TV Punditry

Those of you who might be following me on social media (Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIN) might know that I’ve started a career in TV Punditry over the last week. Well, it’s not that much of a career – I still need to figure out how to get paid for it.

Anyway, so I was on News9 once on Saturday (analysing exit polls) and again on Tuesday (analysing the election results). It happened pretty much at random, from a random twitter conversation:

And so Mathang (who I’d first met in 2004 when he had interviewed me for Education Times) set me up with Anil Kumar from News9, who presently asked me for my number. A couple of twitter DMs, a couple of emails and a couple of phone calls later, I had been asked to come to the News9 studio at 5pm on Saturday.

Saturday’s session was really enjoyable, and I spoke a fair bit on the process of conducting an exit poll, the importance of sample sizes and representative samples, the process of converting votes to seats, etc. A 5 minute monologue on sampling process got the anchors interested in me, and they kept coming back to me. As is my wont, I summarised the import of my arguments for Mint.

And so I got invited again for Tuesday’s post-counting session, and I’m not sure I enjoyed it that much. As the elections threw up a hung assembly, the politicians on the panel spent their time shouting at each other. I was seated in an inappropriate place – right between a loud JDS spokesperson and a loud BJP spokesperson. I recused myself from much of the discussion and was only brought in because the anchors probably thought I should be “given some lines” – an opportunity I used to comment on the parties’ election strategies.

So two TV appearances later, I must say I quite like the format – it’s good footage (literally) if not anything else, but it can be a bit painful. Writing is easy in the sense that you just collect your thoughts and deliver them at a time.

Video means that you are virtually participating in a group discussion, and need to butt in to make your point. You might have something insightful to say, but need to wait for an opportune time to interject. You might be in the middle of a long point but get interrupted by another panellist. You might wait for ages to say something but the opportunity never comes. At other times, you might get a question that you’re not prepared for.

The worst thing as an analytical guy on TV is that you need to keep referring to your data, and your analysis. So there was one occasion on each session when the anchors asked me a question to answer which I’d to write some code to answer. So each time I mumbled something and bent down to my laptop, and got bailed out by the anchor who got someone else’s view in the time I took to get the requisite data.

In any case, I want to do more of this. I also hope that like with my writing, I can some day hope to get paid for TV appearances – this is a hard job since panellists representing political parties don’t charge anything – it’s in their parties’ interests to be represented on the show.

But, some day..

Time for bragging

So the Karnataka polls are done and dusted. The Congress will form the next government here and hopefully they won’t mess up. This post, however, is not about that. This is to stake claim on some personal bragging rights.

1. Back in March, after the results of the Urban Local Body polls came out, I had predicted a victory for the Congress in the assembly elections.

2. Then, a couple of weeks back, I used the logic that people like to vote for the winner, and this winner-chasing will result in a self-fulfilling prophecy that will lead to a comfortable Congress victory.

These two predictions were on the “Resident Quant” blog that I run for the Takshashila Institution. It was a classic prediction strategy – put out your predictions in a slightly obscure place, so that you can quickly bury it in case it doesn’t turn out to be right, but showcase it in case you are indeed correct! After that, however, things went slightly wrong (or right?). Looking at my election coverage Mint asked me to start writing for them.

As it happened I didn’t venture to make further predictions till the elections, apart from building a DIY model where people could input swings in favour of or against parties, and get a seat projection. Watching the exit polls on Sunday, however, compelled me to plug in the exit poll numbers into my DIY model, and come up with my own prediction. I quickly wrote up a short piece.

3. As it happened, Mint decided to publish my predictions on its front page, and now I had nowhere to hide. I had taken a more extreme position compared to most other pollsters. While they had taken care to include some numbers that didn’t mean an absolute majority in the range the predicted for the Congress (so as to shield themselves in that eventuality), I found my model compelling enough to predict an outright victory for the Congress. “A comfortable majority of at least 125 seats”, I wrote.

I had a fairly stressful day today, as the counting took place. Initial times were good, as the early leads went according to my predictions. Even when the BJP had more leads than the Congress, I knew those were in seats that I had anyway tipped them to win, so I felt smug. Things started going bad, however, when the wins of the independents started coming out. The model I had used was unable to take care of them, so I had completely left them out of my analysis. And now I was staring at the possibility that the Congress may not even hit the magic figure of 113 (for an absolute majority), let alone reach my prediction of 125. I prepared myself to eat the humble pie.

