Monthly Archives: March 2014

Political Representation of Dalits: Overcoming FPTP

The Dravidian Movement’s great failing has been its inability to extend itself to Dalits. The movement started as one against the Brahmins and for Non-Brahmins who were largely landed gentry under the Justice Party. Soon, the Dravida Kazhagam and its later derivatives took that down from the upper crust of Non-Brahmins to the backward and most backward castes. Their focus or the movement’s antagonist through that course has been the Brahmin and Brahminism. However, the inability of the Dravidian parties to shift that narrative to include Dalits in the “us” category indicates their electoral compulsions of not being able to make antagonists out of backward castes.

As early as 1974, the late Dalit and woman pioneer Sathyavani Muthu quit the DMK. She cited the DMK’s absolute lack of interest in Dalits when she formed her new party — Thazhthapattor Munnetra Kazhagam — to redress that. MGR during his time as Chief Minister, if psephology is any indicator, held sway over poor Dalits. But as the 1990s showed us, the status of Dalits was very very perilous even in terms of basic security. Something as simple as naming a few buses with the name of the Pallar hero Veeran Sundaralingam resulted in caste clashes that claimed several lives. Both Dravidian parties did not spend even a tenth of the effort in wooing the Pallars — a Dalit caste — as they did in wooing the numerically larger Mukkulathor community, their immediate and direct oppressors. The Puthiya Thamizhagam — largely considered a Pallar party and one restricted to a few districts in southern Tamil Nadu — was born as a result of the caste violence of 90s has been unable to grow in the first past the post system.

The southern districts of Madurai, Theni, Sivaganga, Ramanathapuram, Thothukkudi and Tirunelveli have Dalit populations that are close to 20% — same as their presence statewide — according to Census 2011. While the Census Data is not available for caste Hindus, a common estimate is that the Mukkulathors form about 35% of the population in these districts. The chart below shows the 2011 Census data for presence of Scheduled Castes district wise as a percentage of population in Tamil Nadu,



In a first past the post system of elections, there are only five districts according to the chart above that the Dalits can play their identity. These are the Cauvery delta districts and those to their immediate north: Thiruvarur, Nagapattinam, Cuddalore, Perambalur and Viluppuram with each having close to 30% of the population comprising of Scheduled Castes. The Dalits here though, unlike those in the southern districts, are mostly Parayar by caste. Their political formation is the VCK and not the PT. And their direct oppressors are more likely to be Vanniyar/Padayachi and not Mukkulathor.

The Central and Western districts — Salem, Erode, Krishnagiri, Coimbatore, Dharmapuri and Tiruppur — seem to have lower than the state-wide average in terms of presence of Dalits.  And, the Dalits here are more likely to be Arunthathiyar/ Chakkiliyar.

For whatever reason, the Pallars — or more specifically the Puthiya Thamizhagam —  play the game of Brahminic Hindusim instead of rejecting it completely. They have adopted a name that they think offers them greater respectability: Devendra Kula Velalar. The Pariars — or more specifically the VCK — like to call themselves Dalit. These two are the most significant Dalit formations in the state and do not seem to get along with each other. But thankfully for them, their pockets of influence are geographically distinct and thus do not cannibalise each others’ electoral chances. Just that they hurt the possibility of a single loud voice for Dalits in Tamil Nadu.

Dalit parties in Tamil Nadu have often felt the need to use the Dravidian cleavage of language. This, one could argue, affects their political fortunes. After all, the purpose of Dalit parties is to exploit a fault line that’s over and beyond the generic Tamil nationalism and their antagonists are those who are on their side of Tamil line but not the caste line. Perhaps the reflexive nature of Tamil Nadu’s political parties resorting to language and ethnicity points to the success of Dravidian polity. The VCK for instance took the most strident Tamil nationalist positions vis-a-vis the DMK in terms of the Sri Lankan Tamils issue. That’s a cleavage the party is never going to exploit well enough to win elections. But if they go after one that is specific to Dalits, the demographic isn’t in their favour. So one understands why the VCK is doing what it is — but is there a better strategy?

