Monthly Archives: September 2013

Chief Minister’s Dilemma

What can a state government meaningfully do and take credit for in a federal structure like India? And if that state does relatively well, can its elected head — the Chief Minister —  claim that success as one’s own? Or make that claim the the basis for seeking the office of the Prime Minister?

Chief Ministers and their governments do certain things exclusively. These also happen to be areas where the measurement of the impact is relatively easy. Especially in a country with such poor development indicators, basic services that a state government ought to provide — such as health and education — form good measures to track. No matter how many schemes the government in Delhi rolls out by virtue of holding the larger purse, the state government has complete monopoly over implementation in these areas.

On the other side of the coin, India’s federal system is too biased in favor of the central government for policy related success to be touted by any state government. For example, while high growth in a given state compared to others needs relatively good governance in that state as a necessary condition, it isn’t sufficient by any means. And in providing that necessary condition of governance — apart from basic adherence to rule of law — the single most important contribution of a state to industry is probably a healthy and educated workforce.So, perhaps the only long term reasonable thing that a state government can therefore legitimately claim as a “model” is creating an educated and well cared for citizenry. The absence or presence of red tape, corruption and other factors seem cyclical; or move from rent seeking of one kind to another depending on which stage of economy the state is in.

As we’ve observed in the earlier analyses states that do these things relatively well happen to be Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh. States that do these things atrociously poorly happen to be Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Then there are states that do these things in a mediocre way. Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Punjab, West Bengal and Haryana fall into this category. Finally there are those that had a poor start but seem to be improving marginally. Rajasthan is an example of this category. Another related observation that may appear self evident: per-capita income seems correlated with literacy levels. This correlation strengthens further when literacy among younger people is considered instead of the overall population. Unless a state has natural resources of some sort it’s impossible to have long term growth without an enlightened population.

A state’s Chief Minister can legitimately claim that this set-up is unfair and that over the past 60 years, the central government has tried to take for itself many state functions. By virtue of being a Chief Minister (s)he cannot not be aghast with flagship programs of successive union governments like NRHM, JNNURM, RSBY and many others have usurped state functions under the guise of providing funds. The entire ministry of Human Resources Development in Delhi can be construed as an affront to states. If a certain CM believes in the state’s model, the only right thing to do would be to seek greater powers of taxation and policy ownership. For no state has yet done that well enough to think about extending the model or declaring a given model as a winner.

The above disparate things provide an honest Chief Minister with two options: work on the aspects that have a causal link with growth as hard as possible and hope the larger issues sort themselves out with time. Or, in the process of working hard towards creating well educated and healthy workforce, confront New Delhi at every step of the way to reclaim ground lost to the union behemoth. The third option of the CM running for the PM’s office can only betray hypocrisy and is not an honest person’s option. Unless, the campaign is against the New Delhi’s very reason of existence; it cannot be on the grounds of “I’ll provide better governance.” In fact a central government that governs well is worse than a poorly functioning one in this case.

Defining the UP Problem

Let’s explore the equilibrium of the parties in Uttar Pradesh to understand the game they are playing, a bit better. The following is common knowledge or conventional wisdom. They also seem not very inaccurate.

  • If one were to assume BSP has all Dalits voting for it — where the percentage of Dalits not voting for it are possibly more than made  up by other groups voting for it — we can estimate the party’s base strength at 22% vote share. That’s consistent with the past 2 election cycle results as well.
  • For the SP, assuming a majority of the 9% Yadav vote share and roughly half or more of the 18% Muslim vote share seems a simple rule of thumb to calculate the base vote. Let’s ball park that at 20% overall base vote share. Again, that’s borne out by past two election cycles.
  • The INC has some Muslims, some upper castes, some Dalits and some non-Yadav OBCs. The trouble with estimating the INC base vote share is, no one group is a fervent supporter but it’s possibly an acceptable second choice for many groups. Ball parking the base at 0% seems too low and 15% seems a bit high.
  • The BJP has a similar problem like the INC. Except, not enough Muslims vote for the party as they do for INC. Nor do as many Dalits. So, the party tries to make this up by appealing more to upper castes and non-Yadav OBCs. A 10-15% base seems a fair estimate. Though the lack of Dalit and Muslim appeal reduces the catchment options and therefore limits the upside swing under regular circumstances.
  • Other caste parties, local thugs and the Left possibly have about 10% vote share put together.
  • The remaining 20% of the vote, unlike in a bipolar race can’t really be considered a swing vote since their distribution is possibly correlated to the base vote; albeit skewed in the favor of the party that’s seen to be winning.

Ideally, an electoral alliance will solve the problem almost entirely in this situation. Except, the reason for fragmentation in a caste-ridden society is an organized outpouring of animosity in the best way Henry Adams described it. That is, that the BSP views Dalits as a vote base is a political pundit’s way of reading the situation. The construct of Dalits having genuine animosity towards their immediate oppressors in OBCs likely precedes the existence of BSP and therefore the party merely provides the organization part in the outpouring of animosity. That makes a BSP-SP alliance impossible even if Ms Mayawati and Mr Yadav were to not treat each other as enemies.

