Chandrababu rings a false alarm

In Politics, The Hindu Business Line by Praveen ChakravartyLeave a Comment

He feels rural voters turned against him for his urban image and has warned Modi of the same. His analysis is wrong

Prime Minister Modi would do well to learn lessons from my defeat,” Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu told The Economist on May 30, 2015. The article further elaborates that “those close to Modi are painfully aware of Naidu’s 2004 parable”.

The notion that Naidu’s reforms in Andhra Pradesh between 1999 to 2004 made him a rockstar among the urban rich but a nonstarter among the rural poor, thus leading to his electoral defeat, has been deeply entrenched in Indian political thought for more than a decade.

Rockstar down

Only, this is folklore, devoid of any data-based evidence.

The Census and the National Sample (NSSO) surveys are perhaps the only reliable data sources that numerically and objectively define the often-bandied categories such as urban, rural, rich, poor, literate, illiterate, young, old and so on.

Surprisingly, the Census districts and the Election Commission’s electoral constituencies are two completely distinct silos, making it very hard to map electoral data to its districts.

Using Census data from 2001 and 2011 and corresponding NSSO data, we categorised the 23 districts of erstwhile united Andhra Pradesh in order of ‘urbanness’, ‘richness’, etc. We then painstakingly mapped all 294 electoral assembly constituencies of Andhra Pradesh to each of these districts.

Analysis of 35 million votes cast in the 2004 elections in Andhra Pradesh across these 294 constituencies and 23 districts reveals that Naidu’s loss was uniform and spread evenly among urban/rural, rich/poor, young/old voters.

In Hyderabad, the most urban and wealthy district, Naidu’s TDP won 41 per cent of the votes in seats that it contested versus 56 per cent for the Congress. In Mahbubnagar, the most rural district according to the Census definition, TDP won 45 per cent of the votes versus the Congress’ 48 per cent.

In Nizamabad, the poorest district according to the NSSO, the TDP won 39 per cent votes versus the Congress’ 56 per cent. In the five most urban districts, Naidu’s TDP won 43.8 per cent of its contested votes vis-à-vis 43.5 per cent in the five most rural districts.

Similarly, in the five richest districts, the TDP won 44 per cent of its votes versus 42 per cent in the five poorest districts. For the more mathematically inclined, the trendline of TDP’s vote share across districts of ‘urban’ or ‘rich’ is flat, with no statistically significant relationship.

This analysis was also tested for various scenarios — districts that urbanised rapidly between the 2001 and 2011 Census periods, districts that saw an inordinate growth in wealth in this period, districts with higher youth population, districts with higher literacy levels and so on. The results show widespread disenchantment rather than a response to a specific phenomenon.

Comprehensively out

In 2004, Andhra Pradesh had simultaneous elections to its State assembly and Lok Sabha. Voter choices across districts were tested for differences between the assembly and Lok Sabha elections as well.

The results are unequivocal — Naidu was voted out across all segments with no one section of society favouring him disproportionately over the others.

It is unclear from this analysis that Naidu’s economic reforms abetted his downfall or that he was embraced by the urban rich and ostracised by the rural poor.

The only plausible explanation for Naidu’s 2004 loss in the absence of any other hard evidence seems to be plain voter discontent and anti-incumbency uniformly across all sections.

Wedged between a noisy clamour for economic reforms and the silence over farmer suicides, governing leaders in India seem to struggle to achieve a seemingly impossible balance between votes for their party and greenback notes for the economy.

In our quest for simplistic narratives, we run the risk of endangering the larger policy environment by misreading electoral verdicts. It is time to discard the demons of the 2004 electoral loss of the TDP and the BJP.

Perhaps the only lesson to learn for both Naidu and Modi is that there were no deeper lessons there.

Published on 17 July, 2015 in Hindu Business Line