Things started turning then, however. It turned out that counting had begun late in the hyderabad karnataka seats – a region that the Congress virtually swept. As I left my seat to get myself some lunch, the Congress number tipped past 113. And soon it was at 119. And then five minutes again back at 113. And so it continued to see-saw for a while, as I sat at the edge of my office chair which I had transplanted to in front of my television.

And then it ticked up again, and stayed at 119 for a while. And soon it was ticking past 120. All results have now been declared, with the Congress clocking up 121 seats. It falls short of the majority I had predicted, but it is a comfortable majority nevertheless. I know I got the BJP number horribly wrong, but so did most other pollsters, for nobody expected them to get only 20% of the popular vote. I also admit to have missed the surge in Independents and “Others”.

Nevertheless, I think I’ve consistently got the results of the elections broadly right, and so I can stake claim to some bragging rights. Do you think I’m being unreasonable?

Political Parties in Karnataka

General consensus among pundits is that the Janata Dal (Secular) (JDS) is going to struggle to cross 50 seats in the forthcoming assembly elections. The general discourse is that they lack a presence outside of the Old Mysore region. However, you might remember that not so long ago, in 1994, the Janata Dal (which broke up in 1999, one of whose offshoots was the JDS) had an absolutely majority in the state assembly. So I thought it might be interesting to see where the JD was strong in 1994.

I decided to go back another decade, to the 1983 elections, and for all elections from 1983 to 2004 I’ve mapped out how each of the 3 principal parties in Karnataka performed. I’ve grouped all the Janata Parivar parties (Janata Party, Janata Dal, and their offshoots) and coloured them green. The Congress has been coloured blue while the BJP is saffron. Seats won by independents/others have been coloured in black.



1. Before the Janata Dal split in 1999, the JD had a significant presence even in Bombay Karnataka, where it is now supposed to have absolutely no presence.
2. The growth of the BJP has been outward from the Mangalore-Udupi area. One needs to remember that the Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts are extremely diverse in terms of religion, so perhaps the Hindutva card works better there than elsewhere? Also, the coastal districts are where the RSS first set up its roots in Karnataka.
3. In 1999 and 2004, the BJP actually won some seats in the old Mysore region outside of Bangalore. In 2008, though, the BJP was decimated in this region. It is unlikely it will regain some base in this area in the coming election
4. The Congress won a whopping 178 seats in 1989. And what happened? Intense jockeying for the post of CM. Three CMs over the course of five years (Veerendra Patil, S Bangarappa and Veerappa Moily) followed by a humiliating loss in 1994 when the Congress came third!
5. The JD split in 1999 hit it badly. In most constituencies both the JD (U) and the JD(S) contested. That probably played into the hands of the Congress which won a simple majority. By 2004, the JD (U) was virtually non-existent in Karnataka, and the JD (S) managed to consolidate all the Janata votes and did well.
6. Even in 2004, you might notice that the BJP was virtually confined to the western half of Karnataka. In 2008, thanks to the efforts of the Reddy brothers, in addition to Western Karnataka they swept the regions in and around Bellary, which pushed them past the target. With the Reddys in jail and their right-hand-man B Sriramulu having formed his own party, the BJP won’t come close to a majority this time.

Unfortunately I haven’t been able to get my hands on the shapefiles of the delimited constituencies (2008 and later), so I’m unable to include the 2008 results in this chart. If any of you can supply me the shapefiles, or at least the constituency map of the new assembly constituencies, I’d be most grateful.

KJP split is going to hurt the BJP hard

Most of you might remember that in 2008 the BJP didn’t actually get an absolute majority in the assembly, and had to rely on independents to form the government. This led to the now infamous Operation Lotus where the BJP got opposition MLAs to resign their seats and contest again on a BJP ticket. Successive rebellions kept the government on tenterhooks, and some say it is indeed fortuitous that it lasted its full term, but it must not be forgotten that the BJP’s “victory” was an extremely narrow one to begin with.

While the BJP ended up as the single largest party with 110 seats (with the Congress second with 79), the Congress actually had a larger share of the popular vote compared to the BJP (34% versus 33% respectively). However, it can be said that the BJP “picked its battles” concentrating on its strongholds in North Karnataka, Bangalore and the coastal areas, and thus managed to surge ahead of the Congress in terms of seats.