The only place in India where Dalits have realised their political clout to some extent is Uttar Pradesh. That state has 21% of its population as Dalits; very close to that of Tamil Nadu and other large states like Maharashtra, that cradle of Dalit activism. It’s easy to attribute UP’s success to the dynamism of Mayawati alone — but that’s insulting to Dalit leaders and their ability in states like TN and MH. The real catalyst appears to be the demographic of the state itself that’s resulted multi cornered contests. Tamil Nadu has close to 70% OBC population and 5.5% Muslims — an absurdly high proportion of OBCs that makes Dalit political success difficult. UP on the other hand has reasonably large proportion of upper castes and Muslim population in the mix who cannot all go with any single OBC formation, making a Dalit cleavage not entirely impossible.

For the rest of India that does not have the quirk of demographic accident like UP, the only reasonable thing for Dalits to demand is what every non-dominant group should also demand in a Democracy: an end to first past the post system and adoption of Alternate Voting. As we saw earlier, the simple ideas is: a voter is allowed to simply rank his/her choices in the order of preference. Once votes are cast, they can be counted as the British proposed in a referendum that was defeated,

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

This way the truly oppressed communities like say Dalits and Muslims will never vote for anyone they perceive is a threat. The Dalit is unlikely to include an OBC Party just as the Muslim is unlikely to pick the BJP. The privileged castes will likely vote just like the Dalits but in the reverse order. While the middle castes have a choice of following their caste party with an upper caste party, given they are unlikely to choose a Dalit one. Or stop there. Each person’s second choice here is a tactical vote that really isn’t one. It also takes away the onus of second guessing winners for those voting for smaller parties — be it Dalit parties or nascent ones like AAP.

Simply, such a system makes possible the marginalised to be heard better and become viable. If the Dalits in India want to become serious players, a common shout for such a system seems like the easiest solution. It’s a wonder why the BSP isn’t organising all Dalit parties under the common clamour of Alternate Voting.

Sampling Errors & Response Bias vs Human Stubbornness

Polling entities, all of them, face a basic problem: it’s very difficult to make the sample truly random. This problem is even more difficult when the society in question has multiple fault lines within that are a few thousand years old: like Dalits or caste/religious groups or linguistic groups. Assuming they do over come this insurmountable problem with acceptable levels of error, there is the question of Response Bias. If that too can be somehow overcome to arrive at a reasonable vote share estimate, there is the problem of the physics of a multi cornered fight in a first past the post system.

Instinctively, one is tempted to therefore suggest a continuous polling solution that’d side-step many or all of these issues. By virtue of polling the same people instead of seeking a different and still incorrect random sample, the idea is that a continuous poll will internally adjust both sampling and response bias in the successive polls. What we’ll then have is a better capture of the trend and a far less volatile result. The most famous example of this was of course the Rand Corporation’s continuous poll of the 2012 Presidential elections in the USA. It was, as the numbers speak for themselves, fairly accurate.

One is not aware of research that compares the outcomes of such polling with the traditional ways of picking a fresh random sample every time one polls. Someone must have already done that given it’s such an obvious target area — but most resources draw a blank on the subject, strangely[1].

There is however one problem with this polling approach that any lay person will tend to raise. Almost all of us must have had the famous Monty Hall problem thrown at us when we went for our first job interview after College. Perhaps many of us now use it on people whom we interview — as test against BS if not ability in actual Probability theory. But the simple fact, as the problem illustrates quite beautifully, is that human beings like to rationalise their decisions after it’s been made. And stick with it unless something dramatic happens. And this phenomena makes one wonder whether it applies to those being polled repeatedly as well. And whether the significantly lower volatility is not merely a sign of self adjusting system for sampling bias but is an indicator of a completely new kind of error.

