Indian assembly size to double, and then some?

Is the Indian Lok Sabha about to be more than doubled in size? There is this paragraph in an article in The Wire by Madhav Godbole otherwise about the role of parliament and its committees in India’s Covid-19 response:

In mature democracies, the efficacy of parliament largely depends on the functioning of its committees. I have been consistently advocating the strengthening of parliamentary committees. The importance of these committees will be all the more after the impending delimitation of Lok Sabha constituencies and an increase in the estimated strength of Lok Sabha to 1,200 members and of Rajya Sabha to 800 members. This is the ostensible reason for the construction of a new parliament building at such a break-neck speed even during the current pandemic. But, this will be futile unless parliament is permitted to function and does not become just an appendage of governance structure.

That size of the Lok Sabha would slightly overshoot the cube root law’s expectation for a country of about 1.3 billion, although it would certainly be closer to the cube root of population than the current 543 members. The current size is about half the cube root (which would be around 1,090), while the proposed expanded assembly would be about 1.10 times the cube root.

I’ve asked before the question of whether there is a tradeoff at some point where an assembly gets too large to be functional, even if it is consistent with the cube root.1 I have no idea where that point might be. The cube root law itself is based on a balance between two types of “communication channel”–those between representatives and their constituents and those among members themselves. Large countries should have large assemblies, and India currently has a very small assembly for country size.

One thing is for sure, there can be a lot more committees and subcommittees, or else larger committees, if the Lok Sabha is made this large. I don’t think we have a good theory of how committee structure relates to either assembly size or population. Moreover, this is a separate question from how “strong” a committee system is, as the quote from Godbole attests to.

Also it should be noted that this proposed new size for the second chamber, the Rajya Sabha, is quite excessive.

(Thanks to Patrick G on Twitter for the tip.)

  1. For instance, in asking for the US case what impact a larger House might have on party “strength” and thinking about the pros and cons of more homogenous (single-seat) districts and the likelihood for more safe seats in a larger House.

Following the Indian campaign

The first of several phases of the 2019 Indian general election is underway. I just found a really neat feature at the Times of India that gives summary of the two major party leaders’ activities each day.

Also, on India:

“180 turmeric farmers refused to withdraw their candidature from Nizamabad on the last day of nomination… no choice but use ballot papers” instead of electronic machines.

That’s a lot of candidates, and also a pretty expensive protest (apparently around $400 per nomination), as well as a headache for election administrators.

Uttar Pradesh, 2017

Election results have been released for the state assembly of Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state. It was a big win for the federal ruling party, the BJP. The seat tally shows 312 for the BJP, with the second highest being the Samajwadi Party (SP) at 47. The SP, the ruling party since 2012, was in a pre-election coalition with the Indian National Congress (INC), which won just 7 seats. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which has been a significant party in the state in the past, won 19 seats.

Unlike 2012, when the SP majority in the assembly was achieved on not even 30% of the vote, this year’s BJP victory was a big win in votes, too. Not a majority, but a decisive plurality, at 39.7% of the vote. The SP-INC combine had 28.0% and the BSP 22.2%.

Note that the BJP managed a three-fourths majority (77.4%) of the 403 seats on not even 40% of the vote. The advantage ratio (%seats/%votes) was 1.95. That must be one of the biggest manufactured majorities under FPTP anywhere, at least in a large assembly.

Several other states have had recent elections as well. The news was better for the struggling INC in some, including Punjab, Goa, and Manipur, though its pluralities in these are short of majority status. The Aam Aadmi Party (which governs Delhi, but has had minimal success elsewhere) managed a distant second place in Punjab. See the results at the second link in this entry.

Bihar 2015: Indian democracy still works

The ‘Modi wave’ has been flattened in Bihar, one of India’s biggest states.

This past Sunday, the Electoral Commission announced the results. The BJP, the national ruling party since the 2014 federal election, was trounced.

A ‘Grand Alliance’, including among its main components two state parties (one of which formerly ruled the state in alliance with the BJP) and the Indian National Congress (INC), won an overwhelming majority. According to results currently posted on the Commission’s front page, the BJP remained the largest single party in votes (24.4%), but the combined votes of the three main grand alliance partners came to 41.9%. Other smaller parties that participated in the “seat-sharing” (whereby one of the partners represents the alliance in a given constituency) bring the total to around 46%. Of the main alliance partners, the Rashtriya Janata Dal won 80 of the 243 seats, the Janata Dal (United) won 71, and the INC 27.

The total alliance seat take represents over 73% of the seats, offering a stark reminder of just how disproportional the FPTP system can be, especially when multiple parties cooperate and there is a relatively uniform swing.

I had suggested back in May, 2014, that I did not think the BJP win meant a fundamental change in how the country would be governed, despite the fact that the BJP had won big in Bihar itself in the national election. The outcome of the Bihar election is yet another reminder of the centrality of alliance politics in India.

Delhi assembly: Massive AAP win

This past Saturday voters in Dehli went to the polls to elect a replacement assembly for the one that was dissolved following the resignation of the 49-day minority government of Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.