The next complication is a problem at the opposite end of the animosity spectrum. That is parties with similar or same vote bank targets. For example, the SP and the INC both have Muslims voting for them in reasonable numbers. To ally with each other will mean the weaker party surrenders to the stronger one much of its appeal to this common section. This has been particularly proven true in Tamil Nadu where smaller parties have consistently been subsumed by the larger Dravidian party they allied with. The INC’s problem with the SP is identical to that it has in allying with the BSP as well, given it still has some Dalits voting for the party. So, if the INC wants to stay relevant in UP, unlike in Tamil Nadu, it ought to have a ‘stand-alone’ strategy.

That leaves the only other possible alliance as one between BJP and BSP[1]. This alliance does not have significant overlap of vote-banks nor does it have the virulent incompatibility of the base. The BJP, seen mostly as an upper caste party despite some OBC support, is not associated with Dalit oppression as much as OBC dominated parties are. The loss for the BJP in such an alliance in electoral terms will be losing even that rare Dalit who votes BJP in the long term to the BSP. The BSP’s upper caste vote is possibly largely from the tactical voting and aligning with the winner phenomenon — which don’t really threaten the base seriously. The question for the BJP is simply whether it trusts Mayawati.

Whereas for Ms Mayawati, the question is complicated — is her situation against SP so dire that she can sacrifice the Muslim votes not just this cycle but for several future elections? What if the INC influence on the upper castes grows in the near future? Will she have compromised too much long term gain for alleviating too little short term pain? It’s a question most companies face on an everyday basis — concentrate on profitability or diversify to expand market share? All this is absolutely irrelevant however, given Ms Mayawati is temperamentally against such an alliance for reasons other than arithmetic.

[1] — An alliance between the BJP and INC was not considered.

Communal Politics: Does it Work?

It is common knowledge that in Uttar Pradesh there is very high correlation between certain parties and the caste of their vote base. For example, as a group, Dalits mostly vote BSP in the state. Their next choice is possibly the INC. Their third is likely to be BJP and they will then probably vote anyone else but a Yadav dominated SP. Similarly, the Muslims are likely to vote SP or INC as their first two choices, followed by others which may include BSP. Just as the Dalits are unlikely to vote SP, the Muslims are unlikely to vote BJP. This is something that almost all politicians intuitively “get”.

The other part of this equation is the relative strength of each formation. Uttar Pradesh has about 22% of its population as Dalits. Muslims form about 18% while Yadavs are estimated to form 9% of the population. Together that’s 49%; if one were a Data Analyst for the BJP, that’s a staggering mountain to climb. The party is essentially reduced to competing in the 51% bloc of the population where it isn’t relegated to third choice or less. This section of the population is mostly made up of non-Yadav OBCs and upper castes. While different upper castes usually don’t have as much of a problem voting together given their relative position in the social order, many OBC groups are often vying for the same position in a zero-sum game and hence rarely vote together. That puts some part of this 51% bloc beyond the reach of any single party.

Given that the SP and BSP have been the dominant players in the state, they must have some ability to gain the support of some sub-sections of this group — though in a far less dominant way compared to their own base — forming one part of the game discussed above. So, let’s assume the SP and BSP, put together, can lay claim to 20-25% of this 51% bloc which they must have won to have formed governments in the past. Maybe the SP managed to find some non-Yadav OBCs who’re not in direct conflict with the Yadavs; or the BSP did the same among upper castes. However they did that, that basic arithmetic leaves 38% of the population in a contest between BJP, smaller OBC parties and the INC.To reach the winning threshold of 25-30% total vote share in UP therefore, it simply follows that the BJP has to have a strike rate of over 75% in this section of disparate caste formations. That’s such a tall order that it’s practically impossible except under extreme situations where the identity of the caste is subsumed by a bigger threat.

A trick that any pragmatic BJP politician who is interested in winning more than ethical considerations of propriety would therefore try will be to consolidate this 51% bloc by any and all means. It also does not hurt the SP to play this game given most of these votes might anyway not be coming their way while the Muslims consolidate in its favor from the other end. The parties to lose significantly in this conflict  maybe the INC and the BSP and even they may pick a side cleverly to cut losses and thereby exacerbating the social situation. In other words, the structure of the first past the post in a deeply caste-ridden society with a four cornered contest has made engineering conflict a first choice tool of consolidation. It’s just that BJP and SP now stand to gain from this variety of conflict — it’s equally likely that the BSP will be tempted to foment OBC-Dalit conflict or the INC an intra OBC conflict.

While appeals to tolerant and liberal values or long term self preservation are an option, they are still unlikely to deter a politician who has short term electoral victory as the motive from trying to engineer conflict. Therefore an easier solution is to look for a system where it isn’t sufficient if 25% of the population vote for a party while an actual majority actively dislike the party.

There are two ready options. The first is Alternate Voting. Where you as a voter are allowed to simply rank your choices in the order of preference. You can choose to just vote one party in the first preference and no one else at all or vote every one contesting in the order of your preference or something in-between: where a Muslim in UP probably votes SP as first choice and INC as second and then stops. Once votes are cast, for counting, the following algorithm[1] is applied.