This may be quite a nice topic of research in the Indian environment even it has been studied elsewhere. How does one volunteer in a Political Science Department in India for such a study?


[1] — If you are aware of such a paper, please point me to it.

Separatism: India’s Cleavage in the Horizon

Secessionist movements in the Indian sub-continent have so far been on the basis of identity. In 1947, religious identity mattered. Later in independent India, there have been movements for Khalistan, Nagaland, Dravida Nadu, Kashmir and a few others — some serious and some fringe movements — that have been based on ethnic grounds. These conflicts have always risen out of the separatist’s sense of being oppressed by the Indian state in some sense or the other; rightly or wrongly.

Now, there is a conflict in the horizon that appears very different. This is going to be a struggle between the disenfranchised and impoverished heartland versus the relatively prosperous and over-represented southern part of India. Particularly, Kerala and Tamil Nadu versus the rest of India. The contours of this conflict was discussed in a slightly different context elsewhere. The main thrust of it is: owing to freezing of the delimitation exercise in 1976 by the Indira Gandhi government and because of fertility rates in KL and TN falling well below replacement rates since then, the two states have a disproportionately large representation in the Lok Sabha compared to their current populations. The extent of this skew is shown in the chart below,



Further, bear in mind the other calculation we made to estimate the impact of each citizen in an election across these states. Typically, in a contest in Tamil Nadu or Kerala, the individual citizen has a probability of about e^(-350) in impacting the outcome. In UP, Bihar or Madhya Pradesh that would be about e^(-450). This is over and above the representation advantage that the two states enjoy and that’s about 30%.

This problem is only going to dramatically worsen. The fertility rates of Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and UP are currently 3.1, 3.6 and 3.4 respectively; still well above replacement levels. More importantly Tamil Nadu and Kerala have fertility rates of 1.7 and 1.8 respectively; pointing to an already shrinking population in a generation. If the same trend continues, a quick back of the envelope calculation extending the above assumptions estimates that in another 40 years under the same conditions, the typical Tamil or Malayalee person will be twice as important to India’s polity compared to a Hindi speaking one. And this person would very likely extend the already accrued social advantages quite dramatically too. This phenomenon affects the three poor states of UP, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh the worst. However, even the mediocre and relatively well off states like Gujarat and Maharashtra stand to lose.

In the not too distant future, especially when the BJP is in power, they will figure this out. After all the BJP has the most to lose in such a scenario. The cleavage of such disenfranchised rest of India vis-a-vis Keral & Tamil Nadu means that India’s problems of the future are likely to be pre-empted by the prosperous few than the impoverished many. The AIADMK manifesto already vociferously opposes the redistribution of wealth across states that’s proposed by Raghuram Rajan Committee; it may well be just a precursor.

The two states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu also lead the country in every single social development indicator that is measured among large states. Their per-capita income happen to be well over the national average and their tax base is reasonably high as well. They are also culturally distinct from much of India. After all neither Tamil nor Malayalam derive from Sanskrit. Unlike the secessionist movements in Nagaland — where shockingly the Indian state bombed its own citizens into submission using the IAF — or Kashmir, this cleavage in political relativism will be from a position of strength. A Dravida Nadu was sought by the Dravida Kazhagam in the late 1940s and through the 1950s. But that was from a narrative of victimhood and a reaction to MK Gandhi and INC trying to impose national assimilation through Hindi imposition in 1937. This, if played well, could be analogous to some of the separatist movements in Spain that put forward arguments that are remarkably similar to that of the AIADMK.

A reasonable bet to make at this time will be: a political entrepreneur, in Andrew Wyatt’s terminology, will come up with such a secessionist movement in the next decade and a half. If that entrepreneur is from South India, it’d be largely peaceful. If the demand instead originates from the victimised North India, the results will be ugly. It’s better the rich person walks out from a bad marriage before the poor one sues both to bankruptcy. Isn’t it?

