Incumbents can win
And win convincingly, if they govern reasonably well: that was the idea that defined politics in 2001-2010. And the message is clear if we compare election results of 2001-2010 with the previous decade, 1991-2000.
The 1991-2000 decade saw four Lok Sabha elections, in 1991, 1996, 1998 and 1999. In 1999, the BJP-led coalition came back to power. In the other three elections, the incumbents lost power. The 2001-2010 decade has seen two Lok Sabha elections, in 2004 and 2009. In 2004, the incumbent NDA lost. In 2009, the incumbent UPA won, and the Congress, convincingly improved its performance. However, Lok Sabha elections offer too small a comparison base for this thesis. It’s in assembly elections, where the story plays out.
There were 55 assembly elections in the 1991-2000 period, and 56 in the 2001-2010 period. In 1991-2000, in 37 assembly elections (over 67 per cent), the incumbent did not return to power. If we exclude the first Delhi assembly elections and the polls in Jammu and Kashmir (held after a long period of President’s rule), anti-incumbency jumps to around 70 per cent (incumbents lost 37 of 53 state elections).
Contrast that with 2001-2010. Incumbents lost in only 26 elections in this period. The anti-incumbency rule was satisfied in less than 50 per cent of the state elections (46.5 per cent of the incumbents lost).
This is a big change, in fact, the biggest change in Indian politics, where even parliamentary poll verdicts are dependent largely on state-specific electoral moods.
The trend is borne out by a study conducted by Yogendra Yadav and Suhas Palshikar (published in 2009 in the EPW). They found that state-level incumbents lost 77 per cent of elections between 1989 and 1998, 62 per cent between 1999 and 2003, and just 46 per cent between 2004 and 2008.
Nitish Kumar, the author of the future of politics essay in this issue, is the most recent and perhaps the most inspirational face of the new trend. Sheila Dikshit in Delhi, Shivraj Singh Chouhan in MP, Narendra Modi in Gujarat are the others. The late YSR Reddy, who won in Andhra Pradesh for the second time in 2009, would have been a poster boy as well.
(Courtesy: Eye, Sunday Express, January 2, 2010)