Sunday, April 19, 2009
The BJP has launched an agressive SMS campaign aiming to send SMS to 250 million cell phone subscribers urging them to vote for BJP candidate in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. I am not aware of the Congress or Third Front having efforts on a similar scale. Can this change the outcome of the election ? A first cut analysis is presented here.
I believe that an SMS message is unlikely to change the party choice of an individual, but it CAN increase turnout amoung people likely to vote for the BJP anyway. Assuming that 80% of the SMS reach valid voters. This implies an SMS reaches 200 million voters. Assuming further that 40% of voters receiving SMS could be inclined to vote for the BJP. This is a reasonable assumption given that the BJP captured around 28% vote nationally and BJP is likely to do better than that in subsection of the population that owns cell phones. So 80 million voters who might vote for BJP could get SMS reminding them to vote. Assuming that 50% of these voters would vote anyway, then we are left will 40 million SMS to voters who could be inclined to vote for BJP but are not voting.
Assuming 25% effectiveness this could result in 10 million extra votes for BJP. The SMS is likely to reach more voters in the urban constituencies compared to rural ones. Assuming 50% of the SMS went to the 100 urban constituencies where BJP is a factor, then the 50,000 extra votes for BJP in each of these consituencies. This can easily have the effect of switching 10 seats from the Congress to BJP i.e. a 20 seat swing which can dramatically alter the post poll equations.
Where can we look for this effect ? The results in Delhi (a predominantly Urban state) would be a good indicator for effectiveness of SMS campaign. Most predictions today show either a 5-2 or 6-1 split in favour of the Congress and vote percentages of the Congress and BJP were quite close in last year's assembly elections. Thus, if the BJP achieves aa 5-2 or 4-3 result in Delhi it might indicate that the SMS campaign played a key role. Other Urban constituencies with traditionally close results might also be good indicators.
Can we detect such a things by looking at turnout ? Actually, it might be hard to dectect the effectiveness of SMS using turnout as the increase would only be 1-2%.
On the other hand if SMS method was only 2.5% effective, it would translate into only 1 million votes nationwide. In that case, it may not be able to switch the result in more than 1-2 seats and be an overall non factor.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
1st April 2009:
UPA + SP: 221
Third Front + BSP: 115
There will be a truly hung parliament, with it being difficult to form any stable government
19th April 2009:
Updating by separating the 4th front from UPA:
Third Front: 117
Fourth Front: 30
Situation is quite similar to current parliament, but it seems there is too much bad blood between left and UPA to form a stable government.
7th May 2009
STOP THE PRESS: NDA to form next government
Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra to be drag on UPA. NDA does better than expected in UP.
Third Front: 134
Fourth Front: 34
NDA will form goverment with support of AIADMK and allies (30 seats) + TDP and alliens (22 seats)
Sunday, March 15, 2009
The details are still in flux, but as the dust settles we are getting a clearer picture of the contest in the 2009 Lok Sabha. We have 3 fronts, the UPA, the NDA and the 3rd Front fighting it out. Who will come out victorious ?
For the sake of my analysis I the following, which are strictly not true. The SP is in effectively alliance with the UPA, the BSP and BJD are part of the 3rd Front.
All three fronts will have a hard time cobbling together the numbers to form a governments. The only front that can get an absolute majority even best case scenario is the UPA which could hit 280 seats. The NDA can only win 225 seats in its best case scenario, while the 3rd Front can win a maximum of 170 seats in the best case. I have included spreadsheets reflecting the best case scenario for each alliance.
However, this does not necessarily mean that the UPA is most likely to form the goverment after the elections. This is because the UPA also has the highest "magic number". The "magic number" is defined as the minimum number of seats the alliance needs to win to pull together a post poll coalition that has a majority.
The UPA "magic number" is 245. If the UPA gets less than 245 it will struggle to find allies to achieve a majority in a post poll scenario. In fact, the only possible post poll ally is AIADMK (if it does much better than DMK). The Communists and BSP do not seem likely and the rest are impossible. So the UPA can lose about 35 seats from its best case scenario and still form the goverment.