What do we elect?

Michael Ignatieff is perhaps the only politician who’s written a memoir on his failure as one. And that makes the book worth reading. As a Historian with a penchant for popular media, he was parachuted into Canadian politics by his own admission. Of course, he lost badly and returned to teaching. But what interests the lay reader is his description of campaigning and its effect on the person who’s leading the campaign. He describes in amusing detail, and with a degree of honesty rare for a politician, how he thought everything was going swimmingly well in the run up to the elections; because his campaign events were all in friendly territory and he ended up believing the bubble his own party had created. It was very reminiscent and somewhat analogous to safe seats and size estimation of rallies in Indian elections.

What’s striking about the entire edifice of politics in Ignatieff’s telling is, how convinced the participants are in their own ability to do good. And how much their actual success is attributable to dumb luck. Much like professional athletes who get more lucky as they practice harder, politicians seem to find serendipity more often when they are deluded ever further. One realises, the political lexicon has a short hand name even for this kind: a conviction Politician. Such a politician will always be a bit of a demagogue. After all, the skill that requires one to be a conviction politician is also what defines demagoguery: to feel a decision in the gut, not arrive at it.

The import of that to the Indian context is: this politician’s ability to flout propriety or law or both is far higher. A dangerous combination of ability and conviction in one’s own importance to the larger good is what possibly contributes to all other lesser goods being sacrificed. It is for instance hard to find an OECD country with a Parliamentary system that has a Prime Ministerial candidate contesting from two different constituencies. It takes some brass to look the voter in the eye and say: elect me as your representative not because I want to represent you in Parliament but because it’s important for you that I become the Prime Minister.

From Indira Gandhi to Narendra Modi, what India has seen is not just politicians in such bubbles but paranoid megalomaniacs who assume one’s own Prime Ministership is more important than the ethics of democratic representation of over a million people in any given constituency.

A Factor of Success in India’s Polity

India’s next Prime Minister is most likely to come from the following set of people: Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi, J Jayalalitha, Naveen Patnaik, Mayawati and Mamata Banerjee. The list is not exhaustive. But as a rough rule of thumb, it is in the decreasing order of each individual’s probability of realising their Prime Ministerial ambitions.

The above set of people occupy different places on a wide ideological spectrum and are remarkably unlike each other in multiple ways. Mayawati is Dalit. J Jayalalitha is a Brahmin woman leading a party that traces its origin to the Non-Brahmin Movement.  Naveen Patnaik is a posh man who seems to have outgrown his dynastic privileges. Mamata Banerjee is, well, her. Narendra Modi is a child of the RSS. And Rahul Gandhi is a Gandhi. Their political mantles are things each has usurped or inherited or claimed or created from scratch or fought desperately for.

However, the one thing that seems common between these diverse aspirants is: they are all single and have remained so all their lives. They are well past the mean age for marriage in the society that each comes from. It is also possible that a few or all of them are homosexual; in a society where homosexuality is still illegal, being that publicly is not politically viable.

Each individual’s sexuality or marital preference taken in isolation is hardly interesting. But when top six contenders for the Prime Minister of 1.2 Billion people are all either heterosexual and single or gay and closeted, in a polity that is known for dynastic succession, it is interesting. The last political leader who was in control of his party to have occupied the post of Prime Minister — AB Vajpayee — also fits into the above category of people.

The women in the group are all self-made and do not owe their position to either a husband or a father. Their will is supreme in their respective party and no one questions their leadership. The other prominent woman Chief Minister — a married Vasundhara Raje from a royal family — is not as sure of her position in her own party. Sheila Dixit, as a three term Chief Minister of Delhi who can’t be termed as completely self-made, wasn’t as sure of her’s either. Among the men in the list, two out of three are dynastic successors. Their single-dom could well be a perfect accident. And if one extends the list, the next in line are possibly Nitish Kumar and Shivraj Singh Chouhan; both married men.