However, analysis shows that even this surge in terms of seats was rather shaky. It was a result of coming together of a number of forces – a united BJP under Yeddyurappa’s leadership, the support of the Lingayat Mutts and Reddy brothers, and good candidate selection. Today, we will analyze how the 2008 Elections would have gone if Yeddyurappa’s KJP and B Sriramulu’s BSR congress had split from the BJP ahead of those elections.

The KJP and BSR Congress played key roles in the recent urban local body elections. Based on the local body elections, we project in each parliamentary constituency how much of what might have been the undivided BJP’s votes have gone to these breakaways. We assume that all the vote that the KJP or BSR congress got came from what the united BJP would have otherwise got. Next, we look at the 2008 Assembly election numbers and for each constituency, allocate the BJP’s votes among the BJP, KJP and BSR Congress proportional to their performance in the urban local body elections in that area.

The results, given below are rather surprising. While the KJP itself would have won not more than a handful of seats and the BSR Congress would have won nothing, our analysis shows that the BJP’s seats would have almost come down by half, with the Congress getting the lion’s share of what the BJP lost!

Red bars show actual performance in 2008. Blue bars show what the seat distribution might have been had the BJP been without the KJP and BSR Congress
Red bars show actual performance in 2008. Blue bars show what the seat distribution might have been had the BJP been without the KJP and BSR Congress

It would be interesting to see where the BJP lost the seats. The following graph shows, by Parliamentary constituency the number of Assembly constituencies that the BJP lost thanks to the parting with the KJP and BSR Congress.

This graph shows the number of seats the BJP would have lost in each parliamentary constituency had it been separate from the KJP in 2008
This graph shows the number of seats the BJP would have lost in each parliamentary constituency had it been separate from the KJP in 2008

So what are the implications? The big insight is that it is indeed bad tidings for the BJP. Even if the party were to have the same public sympathy that it did in 2008 (highly unlikely, given its government’s performance), it is going to struggle to get anywhere close to a majority. Currently the Congress is in as much of a mess as it was in in 2008, with rampant infighting and a battle between Parameshwar and Siddaramaiah for control of ticket distribution. Our analysis shows that even if the Congress does as well as it did in 2008 (remember that our ULB-based analysis showed it would do better), it stands to gain an absolute majority. There is no surprise why there is so much clamour for tickets within the Congress.

Ministry Formation – Comments

Earlier today, I wrote about some theoretical aspects regarding ministry formation – talking about incentivising, regional/community balance, etc. Here are some pertinent observations about the ministry itself.

  • There have been some rumblings about three leaders from Bellary (two Reddy brothers and Sriramulu) who have less than ten years in the party have been accommodated. My argument is that these guys have built up a whole base for the party from scratch. Bellary was a zero district for the BJP till 1999, when Sonia contested from there. From that kind of a situation to practically sweeping the state does take some kind of effort. Apart from Bellary, the trio are supposed to have been a big factor in the Gadag sweep too. I think the reward is fair. The only thing is that these guys should be kept far away from the Mines and Geology portfolio – so that there is no conflict of interest.
  • A number of districts have gone without representation, including a number of strong BJP districts – as I’d pointed out earlier today. Shankar Linge Gowda (4 time MLA from one of the Mysore constituencies) definitely deserved a berth, as did of course Jagdish Shettar. Nothing can be helped about some 5 districts in South Karnataka where the BJP didn’t open its account. But all other districts need their share. Bidar was supposed to be represented by Basavaraj Patil Attur, but somehow he disappeared at the last minute. Also, there is no representative from Mainland Tumkur (the only representative of the district is an independent from Pavagada, which is just an island surrounded by Andhra on all sides).
  • Apart from Shankar Linge Gowda and Jagadish Shettar, a number of other three and four-time winners have been denied, whose supporters have promptly rioted. There is A Narayanswamy of Anekal and Yogish Bhat of Mangalore South. There is also Appachu Ranjan of Coorg. The last named was probably left out since Coorg contributes just two seats. Yogish Bhat and Narayanswamy lost out in the caste calculations, I think. Narayanswamy was also not helped by the fact that he’s from Bangalore
  • Most of the independents supporting the BJP are SC/STs. This has crowded out SC/STs from the party. They have still given ministries to three SCs (Limbavali, Karjol, Revu Naik) and one ST (Sriramulu) but people, especially Narayanswamy, are not happy. The BJP has worked hard to gain acceptance among these communities. It should be careful not to lose it all now.
  • Bangalore has 6 people in the ministry. And there’s Katta Subramanya Naidu who is yet to join. One reason why Bangalore numbers look bloated is because two MLAs from here – Arvind Limbavali and Shobha Karandlaje – are not natives of the city, and have moved here only for elections. Again, because of this, other local Bangalore? guys have got crowded out. However, the presence of a number of first time MLAs from helps – they need not be given anything just yet.
  • Another problem with the BJP is that the community composition of its top leadership doesn’t reflect the community composition of the state – they have too many Brahmins and Lingayats. Hence, they won’t be able to follow the strict community quota rules that the Krishna and Deve Gowda governments followed.
  • The new real estate lobby that has been instrumental in these elections hasn’t got anything in terms of ministry (I’m talking mainly about Kote Nandish Reddy (K R Puram) and Satish Reddy (Bommanahalli) here).
  • The BJP is lucky that some new entrants such as G T Deve Gowda and Benki Mahadevu lost, else they would’ve been sure shots for ministries. That would’ve taken the number of new entrants to an unacceptable level – from the point of motivating the cadres.