1. Count all first-preference votes not yet counted.
2. If some candidate has over 50% of first-preference votes, then HALT. (That candidate then wins.)
3. Take the candidate with the smallest number of first-preference votes and change each vote for that candidate by removing the first-preference votes and turning kth-preference votes into (k-1)th-preference votes for each k.
4. Remove that candidate from the list of preferences of all other voters.
5. GOTO 1

The benefit of this method is simply that hatred is not sufficient to win. Let’s say the intended result of the current conflict in UP is achieved. Then all Muslims vote their first choice as SP. But they will possibly also vote INC as second choice. Similarly the upper castes and non-Yadav OBCs who may vote BJP as first choice under this circumstance may end up voting INC as second. In which case the two main protagonists of the conflict end up not reaping the rewards of hatred but the third party may indeed win. This scenario is of course being charitable to the INC; an equally likely INC instigated intra-OBC conflict may end up helping the BSP for instance. Point being those who aren’t affected by the hatred directly will have a say even if it isn’t their primary concern.

Another important advantage of this method is that there is no explicit tactical voting required on the part of the voter. For example, Muslims in UP often vote SP or INC and base that on their judgement of who is likely to win; given they don’t want the BJP to win. Similarly, Brahmins may choose between BJP, INC or even BSP to keep the SP out. The alternate voting simply takes care of that by allowing the voter to rank choices. Even if a Muslim in UP wants to vote INC but thinks the INC may not win, then voting INC in first choice followed by SP achieves the intended result of helping the SP win and not the BJP. Same is the case with the Brahmin who wants to vote BJP.

A simpler second option maybe to give everyone the choice of voting for as many candidates as they like. Here there is no need for an algorithm to count — the candidate with the maximum votes, wins. This also achieves almost all the advantages of the alternate voting and eliminates the need to rank or for a complicated counting process.

[1] – Algorithm as used in the British referendum that was defeated.

Rape: The Red Herring

That India is a horribly sexist society with atrocious gender disparity in every possible social indicator is something most people intuitively understand. Simple and indisputable facts of this country are: female children are less likely to be born, more likely to be killed at birth, more likely to die under five years of age, more likely to remain illiterate, more likely to get married when underage, more likely to become pregnant when they ought to be in school[1], less likely to engage in productive economic activity outside the house, more likely to be discriminated in terms of wages even if engaged in said economic activity and far less likely to own property.

Let’s then look at how this plays out in terms of political participation[2].

State % of women MPs (Lok Sabha 2009) % Dynastic MPs (2009, Lok Sabha)
Andhra Pradesh 11.9 38
Assam 14.3 14
Bihar 10 23
Chhatisgarh 18.2 17
Gujarat 15.4 19
Haryana 20 70
Himachal Pradesh 0 25
India 10.9 29
J & K 0 33
Jharkhand 0 0
Karnataka 3.6 25
Kerala 0 19
Madhya Pradesh 20.7 24
Maharastra 6.3 29
Noth East NA 15
Orissa 0 38
Punjab 30.8 77
Rajasthan 12 20
Tamil Nadu 5.1 23
Uttar Pradesh 15 39
Uttarakhand 0 20
West Bengal 16.7 19

The first statistic that jumps out at anyone looking at the table is — why are Punjab and Haryana even holding elections and pretending to be democratic societies. The next subtle statistic is the high degree of correlation between female representation and dynastic hegemony. The correlation coefficient between these two is higher than that between lack of schools in villages in a given state and its illiteracy! The only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at therefore is that the representation of women in Parliament will come down even more dramatically if dynastic politics were to end. Dynastic politics is a problem with a solution that looks worse than the status-quo for women.There are four clusters of states that seem distinct from each other,

  • Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh have more dynastic MPs than the nation’s average and also more women MPs. These are states with obscenely high dynastic MPs that also make their dynastic daughters MPs.
  • Orissa and Jammu & Kashmir are weird even in their obnoxiousness in that they have higher than average dynastic representation of MPs but not a single woman in the Lok Sabha from either state.
  • The states that do well in terms of having a lower than average dynastic representation but higher than average female representation are a surprising bunch: Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, West Bengal and Rajasthan. These states do not score well on other related indicators like female literacy, underaged marriage of girls, female labor force participation etc. Somehow, their political system seems to produce better results, regardless.
  • The final set of states have lower than average dynastic component but extremely poor female representation: Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka form the major states of this cluster. For instance, Kerala and Himachal Pradesh, two of the top three states in terms of development indicators, have no female representation. Tamil Nadu has just one woman MP: Helen Davidson from Kanyakumari who thankfully isn’t a dynast and was elected as a DMK candidate. As does Karnataka in Divya Spandana who won the Mandya by-election recently. Two women represent three of the most advanced states in the country and Karnataka put together.

[1] — That was an unfair comparison given men don’t get pregnant. But then.

[2] — Data was manually typed in from Sen and Dreze’s latest book, India: An Uncertain Glory