The hypothesis one is tempted to put forward therefore is: ‘single’ people are more successful in Indian politics across the gender divide but for women it’s a necessary condition if they are self-made.

BSP’s Game: 2014 vs 2017

A simple average of opinion polls thus far point to a crushing defeat for the INC in the 2014 General Elections. But it’s hardly existential a threat and the party has enough resources to survive such an adverse result. After 10 years of heading the ruling coalition, it’s probably healthy even. However, the poll projections could turn existential for one party — the BSP.

The BSP has not been in power anywhere since losing the UP Assembly elections in 2012. The party, somewhat drawing a parallel with the AIADMK, has never really shared power for any reasonable length of time in Delhi. Whether that has anything to do with both parties being headed by strong willed and self-made single women is for a clever feminist in a Sociology department to decipher. For the purpose of this analysis, let’s consider Ms Mayawati the politician and BSP the political phenomenon.

The BSP’s electoral success has two components — a base Dalit vote that’s then topped up by votes from some Muslims and some upper castes. Naturally, dominant OBCs cannot and will not vote the BSP; the party’s animosity against them, for valid reasons, is its raison d’etre. A BJP resurgence in the state of Uttar Pradesh means it takes away the smattering of upper caste vote which would have pushed the BSP to pole position in a first past the pole system. A BJP resurgence also means a consolidation of the Muslim vote, for which the BSP is the third choice behind the SP and INC. Thus, a BJP resurgence in UP simply means the BSP gets reduced a caste party again with no possible catchment from others groups.

Unlike the BSP and SP, the BJP has a vote base that’s diffused. A diffused vote base, much to the chagrin of political parties, has an exponentiation effect both on the upswing and the downswing. This makes the upswing in one cycle easily replicable in the next few cycles — for all the diffused base needs is viability. If that happens for the BJP in 2017 following its 2014 showing, the BSP will be reduced to jostling for third place.

Ms Mayawati is far too smart to have not known this. The options available to her, if the opinion polls are true, are

  • Strike a bargain with the BJP so that the party goes easy on the 2017 Assembly election. That’s clearly a fools bargain for the BSP.  No political party would surrender an advantage after its accrued. Ms Mayawati in fact knows this better than anyone else given her own insistence on not honouring power sharing agreements of the past.
  • Strike a pre-poll alliance with the INC. This seems a far better option for the BSP since the INC is on a downward trajectory and is not really a threat in UP in the foreseeable future. Further the INC will only be glad to enter into such an alliance to stop the BJP juggernaut. If this happens, the smattering of others that the BSP needs will be readily available. By getting to over 30% of the vote-share with pockets of strength, this combination will easily move to the top position if the current projections are taken seriously.

Further, such a victory by the BSP+INC will throw such a serious spanner in the works of the BJP project. It’d dent Mr Modi’s tally seriously; not just in UP but even in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh where the BSP+INC alliance would tighten the race quite dramatically. If this were to come true and Mr Modi’s bid in 2014 fails, it will make the BJP seem unviable in the 2017 UP Assembly elections as well; because of the voter’s assumptions on diffusion.

In such a situation, the only reason that the BSP is not allying with the INC already can be that the internal polls of the party reveal something that we don’t know. Or, the INC is too stupid to agree. Or, the BSP has too much pride.

Election Manifestos: AIADMK vs DMK

The Dravidian parties are among the very few political parties that can be termed ‘progressive’ in India. Their political platform combines a brand of linguistic chauvinism, welfare, tokenism and most importantly a philosophical basis for progressive egalitarianism.

Typically, between the two major Dravidian parties, the DMK is long on the philosophic roots of Dravidian movement while the AIADMK concentrates on actionable “schemes”. This was particularly true in the 2011 Assembly election manifestos. In 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the contrast between the two parties in terms of their manifestos is still interesting.