However, the NDA "magic number" may be as low as 215 as the AIADMK, TDP, BJP and even possibly BSP can help the NDA cobble together a majority. So NDA can get 10 seats below its best case scenario and still form the goverment.
The 3rd Front has the lowest "magic number" of 200, but their problem is that the 3rd Front cannot get 200 seats in even the most optimistic scenario.
Let the fun begin ...
Saturday, February 21, 2009
From 1951 to 1971 the number of seats in the Lok Sabha was updated each time to reflect the growth in population. However, since 1971 the number of seats in the Lok Sabha has been fixed at 542. In 1971 India's population was 547 million, today it is 1.1 billion. In addition, the number of seats in each state has also remained fixed since 1971.
Due to variations in population growth in the different states in India over the past 40 years we have "significant" imbalances in the number of seats each state has in the Lok Sabha. For example, according to their current share of the population, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh (the so called BIMARU states) should be allocated 193 seats in the Lok Sabha. However, they only have a combined 175 seats, an under representation of 18 seats. On the other hand, the southern states, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh should have 117 seats based on their population share but they actually have 129 seats, an over representation of 12 seats.
In addition, small states have always been over represented in the Lok Sabha. The states and union territories with a population under 3 million should have a combined representation of 8 seats in the Lok Sabha but they actually have 19 seats. Laskhadweep, our smallest Lok Sabha constituency has a population of only 60,000 people compared to the nationwide average of about 2,000,000 people. That is over representation by a factor of 40.
This imbalance can actually determine who comes to power especially in a coalition scenario. In 2004 the UPA and Left Parties gained an estimated 25 seat swing over the other parties due to this imbalance because they did well in the over represented regions and poorly in the under represented regions. This played a crucial role in the UPA's ability to form the government.
This imbalance is not fair if we are committed to universal adult franchise. It is the duty of the Election Commission to update the number the seats in each state at least after each new census.
P.S. The case may be made that we are rewarding those states which have made the least progress checking the growth of their population.
Monday, February 16, 2009
This posting is more personal than usual, I hope my daughter will get know something about her father when she is old enough to read this. I apologize if this is not of general interest.
The story begins in February 1977, I had just turned nine (My daughter turns nine this year). India was in the grips of the Emergency, and Indira Gandhi had just declared elections. Our family was a staunch Congress household and the Emergency had been explained to me as Indira Gandhi has put all the bad people in jail. Of course, my father had no doubt that the Congress would be swept back to power. This sense of absolute certainty was passed on to me. So when a friend of mine insisted that the Janata Party would win this time and offered a bet of an "orange bar" I felt that it was like taking candy from a baby though I had no idea how I would pay up if I lost.
On the day the results were to be announced, I was still hopeful as I listened to All India Radio continuously reporting about how the Congress had won 41 out of the 42 seats in the Andhra Pradesh and silent about the results in the rest of the country. By the next morning the papers were full of the Janata Party riding a wave back to power and I had sinking feeling as I wondered how I would get 55 paise. I dared not tell me father about the bet. It took me two weeks of scrounging around for spare (aka unguarded) change, but I re-payed my debt using 11 five paise coins. This traumatic experience led me to make a solemn promise to myself: I will never blindly believe what someone tells me about a election, I will always come to my own conclusions based on the data. That month, a political "junkie" was born.
To be continued ...
Sunday, February 8, 2009
While Mahatma Gandhi is the father of the nation, and the nation was shaped and nurtured in its infancy by Nehruvian principles it can be argued that B.R. Ambedkar was more prescient about the real nature of India. There are number of issues where he disagreed with Gandhi and history shown that his position might have been closer to the truth. Ambedkar had written in 1946 about the practical dangers of a two-state solution with the issues related of massive transfers of population (partition horrors) and unending border disputes (Kashmir). Ambedkar also sharply disagreed with Gandhi on the "romantic" nature of village life in India and correctly suggested that the best way to escape your caste identity was to migrate to the cities. Today is it clear that the best way to escape both the caste system and grinding poverty is to migrate to the cities.