Anyways, let’s hope that the government somehow survives and lasts its full term. There are a large number of challenges ahead of it, so hopefully they should be able to get over their differences quickly and get down to work.

Local bodies and elections

Last evening, my neighbour, who is also the president of the local resident’s welfare association, briefly dropped in to hand over my mother’s voting chit. And dropped in a line asking us to vote for a particular party. “This guy has done excellent work in his previous term as MLA”, he said, “and we’ll all benefit if he is gets elected”.

Continue reading “Local bodies and elections”

Scrap the spending limit

There are two notable things regarding the ongoing elections in Karnataka. The first is the presence of a large number of real estate developers in the elections. The second is the virtual non-existence of corruption, rather the removal of it, in party manifestos. These two points, I believe, are not independent. Under the current system, political parties are forced to rely on black money to fund election campaigns. For people with black money, election funding is an extremely lucrative investment, and with the right bets or good hedges, can give excellent returns.

The political parties have no way out of this. In the name of austerity, and conserving public money, there is a limit on spending in elections. Currently, it stands at a measly Rs. 10 lakh per candidate. In other words, what the rules say is that no candidate is allowed to spend more than this amount on his campaign. Assuming that the average assembly constituency has about 2 lakh voters (this is the case with Karnataka this time round), this works out to Rs. 5 per voter.

A “normal” election involves considerable expenses – banners and posters and flyers; speeches by national politicians; public meetings; door to door campaigning; rallies (And I’m not even thinking about “illegal expenses” such as buying liquor and saris and crowds). It is obvious that in order to put up a serious campaign, one needs to spend a large multiple of the official limit. There is only one way to fund this – using “black money”.

Notice that even if a particular party wants to be honest, and doesn’t want to use black money, it can’t do so unless it is willing to badly hurt it’s own chances in the elections. There is simply no way out. Yes, you might think of increasing the spending limit, but if the other guy is willing to spend over and above the new limit there isn’t much you can do.

As you might have figured out from the title of this post, my recipe is to scrap the spending limit on elections. It is fairly common knowledge that no one really sticks to these limits. Why not just legalize this? It still won’t stop parties from using unaccounted money. However, it gives the parties an OPTION to be honest, and use only honest sources of money.

If a party wants to go to the polls on an anti-corruption platform, it would be able to do so without being corrupt during the process itself. And once some party takes the plunge and “goes honest”, the other parties are likely to follow soon, unless they can afford to lose their reputation. And where will “honest” political parties get their funding from? I’m sure there is a large number of businesses who stand to benefit a lot from a corruption-free government. It shouldn’t be a problem to tap them for funds.

I concede that it’s not a foolproof solution. There is no guarantee that there will be some party which will take the bait and go “all white”. Even if one party does so, there is no guarantee that the entire flawed system can be cleaned up. However, this proposal doesn’t cost too much. I can see no real negative aspects of removing the cap (if you can think of anything, please let me know in the comments). It is definitely worth a try. It is definitely superior to give people the choice to be honest, rather than forcing them to be dishonest.

Cross posted at the Indian Economy Blog