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Chhattisgarh 2008: Defeating Anti-Incumbency

The Bharatiya Janata Party's triumph in the Chhattisgarh assembly election had a lot to do with the way in which the public perceived the gains of the Raman Singh government's social sector spending. The opposition Congress embarked on its campaign with the plank of antiincumbency but forgot to factor in that there is a perceptible link between voter choice and satisfaction with performance.

STATE ELECTIONS 2007-08february 7, 2009 EPW Economic & Political Weekly38organisational man helped theBJP over-ride not only anti-incumbency but also factionalism. Poor electoral management by the faction-ridden Congress also helped theBJP. It could be argued that the Con-gress had too many leaders and very few workers in this election. Third, it became clear that incumbency need not always be a liability. In Madhya Pradesh, like in neighbouringChhattisgarh, the victory of therulingparty raises questions about how far the “anti-incumbency factor” deter-mines electoral outcomes. The results of this election are an eye-opener for all the major political parties and the emerging trendsreinforcethe reality that the electorate of the state isbecoming mature with the passage of time. ReferencesPai, Sudha (2003): “BSP’s Prospects in the Assembly Elections”, Economic & Political Weekly, 26 July, 3136.Palshikar, Suhas and Sanjay Kumar (2004): “Partici-patory Norm: How Broad-based Is it?”Economic & Political Weekly, 18 December, pp 5412-17.Chhattisgarh 2008: Defeating Anti-Incumbency Dhananjai Joshi, Praveen RaiThe Bharatiya Janata Party’s triumph in the Chhattisgarh assembly election had a lot to do with the way in which the public perceived the gains of the Raman Singh government’s social sector spending. The opposition Congress embarked on its campaign with the plank of anti-incumbency but forgot to factor in that there is a perceptible link between voter choice and satisfaction with performance.The Chhattisgarh assembly election held in December 2008 saw the Raman Singh-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government return to power with a clear majority. The incumbent BJP government confidently contested the election on the slogans of “development” and “fight against the red terror”. The BJP’s main rival, the Congress, along with its ally, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), preferred the more usual anti- incumbency plank. The result showed that Raman Singh’s development record was able to persuade the electorate to grant him another five-year term in the state. Even the state action against the Maoists in the southern tribal tracts garnered sup-port but like in the last assembly election, theBJP had a very thin lead in terms of votes polled, though it won a comfortable majority. What makes it important is that the BJP won this election against many odds: the Congress-NCP alliance that threatened to turn the tide, widespread disturbances and violence due to the Salwa Judum, a state-sponsored vigilante movement against the Naxalites, farmers’ suicides and the incumbency factor. The BJP was able to win 50 assembly seats, the same as it won in the 2003 election, with a little over 40% of the votes polled, improving its vote share by 1%. The faction-ridden Congress managed to im-prove its tally to 38, one more than what it won in 2003, and secured a little over 39% of the vote, 1% more than in 2003. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which had two seats in the 2003 assembly, again wontwoseatsbut improved its vote share by around 2%. The results clearly point out that the Raman Singh government’s image among voters as a development-oriented admini-stration enabled it to counter the logic of anti-incumbency and the impact of the Congress-NCP alliance. This was strongly so among the voters in urban areas of the state. But this alone would not have given the BJP a decisive victory, carrying the Bastar region in particular and the entire Naxalite-dominated region in general. The BJP presented itself as a strong force capable of countering the Naxalite “menace”. While much of the focus of media was on the Salwa Judum areas (Konta, Bijapur and Dantewada constituencies in south Bastar), what was crucial was the areas1 outside it. This was where the BJP scored an emphatic victory, backed by Gond adivasis in the south and by non-ad-viasis in the north.A region-wise disaggregation of elec-tion results shows that the BJP swept south Chhattisgarh, winning 11 of the 13 seats in this region (Table 1, p 39). South Chhattis-garh, comprising Bastar, Kanker and Dan-tewada districts, has been the hub of the Salwa Judum,2 a government-supported initiative against the Naxalites which, though started by Congress leader Mahen-dra Karma, has enjoyed the active support of the BJP government. The BJP fared well in the tribal regions and all the rural as-sembly constituencies of the state where the Naxalite influence was strong. It man-aged to win 21 of the 30 Naxalite rural as-sembly constituencies with a vote share of more than 42%. The ruling party also cap-tured the support of urban voters, winning nine out of the 12 urban assembly seats with a vote share of more than 49%. In ru-ral areas not affected by Naxalites, the Congress did better than the BJP, winning 26 of the 48 rural seats. In neighbouring Dhananjai Joshi (joshi.dhananjai@gmail.com) and Praveen Rai (praveenrai@lokniti.org) are at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi.
