Pollachi vs Mandsaur: What’s a vote worth?

Consider two states in India that usually have a bi-polar contest: Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. 

According to Census 2011, Madhya Pradesh has a population of 7.27 Crores. The Lok Sabha has 29 MPs representing these 7.27 crore people from Madhya Pradesh. In Tamil Nadu’s case, 7.21 crore people are represented by 39 MPs. That is, with the roughest type of calculation without considerations of voting ability, one can estimate that a citizen in Tamil Nadu has about 34% more representation in the Lok Sabha compared to the average citizen of Madhya Pradesh. If the principle of universal adult franchise is that everyone has one vote and hence an equal voice, that makes India an inherently undemocratic country.

There are after all genuine reasons for such a disparity in the citizen’s voice being heard in Delhi. Under Article 82 of the Indian Constitution, the electoral map of India is/was to be redrawn after every Census. In 1976 it was amended to freeze constituencies — so that states that implement Family Planning policies well weren’t punished for their success. Which one’d think is probably not the worst idea to have come out of Delhi. After all, the average Tamil woman now bears 1.7 children while her counterpart in Madhya Pradesh bears 3.2. Be that as it may, this post is not about the injustice of planned democracy. It’s about the electoral calculations political parties indulge in and metrics that may be a guide in that process.

To begin, let’s pick two representative constituencies in terms of this population and delimitation considerations. Pollachi, with about 10 lakh voters and Mandsaur with 13.7 lakh voters seem close to the mean and median values in terms of voters per constituency in their respective states. Let’s do a quick back of the envelope calculation in terms of the probability of each voter impacting the result of the election. Firstly, in Pollachi, let’s assume there is a direct contest between AIADMK and DMK. In this case, the influence of a Pollachi voter on his MP’s election turns out to be e^(-353.27). To see how I got that value, please refer to this quick calculation I made on paper and scanned it into PDF: Pollachi

Extending the same method, if we calculated the influence of each citizen in Mandsaur, he/she will have a probability of impact on the outcome as e^(-413.49). Again a simple calculation of these numbers mean that the average citizen in Pollachi is 14%[1] more likely to influence the election of that constituency’s MP than the citizen of Mandsaur. Remember, this additional power is over and above the 34% that this citizen of Pollachi anyway enjoys over the citizen of Mandsaur in representation on account of being from Tamil Nadu and not Madhya Pradesh.

That if one is a citizen of Mandsaur, one is dramatically disenfranchised compared to a Pollachi resident is now obvious. But how will a political party read this? Expending resources in Mandsaur and places like it, if one were an analyst for a political party, appears to be a poor return on investment. But the problem the BJP has is, its concentration in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and to a lesser extent Gujarat are all bound to provide far worse returns on the investment of political capital — be it money, ideology or muscle. The only island in this regard amongst poor states of India seems to be Uttar Pradesh. Not because it has managed to bring fertility rates down but because it offers a genuine three or four cornered contest that reduces our N if we used a quick and dirty method. So naturally, the DMK, ADMK, TDP, INC, TMC, SAD and the Left are all “richer” parties with better ‘bang for their buck’ compared to the BJP. Maharashtra and to a lesser extent Karnataka and Gujarat offer the BJP’s island of greater political effectiveness. They still pale in comparison to Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal.

On the larger issue itself, if this trend of Kerala and Tamil Nadu having fertility rates less than replacement rate and high political representation with high HDI continues over the next decade, as it is bound to, and the rest of the large states continue to grow above replacement, as they are likely to, Indian polity is set for an interesting chauvinistic confrontation. Demographic dividend is a strange phenomenon, electorally. Especially when high social indicators are aided by a frozen Delimitation Committee.

[1] — that was more dirty than quick. But when the numbers become so low, as e^(-413) it hardly matters.

4 thoughts on “Pollachi vs Mandsaur: What’s a vote worth?

  1. dagalti

    //this additional power is over and above the 34% that this citizen of Pollachi anyway enjoys over the citizen of Mandsaur in representation on account of being from Tamil Nadu and not Madhya Pradesh.//

    Very good point.

    I am not clear I understand how the actions would differ based on this insight though.
    So I didn’t get:
    //Indian polity is set for an interesting chauvinistic confrontation//
    Perhaps I am not being imaginative enough when thinking about the potential formations in a future far-out.

    Let us assume two demographically diametrically opposite states where BJP and Cong are competing head to head. Sure, state X may have more ‘bang for the buck’ than State Y. But what is the trade-off being made in designing this strategy?

    //money, ideology or muscle//

    Muscle – it may be fair to assume this to limited only by money in each of the state. So it is not a sepatate ‘apportioning’ decision, in any way
    Money – now – let me understand this. Now here are talking about electoral budget alone (as opposed to the question how (say) BJP’s economic policy if it were in power in State X vs. State Y). How do you think it would be play out? Wouldn’t the ‘cost of a vote’ (not just the bribe, but simply what it takes to influence a voter – ceteris p.) be dictated by the value? So, to that extent it may weaken the claim that ‘there is no bang for the buck’ in X than Y.

    Maybe, maybe not.

    This is the most interesting to me.
    What is the tradeoff a national party is making here?
    To speak a little thoughtlessly, I think the nature of the Congress lends itself amenable to local variation. But BJP seem more rigid, in the sense that they have to be the same party. A bit of a bias because they significantly exist only largely in the belt – but also because their very ‘pitch’ exudes a certain crystallized national uniformity – obviously not always articulated.

    So while Congress can afford to be a little different from state to state, BJP is more constrained.

    //Indian polity is set for an interesting chauvinistic confrontation//
    Actually, can you elaborate on this?

  2. Puram Post author

    The answer to those questions will be largely in how Maharashtra and West Bengal, as political systems, react. I think. Though I hardly know any better.

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