India’s State Elections and the Run-up to 2014
November 19, 2013
Tens of millions of Indians will go to the polls over the next month to cast their votes in five state assembly elections. India is in the run-up to national elections (by May 2014) and is also experiencing a difficult economic environment of slower growth and high inflation, especially food price inflation. India’s political landscape is increasingly shaped by strong state leaders and factors at the regional and state levels, and these elections could provide a glimpse into some of the key issues that will decide the outcome of the 2014 national elections.
India’s political landscape is undergoing significant change. New Delhi has traditionally played a strong role in most matters of state. However, many observers now argue that strong Chief Ministers (similar to Governors in the U.S.) are changing the way politics play out at the state level, and that they are having a bottom-up effect on the national political scene. These elections and the upcoming national one provide an opportunity to test that theory, and the idea that the Chief Ministers who manage to bring economic and social gains to their constituents will be rewarded with re-election. In other words, they could reveal whether economic development is the foremost issue on voters’ minds, and whether a state’s “development dividend” can yield electoral success for the party in charge.
Different factors - ranging from corruption, economic development, food prices, caste and community, changing demographics and expectations, to access to jobs, education and healthcare are all at play in the different elections. And, as always, it’s important to keep in mind the old adage that all politics is local.
Q1: What is at stake?
A1: These elections will prove a testing ground for the major political parties ahead of the 2014 general elections. They will likely highlight voter frustration with the Congress Party, and also show whether this frustration translates into greater support for the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or regional parties. A slew of BJP victories at the state-level could augur well for its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, in the national election. The growing perception that Congress is on the back foot, incompetent, and mired in corruption could help position the BJP for national success. However, the BJP will have to contend with its reputation of a ‘Hindutva’ brand of divisive politics, which many find unappealing.
Over the past two years, India has made global headlines with protests against corruption and the horrific rape of a young New Delhi woman. The protestors have been from all walks of life, but hint at the emergence of a young and more highly educated middle class as a voting force. Traditionally a politically apathetic lot, their turnout will also test whether their attention can be harnessed by the parties and turned into votes, or whether they are simply demonstrating their anger towards current domestic affairs.
The five states currently holding elections account for 73 seats (or 14%) in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament. To put this in context, India’s two largest states, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, send a combined 128 representatives to Parliament. The issues at play in these states mirror those on the national stage. Furthermore, these elections could test the popularity of the BJP and Narendra Modi outside of Gujarat, and will be watched closely by a growing global audience looking for clues to India’s political and economic priorities in the near term.
Q2: Who are the contenders in each state, and what are the issues?
When: First Phase – November 11, 2013; Second Phase – November 19, 2013.
Population: 25.5 million
Raman Singh is the incumbent BJP Chief Minister and he has held office since 2003, for two consecutive terms. His government will try to stem the challenge from the Congress Party, which hasn’t named its Chief Ministerial candidate yet.
Chattisgarh was the first state in India to enact a food security law. It was implemented more efficiently than the corresponding national scheme and also has a wider reach, targeting 90 percent of the state’s population. Raman Singh is attempting to capitalize on good governance and development to retain power. Under his leadership, the state has grown rapidly with average GSDP growth of 15 percent between 2004-05 and 2011-12. Chattisgarh is rich with mineral resources and enjoys a distinction as being one of the few states with surplus power.
India’s Naxalite rebel group also has a strong foothold in the state, but despite heightened threats of violence from the rebels, the state saw a remarkable voter turnout of 75 percent.
Current projection: BJP wins
When: December 4
Population: 16.7 million
Shiela Dixit, the incumbent Chief Minister from the Congress Party has held office since 1998. She is known for transforming the city’s infrastructure, and has presided over the expansion of the Delhi Metro (which has become a model of efficiency), and the construction of new roads, highways, and an international airport.
Delhi’s political landscape has seen the entrance of Aam Aadmi Party (The Common Man’s party), led by Arvind Kejriwal, which grew out of the ‘India Against Corruption’ movement of 2011. The movement burst onto the Indian political scene, surprising even its participants with its success, and has been at the forefront of the Jan Lokpal Bill, legislation that would establish an independent ombudsman to investigate cases of corruption.
The BJP Candidate is Dr. Harsh Vardhan, who is currently a veteran member of Delhi’s Legislative Assembly. Some of the main issues at play are corruption, women’s safety and rights, inflation, lack of water, and high electricity costs.
Current projection: Hung assembly
When:November 25, 2013
Population: 72.5 million
The current two-time Chief Minister, Shivraj Singh Chauhan, represents the BJP and has held office since 2005. The main opposition is the Congress Party, led by Jyotiraditya Scindia, currently the head of India’s Ministry of Power. While the government is touting good governance and significant development gains, including 10% Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) growth in 2012-13, the opposition has blamed the government for corruption and lack of development. Mr. Scindia is widely viewed as part of the new generation of young political leaders and is the scion of a prominent political family, while Chief Minister Chouhan represents the older generation and comes from a “humble” background. The government is also battling an undercurrent of anti-incumbency. Some of the main election issues revolve around the amount of infrastructure development being touted by Chouhan, access to drinking water, electricity supply, and unemployment.
Current projection: BJP wins
When: December 1
Population: 68.6 million
Rajasthan is one of the country’s larger states, with nearly the same population as Thailand. Ashok Gehlot, the current Congress Chief Minister, has been in power since 2008. His main rival in the election will be the BJP’s Vasundhara Raje, who served as Chief Minister of the state from 2003 to 2008. Over the past decade, Rajasthan has focused on the delivery of basic services to its population, bringing down the poverty rate dramatically. However, most pre-election surveys predict a BJP victory due to dissatisfaction with the current government, a known anti-incumbency streak, a desire for faster economic growth (including bringing down the high rate of inflation), and a series of scandals involving cabinet-level officials.
Current projection: BJP wins
When: November 25
Population: 1.1 million
The second smallest of India’s states by population, Mizoram is currently ruled by the Congress with Lal Thanhawla serving as Chief Minister. Thanhawla is confident in his return to power, which would be his fifth term in office. Congress was voted back into power in the state in 2008 after trouncing the then-ruling separatist Mizo National Front (MNF). This time, Congress will face off against the Mizoram Democratic Alliance, a coalition comprising the MNF and two other regional parties. Corruption, access to education and skills training, energy development, and the government’s flagship New Land Use Policy scheme (which promotes sustainable farming) will be the deciding issues.
Current projection: Hung assembly
Persis Khambatta is a fellow with the Wadhwani Chair. Samir Nair and Vineeth Murthy, researchers with the Wadhwani Chair, also contributed to this Critical Questions.
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