STATE ELECTIONS 2007-08Economic & Political Weekly EPW february 7, 200939Madhya Pradesh as well, the BJP dominat-ed in the urban constituencies in the re-cently held assembly election. It is note-worthy that the BJP did rather less satis-factorily in rural areas in both states, though the Congress failed to take advan-tage of this. In other words, there were three kinds of electoral competitions in the state: in urban constituencies, in Naxalite- influenced rural constituencies and in other rural constituencies. The BJP won hands down in the first two kinds of elec-toral contests while the Congress had an upper hand in the rural constituencies where the Naxalites were present. Thus the Congress suffered for overlooking these two special areas and contesting throughout the state on a uniform plank. A Narrow Victory for the BJPThis leads us to our operational hypo-thesis that the state government’s deve-lopment and governance record, its initia-tives vis-à-vis the Naxalites and its ability to meet electoral promises by providing adequate fiscal space helped beat the anti-incumbency factor in the state. The focus was more on the performance of the state government and satisfaction of the people with governance and development for two reasons: first, electoral politics in Indian states have been characterised by less vol-atility than in the 1970s,3 and second, by and large, less volatile states also experi-ence less of an anti-incumbent swing, but the correlation is not perfect, which indi-cates that electoral volatility cannot be re-duced to simply anti-incumbency (Chhib-ber and Nooruddin 2008).Since the characteristics of electoral volatility in Indian states since the 1990s have been relatively consistent or declin-ing (Chhibber and Nooruddin 2008), the hypothesis is that the administrative per-formance of the Raman Singh-led BJP government with exercise of adequate fiscal space, resulting in their voting back the incumbent party for another term in office. Factors such as lack of anti-incum-bency, lower levels of volatility, adequate fiscal space and “good governance” seem to have been the crucial determinants in deciding how Chhattisgarh voted in this election. This article is based on an in-depth analysis of the 2008 as-sembly election, using an ex-tensive descriptive and infer-ential statistical analysis of public opinion on perform-ance of the state government, besides other issues suchas Naxalite/state violence and public-state relations. The main data source for the anal-ysis is the Chhattisgarh As-sembly Election Study – 2008,4 a post-poll survey con-ducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), New Delhi. Governments that are unable to provide services to the pub-lic because of financial con-straints (fiscal space) suffer at the polls and are more likely to losepower, a factor that has resulted in low incumbency success rates in India (Chhib-ber and Nooruddin 2008). “Fiscal space” has been defined as the room in a government’s budget that al-lows it to provide resources for a desired purpose without jeopardising the sustain-ability of its financial position or the sta-bility of the economy (Heller 2005). When a government exercises the fiscal space available to it to provide services to its citizens, the incumbent party is returned to power,because voters recognise that the degreeto which a particular constituency (partisan or geographic) is targeted with these services is a function of the support it pro-vided the incumbent party or coalition of parties. Voters support parties in expecta-tion of continually benefiting from state expenditure on public services. When states lack the fiscal space necessary to provide public services, voters have little reason to reward parties with their con-tinued support and become open to alter-native appeals (Chhibber and Nooruddin 2008). TheBJP regime in the state presid-ed over a lot of development projects and this saw an increase in social sector spending. In Chhattisgarh, from 2003 to 2008, while the non-plan expenditure increased only by 28%, plan expenditure (social sector spending) increased by 61%.5 Thus adequate fiscal space provided Table 1: Summary of Election Verdict Total Voter Congress + NCP BJP BSP Others Seats Turnout (%) Seats Votes (%) Seats Votes (%) Seats Votes (%) Seats Votes (%)Entire state 90 70.6 38 39.1 50 40.3 2 6.1 0 14.4North Chhattisgarh 34 72.0 15 38.2 18 38.2 1 6.3 0 17.4Central Chhattisgarh 43 71.4 21 41.3 21 41.8 1 6.5 0 10.5South Chhattisgarh 13 63.4 2 33.0 11 41.4 0 3.9 0 21.6Urban seats1 1263.33 40.19 49.50 2.4 0 7.9Naxal-rural seats 30 70.5 9 35.5 21 42.0 0 3.3 0 19.2Other rural seats 48 72.4 26 41.0 20 37.4 2 8.5 0 13.1General seats 51 70.8 24 40.8 26 41.4 1 5.8 0 11.9ST reserved seats 29 70.5 10 36.7 19 39.2 0 3.3 0 20.7SC reserved seats 10 69.6 4 36.8 5 38.1 1 14.4 0 10.8Tribal dominated seats2 4772.12038.12739.003.3019.6Others 43 69.1 18 40.2 23 41.7 2 9.0 0 9.1All the classifications stand for post-delimited assembly constituencies. 1 Urban seats are those with more than 50% urban population (Census 2001); 2 More than 20% tribal population (Census 2001).Source: CSDS Data Unit.Table 2: High Levels of Satisfaction with BJP Government of Chhattisgarh Satisfied Dissatisfied No Opinion N Net Satisfaction ScoreAll respondents 73 14 13 1,108 +69Congress + NCP voters 57 26 17 427 +31BJP voters 87 3 10 446 +84BSP voters 74 11 15 69 +63Voters of other parties 75 14 11 166 +61Table is statistically significant @ p. value < .001.“Net Satisfaction score” is defined as satisfied with state government minus dissatisfied.Source: CSDS Chhattisgarh Assembly Election Study, Post-Poll – 2008, weighted data set (Un-weighted n=1249).Table 3.1: Performance on Basic Amenities and ServicesThose Who Say That under BJP Rule… Improved No Difference Deteriorated No OpinionCondition of roads 66 23 6 5Electricity supply 45 35 10 10Educational facilities 43 34 6 17Healthcare facilities 30 44 12 14Condition of farmers 30 35 16 19Irrigation facilities 22 40 19 19Law and order 22 41 12 25Table 3.2: Corruption, Inflation and EmploymentThose Who Say That under BJP Rule… Increased Same As Before Decreased No OpinionCorruption 19161451Employment opportunities 40 34 10 16Inflation 771454Source: CSDS Chhattisgarh Assembly Election Study, Post-Poll – 2008, weighted data set (Un-weighted n=1249).
STATE ELECTIONS 2007-08february 7, 2009 EPW Economic & Political Weekly40by Raman Singh’s government to the people could have been an important rea-son for them voting the incumbent regime back to power. However, this alone does not explain the BJP’s victory, and other determinants of why the people voted in favour of it need to be analysed. The anti-Naxalite stance of the BJP gov-ernment and its support for the Salwa Ju-dummovement in Chhattisgarh was mired in controversy with allegations by human rights organisations that people had been abused by the movement’s activists and government security forces. The survey tried to probe public opinion on this issue in Naxalite-affected areas but 55% to 69% of the respondents (depending on the question) did not express an opinion.Public Opinion on the Government and Naxalites in Chhattisgarh: It is clear that popular sentiment was in the favour of Raman Singh government. But the question is whether this sentiment was a result of the government’s handling of the Naxalite movement or whether its performance in other areas played a major role. The survey reveals that voters in Chhattisgarh were highly satisfied with the performance of the BJP government – 73% of the electorate expressed satisfaction with the party’s performance in the state. Around 40% reported full satisfaction with the state government. A majority of respondents supporting all parties, including the Con-gress and the BSP, reported being satisfied with the performance of the BJP gov-ernment (see Table 2, p 39). This was an interesting finding because it is unusual for supporters of the main opposition parties to report that they are satisfied with the performance of the ruling party. Overall Satisfaction with State Government: More than seven out of 10 voters in the state seemed to be satis-fied with the overall perform-ance of the state government at the macro level, and this seems to have translated into votes for BJP. The Raman Singh government scored highly on parameters of gov-ernance like improving the condition of roads, electricity supply and educational facili-ties (Tables 3.1 and 3.2, p 39). If we compare public opinion on the con-dition of