The findings of a post-poll survey in Himachal Pradesh by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies based in New Delhi.YOGENDRA YADAV SANJAY KUMAR RAMESH K. CHAUHAN
FIRST there was Gujarat and now there is Himachal: two State Assembly elections that no one outside these States would, in ordinary times, pay any attention to. But we live in no ordinary times. First, the BJP's triumph in Gujarat was interpreted as an indication of the shape of things to come. What followed can only be described as a spectre that was haunting our polity, a spectre of a Hindutva-driven `Great BJP Wave' sweeping across the country. And now the BJP's decisive defeat in Himachal Pradesh is interpreted as the sign of the wave having subsided, of the Congress springing back in national politics.
Almost overnight the mood in national politics has changed, the ruling party is on the defensive after many months. In these fickle times, perhaps it is worth entertaining a sober thought: neither Gujarat nor Himachal are good indicators of the national political mood. Perhaps in this decade of regionalisation of politics, there is nothing like a national political mood that translates into a uniform swing cutting across the various divisions. Perhaps the spectre of Hindutva stream-rolling all the governance-related and local issues was over-drawn in the first place. Perhaps the danger has not disappeared altogether.
The psychological effect of the Himachal verdict cannot be underestimated. The fact is that Gujarat was perceived as the first sign of a national trend and Himachal was perceived as the first confirmatory test of this trend. The BJP has clearly failed the test miserably. The Great BJP Wave balloon has burst in its infancy. For a party that had invested unprecedented attention, energy and resources on an election in Himachal Pradesh, the defeat is truly shocking. The BJP had expected to either get a majority or finish close to a majority in a hung Assembly so that it could cobble together a government the way it did last time. Its final tally of 16 seats is half of its strength in the dissolved house. The Congress obtained a clear majority with 40 seats.
The number of independents and other smaller parties has increased to eight even as Sukh Ram's Himachal Vikas Congress lost three of the four seats it won last time. It does not take much psephology to see that Himachal was not an example of a BJP wave that was supposed to be sweeping the country.
It does take some psephological analysis, however, to understand the precise meaning of the popular mandate behind this verdict. The popular vote share of the parties shows the Congress victory has more than a fair share of luck. In the final analysis the Congress won 40.7 per cent votes against the BJP's 35.7 per cent. Thus a lead of 5 percentage points in popular votes gave the Congress nearly two-thirds of the seats. Ironically, in the last Assembly election, too, the Congress led by roughly the same margin - 4.8 percentage points to be precise. Yet it finished at the same level as its rival: the Congress secured only 31 seats compared to the BJP's 29 then.
Compared to the last election both the Congress and the BJP have lost about 3 percentage points. But the BJP has lost 13 seats, while the Congress has actually gained nine seats. A classic instance of the vagaries of the first-past-the-post system or of poetic justice for a party that was unjustly denied victory last time, depending on how one looks at it.
The regional equations hold the key to this paradox. In the last election Congress voters were concentrated in the `upper' Himachal region around Shimla. Congress won by big margins in this region. This time the Congress votes are more evenly spread across the three regions. The party actually lost nearly 10 percentage points vote in the Shimla region. But it was already so well placed that this loss cost the party only four seats. On the other hand, a gain of only three percentage points got the Congress eight additional seats in the Kangra region, a BJP stronghold. The results in Sukh Ram's own region of Mandi continue to be baffling. The BJP actually secured more votes than the Congress in this region but ended up with fewer seats.
The eclipse of the Himachal Vikas Congress has contributed to the victory of the Congress. In the last election Sukh Ram's formation won four seats that held the balance in the Assembly on the basis of 9.6 per cent of the popular votes. This time its vote share has come down to 5.8 per cent with only Sukh Ram retaining his seat. Thus Virbhadra Singh's insistence that the Congress must not enter into an alliance with HVC was vindicated. An alliance with the HVC would have brought the party only two more seats. At the same time the BJP must rue its divorce with the HVC. The BJP and the HVC together could have won 22 seats and brought the Congress down to 32. The HVC's near certain demise has not meant the demise of the smaller political formations. Independents and other smaller parties secured nearly 18 per cent votes, substantially higher than in most Indian States. While the Bahujan Samaj Party and the two communist parties failed to improve their performance, parties like the Himachal Loktantrik Morcha did much better. It seems there is a space for a third political formation in Himachal.