In 1931 Ambedkar proposed separate electorates for Dalits i.e. there would be separate seats in the provincial assemblies whose electorate would consist exclusively of the "oppressed classes". Gandhi was vehemently opposed to this proposal on the grounds that it would divide the Hindu community for the future generations and went on indefinite fast to protest it. Ambedkar relented under the pressure and the result was a compromise known as Poona Pact, whereby certain seats were "reserved" i.e. the candidates would be Dalit, but the electorate includes the entire population. This agreement got codified in our constitution in the form reservation of SC/ST seats in Lok/Vidhan Sabha elections. However, other than this concession we adopted a "Westminster" style winner take all parliamentary system.
The impact of our current parliamentary system was not very clear as long as the Congress Party dominated the electoral scene in the first 30 years after independence. However, as we move to increasingly multi-polar contests we are faced with a situation where all parties practise vote bank politics. These vote bank politics exist because various communities, especially those who fear disenfranchisement and marginalization, will vote as blocs to retain some sort of influence in the political process. Political parties try to exploit this fact to win power by either supporting or opposing specific caste or religion based vote-banks. In fact, a cleverly cobbled together coalition of vote banks totalling 30-35% can result in a party or front achieving an absolute majority.
Vote bank politics can result in both under and over representation of certain sections of society in elections. For example, in the latest Vidhan Sabha elections in Gujarat, where the Congress attempted unsuccessfully combat Modi with soft Hindutva there are zero Muslim MLAs even though 7% of the electorate in Muslim. On the other extreme in the 2007 UP Vidhan Sabha elections, Brahmins, who consist of about 8% of the electorate in UP, comprised over 13% of the elected MLAs. They managed this astounding result because of clever aggregation of vote banks by the BSP and the multi polar nature of the contest. Interestingly, thanks to the Poona Pact, the SC/ST are guaranteed a 22.5% representation in the legislature.
Why do we have vote bank politics ? Was Ambedkar right that India is really a nation that contains many "communities" within the same borders, having different needs and aspirations ? Should every "community" be guaranteed fair representation in the legislature based on separate electorates ?
A "community" would be allocated a certain percentage of seats based on their population. Electorates for these seats would consist exclusively of people belonging to that community. This would reduce vote bank politics as each community would not have vote as a "bloc" for fear of disenfranchisement. Each community would have its fair representation in the legislature guaranteed and there would be fewer accusations of real and imagined bias (aka appeasement) towards any particular community.
In addition, it will raise the standard of debate within each community where there would be competition between different visions for that particular community. For e.g. if there were a separate electorate for forward castes surely there would be parties which opposed reservation that would have representation in the legislature. It is also possible that such an approach could also give rise to debate and moderate voices in the Muslim community. The list could go on and on.
The argument against such an approach is that it would codify the divisions in society for generations to come. However, if these divisions already exist then it may be better to move forward after acknowledging them.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Currently we are faced with a situation where all parties practise vote bank politics. Parties try to get votes by either supporting or opposing specific caste or religion based vote-banks. In addition, our elections are getting increasing multi-polar so a cleverly cobbled together coalition of vote banks totalling 30-35% can result in a party or front achieving an absolute majority. The "letter" below represents a hypothetical but plausible realpolitik scenario. The radical centrist admires Mayawati's chutzpah, but would not neccesarily support the strategy suggested below for he is sympathetic to the Mandal report.
P.S. S.C. Mishra is a Brahmin BSP leader from UP considered the architect of Mayawati's Dalit, Brahmin, Muslim coalition which won an absolute majority with less than 30% of the popular vote in 2007.
We have achieved a great victory under you wise leadership when we won an absolute majority in the UP Vidhan Sabha by creating "new" coalition of Dalits, Brahmins & Muslims. We have taken the traditional Congress coalition and turned it upside down achieving a great victory for the Dalit cause.