roads in the state during Raman Singh’s government with the previous Ajit Jogi government, we find that 66% voters said the condition of roads improved dur-ing the BJP’s rule. Only 49% said they im-proved during the time of the previous Congress government. Similarly, a signifi-cant section of the voters assessed the gov-ernment’s performance as satisfactory on governance indicators like healthcare facilities, condition of farmers, irrigation facilities and law and order. The only red lines on the government’s report card were on the issues of controlling prices and corruption. More than seven out of 10 voters were of the opinion that inflation had increased during Raman Singh’s ten-ure and two out of 10 thought that corrup-tion had increased. Thus the overall per-formance of Raman Singh’s government based on governance assessment both at the macro and micro levels was fairly rated by the state’s voters. Assessment of the BJP Government’s Performance in Last Five Years:Apart from getting feedback from the voters on satisfaction levels with the state govern-ment’s performance, the survey asked them to comparatively assess and rate which party, the Congress or the BJP, was better on issues such as overall develop-ment of the state, curbing corruption, welfare of women and the poor, and re-sponding to the Naxalite movement (Ta-ble 4). On all these, the BJP was rated bet-ter than the Congress. On the overall de-velopment of the state, the BJP was per-ceived to be better than the Congress by 23 percentage points. Public opinion was that since theBJP came to power in 2003, farmers’ suicides had fallen, and the alle-gation that state resources had been squandered on foreign companies was baseless (Table 5). This popularity of the BJP seemed to be one variable that ex-pressed the overall satisfaction with the government and the positive rating the government enjoyed on issues of develop-ment. In a bipolar contest, this popularity became the main driving force behind votes for the ruling party.Comparison of the Congress and the BJP: Who Is Better?:This popularity of theBJP also helped it cash in on some of the schemes introduced by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance at the cen-tre. Popular initiatives such as the Nation-al Rural Employment Guarantee Act and the waiver of loans to farmers were by and large perceived to be schemes of the state government. In voters’ perception, the credit for both these central government schemes went to the state government (Table 6). This finding suggests that the BJP has developed a popular image that might not always coincide with what exists on the ground level. With theBJP winning a second consecu-tive term, it is interesting to analyse the demographic patterns of voting in this election. The post-poll survey provides a Table 4: Which Party Is Better? Criteria BJP Congress No Opinion Net Advantage BJPOverall development of the state 51 28 21 +23Welfare of the poor 49 26 25 +23Welfare of women 41 23 36 +18Curbing corruption 31 18 51 +13Response to Naxalites 29 16 55 +13“Net Advantage BJP” is defined as perception of BJP as a better party minus Congress.Source: CSDS Chhattisgarh Assembly Election Study, Post-Poll – 2008, weighted data set (Un-weighted n=1249).Table 5: Performance under Raman Singh Government AgreeDisagreeNoOpinionFarmer suicides have increased 12 35 53State’s resources have been wrongly given to foreign companies 15 23 62Source: CSDS Chhattisgarh Assembly Election Study, Post Poll – 2008, weighted data set (Un-weighted n=1249).Table 6: Perception on Schemes: State or Central Government Scheme Central Government State Government Can’t Say Not HeardFarmers’ loan waiver 20 30 18 32NREGA 23362021Source: CSDS Chhattisgarh Assembly Election Study, Post-Poll – 2008, weighted data set (Un-weighted n=1249).Table 7: Vote by Caste/Community Congress + NCP BJP BSP Others NUpper caste 30 40 3 27 113Yadav 25597 9 109Kurmi 46430 1166Other OBC 33 37 6 24 242Dalit 34361713146Gond 3064-6 67Other adivasis 54 32 4 10 311Others 364291353N denotes number.Table is statistically significant @ p. value < .001.Source: CSDS Chhattisgarh Assembly Election Study, Post-Poll – 2008, weighted data set (Un-weighted n=1249).
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