Analysing the BBMP Elections

The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) went to polls on Saturday, and votes were counted today. The BJP has retained its majority in the house, winning 100 out of 198 available seats. While this is a downer compared to the 113 seats they had won in the previous elections in 2010, the fact that they have won despite being in opposition in the state is a significant achievement.

Based on data put out by Citizen Matters, here is some rudimentary analysis. The first is a choropleth of where each party has performed. Note that this is likely to be misleading since constituencies with large areas are over-represented, but this can give you a good picture.

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Red: BJP Green: Congress Cyan: JD(S) Blue: Independents Black: Others

Notice that there are a few “bands” where the BJP has performed really well. There is the south-western part of the city that it has literally swept, and it has done well in the south-eastern and northern suburbs, too. And the party hasn’t done too well in the north-west, the traditional “cantonment” area.

We can get a better picture of this by looking at the choropleths by assembly constituency. These shapes might be familiar to regular readers of the blog since I’d done one post on gerrymandering.

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This tells you where each party has done well. As was evident from the first figure, the BJP has done rather well in Basavanagudi, Jayanagar and Padmanabhanagar in “traditional South Bangalore” and blanked out in Pulakeshi Nagar in the cantonment. In fact, if you try to correlate these results with that of the last Assembly elections, the correlation is rather strong. Most constituencies have gone the way of the assembly segments they are part of.

Then there is the issue of reservation – there were a lot of murmurs that the Congress party which is in power in the state changed the reservations to suit itself. Yet, there are a few interesting factoids that indicate that the new set of reservations were rather logical.

The next two graphs show the distribution of SC and ST populations respectively as a function of the reservations of the constituencies (population data from http://openbangalore.org).

Rplot03 Rplot02Notice that the constituencies reserved for SCs and STs are among those that have the highest SC and ST populations respectively. The trick in gerrymandering was in terms of distributions between general and OBC constituencies, and among women.

I could put the performance of different parties by reservation categories, and on whether the reservation of a constituency has changed has any effect on results, but (un)fortunately, there aren’t any trends, and consequently there is little information content. Hence I won’t bother putting them in.

Nevertheless, these have been extremely interesting elections. All the postponement, all the drama and court case, and finally the underdog (based on previous trends) winning. Yet, given the structure of the corporation, there is little hope that much good will come of the city in the coming years. And there is nothing in the election results that can alter this.

 

Dictatorships and primaries

In their excellent book “the dictator’s handbook” Bruno bueno de Mesquita and Alastair smith talk about why dictatorships usually put on a garb of democracy and hold (mostly) sham elections.

According to bueno de Mesquita and smith the reason is not to appear good in front of the international community, as the general discourse goes. Dictators are extremely rational actors, they say, and reputation in the international community didn’t usually give enough benefit to compensate for the cost of the garb of democracy and elections.

Instead, bueno de Mesquita and smith say that the real purpose of the elections is to keep followers in check. If a member of the dictator’s team “misbehaves” for example, getting rid of him is normally a difficult process. Essentially sacking is a hard job for anyone, even for hard nosed dictators. In the context of dictatorships sackings can get controversial and often bloody and is not a particularly pleasant process.

By putting in a garb of democracy, however, there is an easy way to sack an official. Assuming that in a dictatorship most citizens vote according to the fancies of the dictator, all a dictator needs to do to sack an official is to instruct the electorate to vote against the official the next time he is up for reelection. The sacking having been effected by “popular mandate”, the process is easier and likely to be less bloody and troublesome for the dictator.

Now, the question is if we can use this framework to understand the new US-style primary elections that the Indian national congress has been using for candidate selection in some constituencies in the forthcoming elections.

Normally in the congress, like in most other parties in India, candidates for elections are determined top-down, by the party “high command”. The risk with this however is that candidates who did not get a ticket to contest the elections know that for whatever reason the party high command is not in favour of them contesting. This can lead to disillusionment and can lead to defections to rival parties.

In this context a primary election acts as a facade through which the party high command can get its choice of candidates without pissing off those applicants who did not get the ticket. Now the purported message to these unsuccessful applicants is that the next time they should work of getting the support of the party rank and file in their constituency.

In reality however, with the party being high command driven, the rank and file has voted as per the instructions of the high command! The high command thus gets its choice of candidates without losing the support of the unsuccessful candidates.

So why is it that primaries work in the US? For the same reasons that elections work in democracies! In the US parties are truly democratic and organised bottom up. There is no high command there to (credibly) dictate the choices for the rank and file. So the results of the primaries are truly reflective of the opinion of the party rank and file.

In conclusion, given the high command based structure of political parties in India, primaries will not work. Instead they will only end up as instruments in the hands of the party high commands, just like the sham elections on dictatorships.

Kabaddi, Jesus Navas, Digvijaya Singh and Modi Bhakts

Writing during the last FIFA World Cup in 2010, I mentioned a concept that I named after the Spanish (and now Manchester City) winger Jesus Navas. It was the strategy of one guy breaking off separately from the rest of his teammates, and ploughing a lonely furrow in a direction different to what his teammates were working on. So when the rest of the Spanish team played tiki taka and relied on a slow build up based on intricate passing through the middle, Jesus would come on and run away on his own down the right flank. It was a useful distraction for the Spanish team to have, for now the opposition could not mass its defences in the centre.

In the same post, I had mentioned that it is similar with Kabaddi. When a team is “defending” all but one person in the team form a chain and try to encircle the attacker. The other guy works alone, and his job is to lure the attacker deep into the territory so that the chain can close in around the attacker. This way, the lone ranger and the team work together, towards a common objective, just like Jesus and the rest of the Spanish team.

Having observed Indian politics for a while now, I realize that the Indian National Congress has successfully adopted this strategy, while the BJP has failed to keep up. Now, the reason you want to use a lone ranger in politics is slightly different, but on the same lines. Sometimes, there can be disagreements within a party on certain issues. For political reasons, the party can officially adopt only one of the two possible paths. Yet, they know that by sticking to this official path, they might lose out on some support. How then can parties tackle this issue of giving out the “dissenting judgment” while still appearing united?

This is where people like Digvijaya Singh come in. Digvijaya is a known loose cannon, and has mastered the art of taking a line different from the mainstream Congress line. In case he turns out to be right, later on the party can claim that he was right all along – and quietly bury the official party line. In other cases, the party can publicly castigate him, and distance itself from his claims. In a way that I can’t fully understand, the Congress has mastered the art of managing the loose cannon, such that they “recognize” his statements when he is right and unceremoniously ditch him otherwise.

The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), however, hasn’t got its act together. The biggest problem with the BJP is that there is no one loose cannon with whom an agreement can be struck on the lines of what the Congress possibly has with Digvijaya. At different points in time different party leaders espouse views that are out of line with the party’s official line, and this being hard to control, the party gives off an image as being disunited. The matter is made worse by the thousands of online fans of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who like to voice their personal opinion which may not tally with the party line, but whom the party cannot publicly dissociate from.

It is in this particular issue that the BJP significantly lags the Congress when it comes to media management. As a BJP supporter mentioned on twitter yesterday, Digvijaya can say whatever and the Congress can get away with it, but whatever a Modi Bhakt says gets attributed to the BJP. It is this differential handling of fringe elements that leads to significantly worse press for the BJP than for the Congress. The answer lies in appointing an official lunatic whose job it is to make outrageous statements and be prepared to get censured by the party frequently.

Too many fringe elements, all of them shooting off in different directions, weakens the core, and weakens the focus of the attack. One can be managed, and is useful. More is the problem.