Indian Elections: The Verdict by Prannoy Roy

Indian elections are festival times.We just had our state assembly elections and now we are thrown into Parliamentary elections.Discussion,predictions and post-mortem of elections have been developed into an art as well as science in India.With the ushering of colour TV and a large number of channels Psephology has come to stay.We are glued to TV during electioneering, enjoying blabbering and blustering displayed on the screen.

Prannoy Roy is given the credit of popularising psephology in India.His NDTV programmes of election reporting and discussion pioneered the way for others to follow. Just before Lok Sabha elections he along with Dorab Sopariwala has come out with a book on elections titled “The Verdict : Decoding India’s elections” published by Penguin(2019).The forward is written by Sir David Butler who is not only the world renowned expert on the elections of UK but is credited to develop “the swing” phenomenon in election studies and that is why is biography is called “The Sultan of Swing”.

The book is a primer of forecasting election results in India.Roy divides election in three phases. The first phase(1952-77) is pro-incumbency era,the second phase (1977-2002) is the anti-incumbency era,the third phase(2002-19) the fifty:fifty era.An important finding is the rise of women voters in elections.While men’s percentage of voting in 1962 elections was 62.1%,women voted 46.7%.In 2014 the turnout changed:men 67%,women 65.5%.A difference of almost 14% increase of women votes in comparison to men.But the problems for women are not over.The disenfranchisement of women voters is a serious issue.About 4.5%of eligible women voters are not registered as voters. According to Prannoy Roy in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections,the top three states which will have the largest number of women who are not registered despite being eligible are UP,Maharashtra and Rajasthan.These three states account for over 10 million of the 21 million missing women voters in 2019.

Forecasting elections in India is a nightmare.First,lndian society is an extremely heterogeneous society. The population of Europe is 742 million while that of India 1339 million almost twice.Europe has forty eight countries.The numbers alone are reflective of diversity.The diversity incidentally include ethnic divisions, castes, religions, sects, languages, (twernty two scheduled languages,ninety nine nonscheduled languages,1600 dialects) tribes, classes,income disparities,family structures and regional variations.Second,Indian electorates are suspicious of the surveyors and it is difficult to get real opinions from them.

It is not simply the percentage of votes a party get that people are interested in.People are interested in the number of seats a party will win.The conversion of percentage of votes to seats is based on Butler’s ‘theory of uniform swing’.But again swing is difficult to measure in a heterogeneous country like India.So the best way was to divide each state into homogeneous swing zones,which were based on analyses of past voting patterns.To make predictions more accurate (looking into multiple party system)Prannoy Roy and Ashok Lehri coined a new term IOU( Index of Opposition Unity).IOU is the vote(percent) of the largest opposition party multiply by one hundred and divided by the sum of the votes(per cent) of all opposition parties.In a multiparty system in addition to the swing for each party,the IOU needs to be computed.Once the opinion poll results are in for every homogeneous zone,and the swing and IOU are computed for each zone ,the seat forecast for each party is calculated for all the zones and for the entire country.This exercise is very complex but necessary in the first-past -the- post electoral system that is prevalent in England and India.An example of relation of percentage of votes with the percentage of seats is 2014 election where in a 31% vote for the BJP converted into 52% of the seats(or 38% of the vote for the NDA won it 61% of the seats).And for the Congress,19% of the vote won it only 8% of the seats.The BJP and the NDA won nearly nine seats for every 1 % vote,while the Congress won only two seats for every 1% of its vote. There is one more unique feature of Indian elections.India has more landslide elections perhaps than any other country.Another interesting thing about forecast is that there is a great variation in the accuracy of forecasts across the states.For instance historically Maharashtra, Rajasthan,Kerala and Haryana historically have the lowest error in opinion poll forecasts while Andhra Pradesh,Bihar and UP are the most difficult to predict.

One important thing about the relations between assembly and Lok Sabha elections.As per the statistics of 1999-2014 period,the party that wins the State Assembly Elections performs even better in the following Lok Sabha elections,winning an extra 25%of the Lok Sabha seats in the state compared with the equivalent seats in the prior State Assembly elections.The reasons may be ‘honeymoon’ with the new state government and strategic policy announcements made immediately after the state elections with the aim of winning as many seats as possible in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.But the impact of Loksabha elections is minimal on the state assembly elections.

For the 2019 Lok Sabha elections here are some important implications of the book as Prannoy Roy concludes :

First,it will not be an anti -incumbency election.It is fifty fifty election,

Second,Expect 2019 to be election of the women in India.Women are voting equally with men.Most important will be the votes of village women.The increase in voting among women is against NDA as per the past statistics.In 2014 elections the lead of NDA over the UPA amongst men was 19% while its lead amongst women voters was 9%.

Third,No longer a national election;it is a true federation-of-states-election. This is because of the rise of regional parties.The number of seats won by regional parties has risen from an average of 35 Lok Sabha seats in the early phase after Independence to over 160 seats now and the trend is decidedly upward.In the early phase(1950-70s) regional parties won 4% of the vote,This has now risen to 34%of the votes.

Fourth,Divide and rule is more important then popular votes.In the past winning the popular vote yielded more seats than a fragmented opposition.In the third phase(post 2002) as many as 45% of the seats in any election victory are now attributable to a divided opposition.So alliances between parties will play a crucial role.

Fifth,summing up.The IOU is becoming more effective compared to swings.In the early days it needed a 3% change in IOU to counter a 1%swing.Today this has changed:it needs only a 2.5% percent change in IOU to neutralize a 1% swing in votes.The difference of 0.5 percent may seem small but in electoral terms it is hugely significant.

The book is interesting, full of insights with statistical supports.The writers are masters off this field of analysing elections results.Worth to understand elections results in India.As rightly said in the book,”Democracy lies at the very core of every Indian’s DNA”.The only problem is that it is based on the past practices but Indians believe in miracles.No one can correctly judge the mood of Indian People.They always spring surprises.

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