The DMK manifesto’s two important promises that make it the most progressive political party in India are,

  • The party wants its most profound social reform in Tamil Nadu — The Self Respect Marriage Act of 1968 — implemented all over India.
  • The party wants to abolish Death penalty. No ifs. No buts.

As recent observers of Tamil Nadu might have noted with much horror, the PMK and some other small caste parties have tried to argue for outlawing inter-caste marriages in a state that brought in legislation a generation and a half ago for explicitly encouraging it. Now the DMK reminds us, despite the problems of contemporary Tamil society, there is much in it that’s worthy of emulation. Especially by rest of India that did not have a rationalist or a self-respect movement spawning all of 20th Century.

The AIADMK is silent on both these issues. But there is a faithful convergence on most other pet Dravidian issues: like making Tamil an official language of India, making Tamil a language for use in the Madras High Court, sabre rattling on Sri Lanka, women’s reservation bill, welfare of fishermen, welfare of the old, young, minorities and everyone else who is a voting block, opposition to FDI in retail and many other aspects on which there is no political space for another opinion in Tamil Nadu. The two Dravidian Parties are also the only ones in India to have a transgender persons welfare agenda on their manifestos.

The traditional plank of federalism that is one of the philosophical basis of Dravidian polity offers an interesting divergence between the two parties. The DMK’s manifesto is long on rhetoric but offers little in concrete terms. Its opposition to Article 356 stays in the manifesto, given the number of times M Karunanidhi’s government has been dismissed. However, the AIADMK makes new and pointed critiques on the subject. The AIADMK manifesto, possibly the only one in the country, takes on the Raghuram Rajan Committee report and  wants the Planning Commission to ignore it completely. The argument against it made by J Jayalalithaa is reminiscent of Indira Gandhi administration’s reason for freezing delimitation across states in 1976: progressive states are being punished for their success. J Jayalalithaa is perhaps the only Chief Minister from the list of states that the Rajan Commitee classifies as developed — Goa, Kerala, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand and Haryana [1] — to take up the issue of reduced financial allocation to prosperous states in the name of redistribution of wealth to under-developed states. Along similar lines, the AIADMK manifesto also wants central grants shared under Article 275 to not be under the discretion of the Central government. Instead, it argues, the revenue raised from the states through cess etc should be equally shared with the state.

Both these are strong arguments against Delhi. And they seem to be moving towards a kind economic federalism, beyond the political one of DMK. Interestingly, in an era of Chief Ministerial aspirants for the Prime Minister’s post, no other candidate seems to have made such an argument.

Another area of curious divergence between the two Dravidian parties is economic policy. Both manifestos make a lot of noise on the role of government in society, given their social democrat and populist roots. However, it’s clear that the DMK has become a party of business in the recent years. While the AIADMK goes far enough to say it will not tolerate disinvestment of any kind in PSUs, the DMK is merely not in favour of shutting down certain sick PSUs. The AIADMK manifesto makes a distinction between FII and FDI; the party wants to tax the former a lot more and discourage it while encouraging the latter[2]. This, the manifesto claims, is the way to achieve stability in currency. Meanwhile, the DMK is silent on these issues, possibly suggesting a far more business friendly tone.


[1] — It’s strange why Prakash Singh Badal or some of the BJP Chief Ministers in that list have remained silent.

[2] — China, according to many an apocryphal story in Madras, has fascinated the Thevar lobby in AIADMK for long.

Response Bias & Indian Opinion Polls

The International Social Science Journal published a volume on Opinion Surveys in Developing Countries as far back as 1963. In it, Emily Jones wrote an elementary paper/article titled Courtesy Bias in South East Asian Surveys. Sadly, that still hasn’t been outdone much in the Indian context despite the time that’s elapsed. The basic problem can be paraphrased as, “surveying the underlings of a feudal society results in them telling the interviewer what they think the interviewer wants to hear.”

