By Jai Mrug
The results of the assembly elections in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Goa, Manipur and Uttarakhand have, more than any other election in the recent past, emphasised the need for earthy leaders who not only connect to the masses but also have content — a clear message — that is perceived to be backed by conviction.
Such leaders have the ability to cut across caste/community lines and appeal to voters on key deliverables of governance rather than an exclusive and often negative appeal to identity.
The victory of Akhilesh Yadav offers insights into what could be working the psyche of the masses. In 2011, a survey in Uttar Pradesh asked voters whether they preferred leaders who could govern or those with whom they had a jati/biradari relationship. Seventy percent of the respondents preferred a politician who could deliver public goods and “govern”, and only 20 percent said they would like someone from their jati/biradari as a political leader.
There were no statistically significant differences in the responses between Hindus, Muslims, Dalits, upper castes, and other backward classes (OBCs) (Read the article by Vasundhara Sirnate and Pradeep Chhibber here).
The results from Uttar Pradesh amply demonstrate the same. Though the Samajwadi Party polled a little over 29 percent of the vote, the support came from across the spectrum, which helped it win the largest number of seats any single party has won since 1985. The wins were spread all across the state , unlike in the past when the party’s performance would be skewed across various regions of the state. At 224, it went marginally ahead of the BJP’s tally of 221 seats in 1991.
While the party has put a stupendous performance in Eastern UP and Central UP, it has not performed poorly in Western UP either – where it has won 43 percent of the 136 seats at stake there.
Strong leaders with a rooted base and backed by conviction can only be engendered in a federal democracy within a party that nourishes them and believes in delegation and decentralisation. The BJP amply demonstrated the same in Goa where it gave Manohar Parrikar a completely free hand. A leadership that could connect with the masses and appeared to be backed by conviction achieved the incredible: a simple majority for the BJP, which it incidentally has never won in the Goa assembly. Some seven Catholic MLAs were elected on BJP tickets, something unthinkable in the past.
While the BJP did talk about poor Christian representation in government jobs, one of the key promises the party actually made in its manifesto was a purely material deliverable — reducing the price of petrol by Rs 10. In UP, however, the party could not seize the initiative, having drafted Uma Bharati at the last minute and having messed up its brand image with the Kushwaha episode.
In Uttarkhand, the party’s intervention seems to have come a little too late. The BJP led in 20 out of the 70 assembly segments in Uttarakhand in the 2009 parliamentary elections. The advent of Brand Khanduri – which was again about content and conviction besides connect, helped the BJP salvage the situation in Uttarkhand in what appears to be a narrower contest than ever before (the estimated vote share difference between the Congress and the BJP is 0.7 percent).
The Congress surged ahead of the BJP by one seat, and left the latter with the humiliating wound of a defeated CM. If infighting in the party had been better managed, perhaps it would have romped home in Uttarakhand. The Congress did find it difficult to match the content of Brand Khanduri, but just about managed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in the state.
Punjab has for the first time bucked the anti-incumbency trend to re-elect the Akali-BJP combine. The combine is ahead of the Congress by 1.7 percent of the vote. In many ways this was the result of the transformation of the Akali Dal with a vision that looked far beyond issues of identity and the agrarian economy into modernity.
This led to the party putting up a creditable performance in regions such as Doaba and Majha, regions that have a substantial non-agrarian population in their urban and semi-urban centres, and where the Akalis were traditionally seen to be weaker. In these areas, the combine won 31 out of the 48 seats. In the traditional Akali agrarian stronghold of Malwa, where the Congress had performed better than the Akalis in 2007, the latter matched the performance of the Congress.
As far as connect to the earth was concerned, Capt Amarinder Singh, with all the trappings of aristocracy, seemed to have connected less with the masses than the Akalis.
At a aggregate level, it appears that the electorate no longer looks up to a Bhadralok-like leader but to someone who has an earthy connect and who’s message they can have faith in. That explains, in one line, the election results of 6 March 2012.