Gujarat Assembly poll produces representative mandate

Politics in Gujarat had been quite favourable for the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) for a long two decades time or for six state elections continuously. There had been a static performance of BJP in last five elections (1995-2012), with a range of 115 to 127 seats.

The Assembly election of 2017 was the missing spark of Gujarat politics with the revamped image of Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, and a few other leaders emerging on the basis of caste politics of Patels and Patidars.

Gujarat has been a state with relatively smaller political fluctuations during the last two decades. Many political commentators had argued that the reason primarily was the lack of popular leaders in opposition to the BJP. The current situation has been seen differently though, with Hardik Patel emerging as a significant player in local politics.

The result of the assembly elections surprised many, including all the agencies bringing exit poll speculations. The domination of the BJP was challenged during these elections and that is captured in the election results in ways more than the simple numbers could suggest. However, it is not only the winner and the loser, it is the quality of verdict that matters as well. This article interprets the statistics of previous six elections where BJP was the winner and argues that the current verdict has been the most representative in nature.

Before proceeding, let us understand how we can interpret representativeness. One popular way of understanding representativeness that has been used in political economy literature has been the diversion between the votes that a party gets and the seats that it wins. For example, if a party receives 40% votes and wins 70% seats in the assembly, it cannot be called representative because 30% extra seats are represented by just 40% voters. In other words, 40% of the voters have 70% representation in the assembly.

Individual parties' diversions between seat share and vote share can be translated into an aggregate measure called Disproportionality Index (DI), which is widely used in the literature to represent leakages of preferences in any election. The current election result is indeed rare in terms of its representativeness.

We calculated the DI index for the all previous elections won by the BJP. The DI for the 2017 elections has been the lowest in Gujarat's history of independent India. Interestingly, the vote shares of both the BJP and the INC have increased when compared to the 2012 elections.

This also shows the shifting of votes from smaller parties to the two main contenders. The BJP's vote share increased from 47.85% in 2012 to 49.1% but it holds 16 lesser seats in the assembly. This suggests that there has been a reduction in the diversion of seat share and vote share for the BJP between these two elections.

The Congress, on the other hand, has gained votes in this election and also managed to get a larger seat share as well. The party had won 33.5% seats with almost 39% vote share in 2012 but it managed 42.3% seats with 41.1% votes this time. This statistical analysis clearly indicates that the elections have produced a more representative mandate in Gujarat elections.

Parties other than the two main parties could not dilute the vote share in any significant way which is one of the reasons for the more representative government this time. Another surprising feature of the elections this time was the magnitude selection of the "none of the above" (Nota) option.

This is the first time Nota option has been chosen by so many people. This indicates the rise of voice for dissent by people and can be interpreted as an outcome
empowering voters. Nevertheless, the overall results are still better than the previous elections.

The situation in Himachal Pradesh, on the other hand, has given rise to a significant leakage of preferences. The DI for Himachal Pradesh is much larger than in Gujarat, which is also indicated by a great difference in the winner's vote share and seat share.

Himachal result

The BJP in Himachal Pradesh won 64.7% seats with a vote share of just 48.8% and the Congress has been a loser on this front as well. The party received 41.7% votes but it managed to turn only 30% of these voters' support into its seat base in 2017 assembly. Therefore, the Gujarat story is quantitatively as well as qualitatively different from the Himachal Pradesh elections.

Many election analysts have focused on the low margin victory for several seats for the BJP. The representation problem is at the heart of Indian electoral system. With the first past the post (FTPT) system of election, there is no way to ensure a representative government.

The election process produces random results, some of which are good in terms of representativeness and some are bad. The Gujarat outcome turns out to be a more representative one in question. We have been long discussing the removal of the FTPT system in the policy circles but nothing significant has yet happened.

The more representative outcome can be explained in terms of the changes in social engineering for Gujarat where caste politics worked in favour of the Congress in terms of higher seats even if it did not lead to success. The BJP is at its lowest point in the state which has been showcased as the epitome of the development model of the BJP.

Compare this with the elections of Uttar Pradesh this year, the position of the BJP has worsened in the national outlook. In the UP elections, the BJP posted its biggest ever victory with the highest winning margins in recent times in any other elections by any party. Within a few months' time, in another state, the situation is surely distinct. Undoubtedly, the Gujarat verdict is more of a setback than win for the ruling party.

(The writer teaches Economics at O P Jindal Global University)

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