The response bias in this case is not unique to feudal societies, though the context is. An example that a well written paper on the subject considers is drug use, welfare receipts etc in a western society. However, the model suggested in it simply cannot be imported to the problem at hand.

Let’s explore the problem at hand.

Many surveys in India, including CSDS, use college students for the field work. As it happens, colleges across India happen to be over represented with Upper Caste students. The outcome of this isn’t easy to guess: most likely, an Upper Caste, male student is going end up asking many lower caste people whom they will be voting for. More likely, a UP Brahmin is likely to go to a Dalit in that state and ask a question on voting preference. The probability that the Dalit either doesn’t answer or lies outright appears non-negligible. 

These conjectures are actually borne out by the following piece of evidence: every single Opinion Poll in Uttar Pradesh in the past 10 years has consistently under estimated the BSP. In 2004, a simple average of the BSP’s Opinion Poll results were 9 percentage points lower than their actual result. In 2009, it was much closer to the actual result. One wonders if this was because Ms Mayawati was the Chief Minister then and the fear/courtesy transformed into pride. But now, we are back to 2004 in terms of who’s in power in Lucknow. A piece of data that stands out in this regard from the CNN-IBN/CSDS Poll is only 6% of UP Muslims supporting the BSP while 13% claim to support the BJP.

The only reasonable solution to the problem is more and more polling data and a detailed study of this phenomenon to model the bias well enough. Perhaps some clever student can even come up with an adjustment factor. Until then, it can only mean polling data in India is to only be bench-marked against its own past results. And only trends mean anything and absolute numbers can safely be discounted.

Tamil Nadu & Seemandhra : Opinion Polls vs Alliances

Recent developments in alliance formation point to interesting possibilities.

Let’s consider Tamil Nadu first. The DMDK has now allied itself with PMK, MDMK and BJP, eschewing both the DMK and the INC. That makes the contest three cornered. The three corners are established regardless of whether one approaches the problem from conventional wisdom or recent Opinion Poll results. Though the two routes seem to take exactly opposite paths in arriving at the same conclusion. Opinion polls give the BJP 12% and the DMDK 4%. Conventional wisdom would flip those numbers. But regardless, along with the PMK and MDMK, the alliance will probably garner 20% votes any which way one approaches it.

If one wants to be charitable to the INC, one could call this contest in Tamil Nadu quadrangular. But one doesn’t. For the three corners have a vote share of greater than 20% each with the AIADMK crossing the 30% threshold. The INC at its most optimistic best is likely to remain in single digit in terms of vote share.

The hard bargain of AIADMK with the Left suggests, the party (or, the Chief Minister at least) was anyway confident that the DMDK wouldn’t have allied with the DMK. That’d have been the only real threat in terms of conventional wisdom for a significant AIADMK victory. From an opinion poll perspective, the AIADMK will have to worry about either the BJP or INC joining the DMK. Neither of which seem to have fructified. So, Ms Jayalalitha has enough reasons to not part with 6 constituencies that the Left demanded; increasing her own strike rate seems logical in such a three cornered contest. After all, the Left parties aren’t as shameless as say the other smaller parties in the state to jump from AIADMK to DMK in the same cycle. Their threshold for jumping ship, if history is an indicator, is one cycle. Not zero. The DMK’s allies are now a couple of Dalit Parties and a Muslim one. None big enough to threaten the AIADMK in more than a couple of seats.

From the perspective of either national party, this multi cornered contest is ultimately a good thing. For it results in one of the Dravidian parties winning by a landslide based on the election cycle’s dynamic. The BJP will be entitled to think that brings most of the 39+1 seats to their alliance after the elections. The INC will think that takes away most of the 39+1 from the NDA as Ms Jayalalitha explores her own bid. Replace one Dravidian protagonist with the other, the situation for the national parties remains identical. So, they might as well collude to make the contest in Tamil Nadu multi cornered than split the seats between mutually incompatible local parties.