Much of this third space was occupied this time by the `rebel' candidates of both the major parties. An analysis of the identifiable rebels of the Congress and the BJP shows that while the Congress rebels (including those who fought on the HVC ticket) won three seats and secured 6 per cent of the total votes, the BJP rebels won two seats and secured 4.3 per cent votes. It is true that the Congress rebels stood in places where it was comfortably placed while the BJP rebels stood where it was precariously placed. Even then the difference is not huge: the rebels cost the Congress five seats, while the BJP lost eight seats because of the rebels. Therefore the BJP leadership's attempt to attribute the entire defeat to the `rebel factor' makes heavy demands on credulity.
THE social profile of voting, as revealed in the post-poll survey, shows that the Congress victory was aided by greater support among women and the underprivileged sections. The Congress led the BJP by seven percentage points among women voters, while its lead was only three points among men. In terms of castes, the Congress actually trailed the BJP among Brahmins and Rajputs. Unlike in the plains of north India, these two castes account for nearly half the voters of this hill State. What saved the day for the Congress was its overwhelming lead among Dalit voters, who constitute one-fourth of the electorate. As is the all-India trend, the BJP does better among the educated and the Congress among the less educated.
Interestingly, the same equation does not work for the class profile. The strongest Congress support comes not from the poorest, but from the well-off rural `middle class'. The unusually high vote for `others' among the poor indicates an unrest in the lowest strata that both the political parties are unable to articulate.
The post-poll survey also provides evidence that Hindutva was not an issue. Asked to name the one issue that made a decisive difference to their vote, only 2 per cent of the respondents mentioned Hindutva. Three out of four voters mentioned the issues of governance and development. Ironically, the P.K. Dhumal government's record on development was not seen to be very bad. The BJP was the preferred party in the post-poll survey as the party most suited to develop the State. What hit the BJP most were the allegations about the government's widespread corruption and its tendency to favour `outsiders'. The Congress campaign played up these charges to the hilt and they stuck. That is why the Congress obtained a comfortable five-point lead in the polls, while it was neck-and-neck with the BJP in a pre-poll survey conducted just before the campaign began. While the Congress succeeded in retaining the votes of 63 per cent of its supporters at that stage, the BJP retained only 55 per cent and lost the elections.
The voters suffer from an acute anxiety about the employment situation, as brought out in a question about their expectations of the new government. As in many other States, the effects of the New Economic Policy practised in the last decade have begun to be a factor in politics.
What the Himachal election brings out, above all, is the specificity of State politics in contemporary India. We are not in the era of the `nation-wide wave' elections of the 1970s and 1980s. Each State has its own patterns, trends and rhythms. Himachal is one of the strongholds of the Congress. The BJP has an old presence here but it has never won a clear mandate on its own. If Gujarat was a bad wicket to test the resilience of the Congress, Himachal was a bad case to check the strength of the BJP. The real test lies a few months ahead when four major north Indian States go to the polls.
THE post-poll sample survey sponsored by Frontline was based on 779 face-to-face interviews conducted in 40 polling stations of 20 randomly selected Assembly constituencies. All the interviews were conducted between February 26, after the polling was over, and the evening of February 28, the day before the counting began. The sample of 20 Assembly constituencies was drawn randomly using the probability proportionate to size (PPS) procedure and matched with the demographic and past electoral record for its representativeness.
Within each sampled constituency, two locations (polling station areas) were selected randomly and the names of the respondents randomly drawn from the electoral rolls. The respondents included 49 per cent women (actual share 49 per cent), 29 per cent Scheduled Castes (actual share 25 per cent), 93 per cent rural population (actual share 91 per cent).
The survey was designed by a team that included V.B. Singh, Yogendra Yadav and Sanjay Kumar of CSDS. The fieldwork was supervised by Ramesh Kumar Chauhan of Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla, Prem Bhardwaj of Government College, Nahan, and T.R. Sharma of Panjab University, Chandigarh. A team of 40 trained investigators drawn from the State carried out the survey. The data were processed by Kanchan Malhotra, Himanshu Bhattacharya, K.A.Q.A. Hilal, Ritu Rao and Bhaskar Jha at the CSDS.