We know your destiny is to become the Prime Minister of India by winning the national elections. However, as results in a number of other state elections have shown, the BSP can be a spoiler (mainly for the Congress) on many occasions may be difficult for the BSP to make a major mark on the national stage. I humbly submit that we can achieve our goal and transform national politics forever, if you can take a single bold step.
The BSP should take a stand AGAINST the recommendations of the Mandal commission !
It appears shocking at the outset that a party inspired by Ambedkar would take a stance against caste based reservation. In fact, every major party across the political spectrum whether it is the BJP, Congress or the left supports the recommendation of the Mandal commission because no party can ignore the fact that 40%-50% of the population of India are OBCs (The main beneficiaries of Mandal). No party can expect to survive ignoring this vote bank.
However, there exists an estimated 20% Anti-Mandal vote bank, consisting of the upper castes. Currently, no political party represents this "merit" vote bank because everyone supports Mandal. If a political party promised to roll back Mandal it would get the en-bloc support of this vote bank. In addition, you will achieve "instant" credibility among the intelligentsia who dominate the media. I am sure there will be many people hailing you as India's "Barack Obama". Of course we will lose some OBC support, but we don't get that much OBC support anyway. We just need to change our slogan Jai Bhim, Jai Parasuram to Jai Bhim, Jai Shri Ram.
By taking an anti-Mandal stance, and retaining the BSP's 20% dalit vote bank, we can cross the 40% threshold in a national election which should be sufficient for an absolute majority in a three way race. Of course, BSP would need to carefully select candidates using caste and "merit" considerations but this is something which we are already doing.
I am sure you will lead the BSP to a great victory in the next Lok Sabha elections, and fulfill your destiny by becoming the Prime Minister of India.
Forever you servant,
Saturday, January 10, 2009
Let us begin with three observations regarding government employees.
It is clear that the salaries received by government employees in spite of the pay increases specified in the sixth pay commission have not kept track with the salary increases in the private sector. In fact, salary discrepancies have reached dangerous proportions with serious impact on corruption and stability of the social and moral fabric of the nation.
On the other hand a significant portion of government expenditure is spent on salaries of government of government employees. It is estimated that the recommendations of the sixth pay commission alone will cause a 0.5% impact on the GDP of the nation. [Need to find a good number as to the percentage of Central/State Budget spent on employee salaries]. This number is sure to go up with continued pressure from every interest group which feels shortchanged. The trend of salaries taking up ever larger percentages of total expenditure is a recipe for fiscal disaster.
A third observation, is that most of us are frustrated with the corruption, slow pace and lack of flexibility exhibited in our interactions with government employees for the simplest of tasks. Most of us would not tolerate such service in the private sector, but when it comes to government we use a combination of bribes, influence and complaining acceptance to deal with the situation.
Is there a common sense way to solve these three issues with a single stroke, i.e. increase the compensation the government employees can earn, reduce the impact on the government expenditure and improve the quality of government services received by the common man. The answer is, yes.
If every government employee was able to earn up to four times their gross salary by providing "value added services" to the public then we could increase the potential compensation of every government employee by four times. These services could include anything that they could "legitimately" provide to the public. This will have an impact on both "dishonest" and "honest" government employees who would see a legitimate way to augment their income. For simple straightforward services one could create an efficient online market where there could actually be bidding for the lowest quote to allow market forces to rationalize the amount required for a particular service.
In addition, if the government employee had to pay a 12.5% service tax on this compensation then the government expenditure on these employees would actually go down by 50%. The transparency of the system could also be ensure by requiring any service for which the charge was more than a threshold amount (say Rs. 10,000) needed to be available online on the public record.
This system will not eliminate corruption (especially large scale corruption) but it will provide a serious disincentive for small scale corruption and improve the user experience of the private citizen with government, while improving compensation of government employees and reducing government expenditure.