Now consider the newly created State of Seemandhra. Unlike in Tamil Nadu, the contest there has been reduced in dimension somewhat. Or, perhaps not. The contest there was largely bipolar between YSRC and the TDP according to both Opinion Polls and conventional wisdom. And, in both assessments, the YSRC had a significant edge. Now, the dimensions have been further reduced. The TDP and BJP have entered into an alliance.

The extent of BJP’s support base and its tranferability are suspect and the race may or may not tighten. The bifurcation of the states and the TDP’s unviability in Telangana meant the prospect of losing Muslim votes wasn’t a real issue for the party. Therefore the alliance makes sense for the TDP if it wants to tighten the race. The question is — why is the BJP entering into such an alliance? There were originally three major possibilities: a YSRC sweep, a TDP sweep and a split in seats between the two camps. The YSRC sweep had a much higher probability than the other two possibilities. Now, by allying with the TDP, the BJP has probably improved the probability of splitting the seats between two camps. While a YSRC sweep still cannot be ruled out.

As in Tamil Nadu, it’s in the interests of the national parties to have a sweep in Seemandhra by either of these camps so that the entire bounty can be co-opted later. For this to happen though, the national party shouldn’t associate itself with any one of the parties too closely. And especially not with the party less strong — in this case the TDP. Because the best case scenario outcome of such an alliance is worse than than what’d have happened without the alliance. The YSRC, after the TDP entry, simply cannot join the NDA. A absurdly poor choice to have for the BJP. Either the BJP truly believed that YSRC was closer to the INC than what recent political rhetoric suggests or the BJP has incompetent analysts.

The Value of AAP

Imagine the following two player game between A and B[1],

  • All that a player is allowed to do is play or not. Feel free to imagine whatever “play” might mean. Let’s say in our case it means rolling a die. For simplicity, let’s assume the die has only side to it. Marked, say, 5.
  • If a players plays, then let’s give that player the number he rolls. So, if A throws, A gets 5 points. The game’s quirk is, if A throws the die and gets 5, then B gets -10. If A decides not to throw, the game stops there.
  • Now B gets to play he can choose to play or not. And rules are similar — B either gets +5 and A gets -10. Or, both get 0 and the game stops there.
  • The game can thus continue till both players keep throwing the die. If one of them stops throwing, the game reaches ends.

Now the first question one would ask is, what’s even the point of this game. Let’s assume there is. Now how does one play the game?

If you are A, it appears, the best way is to not throw the die. Because if you do, B will ‘retaliate’ and the -2x of the other person’s turn will certainly leave you worse off regardless of whether it’s your first turn or nth turn. So might as well not throw in the first.

The same logic holds for B as well, does it not? So it appears the best strategy is to not play the game at all.

Except, herein lies a complexity. It’s anyway worse off option at any position for B to throw the die. Which means, if you as A throw the die and get 5 points, and make B get -10, it still makes it the best thing for B to not throw the die. But that makes it sensible for B to act in retaliation and make you, A, lose 10 points. Which means you wouldn’t gain points now. In sum, we get the liar’s paradox. And in this variety it’s regressing to infinity. That is, it makes sense to throw the die if and only if it makes sense not to throw the die.

In our case, assume A & B have already played ‘n’ turns and therefore are regressing to infinity anyway. Now for fun, let’s introduce a third player C. But add the caveat that he needs to throw at least once to be considered part of the game. Doesn’t C have a finite number throws and walk away to win as an option?

One is tempted to think, A and B are INC and BJP. And C is AAP. At least when the game is restricted to areas where there is a bipolar contest between the INC and BJP.


[1] – I read some version of this game somewhere and I am not able to remember enough to cite. If you are bored and have access, do dig away and let me know. Or if you already know and this is more famous than I thought as a game, do let me know. I’m merely recollecting from most likely incorrect memory.