban/urban and even the rural) forms the core vote-base of the BJP/NaMO in Gujarat and when the middle class comes out to vote, it increases the overall turnout as well as BJP’s vote-share.

[Data Source: Election Commission of India]

In the above chart it is quite clear that when the turnout goes below 50% it is advantage Congress and when it goes beyond 55% it is advantage BJP. Interestingly, even a change of 2% in turnout can make a difference of 10+ seats. A decrease of even 2% from around 48% turnout (between 2009 & 2004), meant a drop of 17 seats for the BJP. An increase in 2% turnout (between 2007 & 2002) meant commensurate increase in 10 assembly seats for the BJP. A similar inverse relationship with turnout percentages can be seen with the Congress performance in Gujarat.

Summary

  • The one big impact of delimitation is the increased number of urban/semi-urban seats – from 47 to 69 – which will have a positive impact on BJP’s performance as 2/3 urban voters tend to vote for the party in assembly elections
  • Drought is the only possible theoretic reason by which Modi’s BJP can be defeated in Gujarat, as 72 assembly seats fall into the drought-affected category
  • There is at least a bare-minimum of 10% NaMO vote that BJP gets in each constituency of the state.
  • Congress vote-share is inversely proportional to the “others” vote share, whereas BJP’s is neutral
  • Congress vote-share and performance is also inversely proportional to turnout, whereas BJP’s vote-share & performance is directly proportional to turnout.

[In the next & concluding part, the final predictive model will be unveiled]

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Praveen Patil

Praveen Patil

Analyst of Indian electoral politics and associated economics with a right-of-centre perspective.