While polls had generally foreseen a win by Kejriwal’s AAP (Common Man Party), none saw the massive win that the party obtained: 67 of the 70 seats, with the BJP (ruling party at the federal level since 2014) winning just 3. The Congress Party was shut out. The top three parties vote percentages were 54.2, 32.2, 9.7.

This is a stunning surge for the AAP. Its first-ever contest was for the Delhi election of December, 2013, in which it won 28 seats, second to the BJP’s 31 (Congress had 8). AAP formed a minority government, but then resigned when it could not get its signature anti-corruption bill through the assembly. In the federal election of May, 2014, the AAP flopped miserably, winning a third of the votes in Delhi but no seats. (It ran over 400 candidates across several sates, but managed just 4 seats, all in Punjab.) And now it has a solid majority of the vote and a near-sweep of the Delhi assembly’s seats.

As might be expected, some of the AAP’s changing fortunes comes down to the dynamics of first-past-the-post voting with multiple parties. The AAP actually won a slightly higher percentage of the vote in Delhi for the federal parliament in 2014 than it had won in the assembly election of 2013. The biggest source of new AAP votes clearly comes from the collapse of Congress from 24.6% in 2013 to less than ten percent this time. This swing is largely due to the Muslim community deserting the sinking ship that is Congress to block the Hindu-nationalist BJP. By contrast, when the BJP won a plurality of Delhi’s assembly constituencies in 2013, it did so with around a third of the vote, or roughly the same as in this latest assembly election. Evidently, it was the BJP’s sweep of Delhi’s seven federal constituencies in 2014 that was the aberration (46.4% of the vote to AAP’s 32.9 and Congress’s 15.1). The “Modi wave” did not carry over into the sub-national contest, and a third of the vote looks a whole lot worse when support for the the third party has collapsed.

Either Kejriwal is incredibly lucky, or he is the canniest politician in India, and had this all planned out from the start.

Maharashtra 2014: BJP taking post-poll support from ex-ally of Congress

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) continues to show signs of seeking to break out of the post-1998 pattern of two large pre-electoral coalitions that have taken turns governing India. While the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) remains the governing formula at the federal level despite BJP having a majority of seats, the BJP played serious hardball in the recent campaign for the Maharastra state assembly. In elections on 15 October, the BJP won 119 of the 288 seats (41.3%). It appears that it will take “outside support”–i.e. post-electoral cooperation but no governing coalition–from the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). While the Times of India on 19 October referred to this offer of support as “unexpected“, it was pretty clearly foreshadowed by the frenetic reshaping and ultimately breaking of alliances in the week leading up to the deadline to declare candidacies.

The significance of these developments is that the BJP has an alliance at the federal level with a Maharastra-specific party, the Shiv Sena. In the Lok Sabha election earlier this year, these parties continued their pre-election alliance, in which the parties agree not to compete against each other in districts and to support one another’ candidates. It appeared as if the alliance was critical to the strong BJP performance in the state in those elections. Further, Shiv Sena sits in the federal cabinet of BJP PM Narendra Modi. Meanwhile, the NCP is (or was) an alliance partner of the Indian National Congress Party (INC), in both the 2004-2014 federal government and in the state of Maharashtra until the run-up to these elections. The INC and NCP ruled the state in alliance for 15 years.

In late September, there was a flurry of media reports of a “seat-sharing row” between the BJP and the Shiv Sena, with the former demanding the right to contest districts currently held by the latter. The BJP was explicit in saying that there had been a “Modi wave” and that it was thereby entitled to a larger share of the districts. Meanwhile, the NCP played hardball with its ally, Congress (INC), demanding additional seats and an alternation in the Chief Minister’s post.

On 25 September, days before the candidate-filing deadline, the BJP announced it was dumping its ally, Shiv Sena. Barely an hour later, the NCP broke its alliance with the INC.

Given the concurrence of the demands from the national partner (BJP) against its ally and against the BJP’s national rival by a state partner (NCP), and the quick succession of the two announcements, it is hard to believe it was not being coordinated. It was seemingly foreshadowing the formation of a BJP-NCP post-poll alliance if the BJP won the most seats, but not a majority. And, of course, that is precisely what happened.

It was all quite dramatic, and it appears to be part of a BJP strategy of supplanting its erstwhile allies in favor of single-party minority government (when a majority is not (yet) in reach). It is especially telling that it would prefer to take outside support from an erstwhile Congress ally instead of continue a relationship with its own former pre-poll partners. (The Shiv Sena, contesting alone, won 61 seats, according to preliminary results, while the NCP won 42 (and Congress 44); BJP is 27 seats short of a majority.)

In my first post-election entry on the Indian federal result, I said that I doubted the BJP majority meant a re-writing of the fundamental rules of Indian politics. Yet the pre-poll and post-poll politics in Maharashtra suggests the BJP is attempting just such a re-write. Several key state elections are coming up in the next year, and the NDA partners have been put on notice.

Modi’s cabinet

The Indian Times reports that the cabinet of newly sworn-in Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, will be finalized soon. It will include 45 ministers, 24 of (full) Cabinet Rank, ten Ministers of State Independent Charge Ministers, and eleven other Ministers of State. (Yes, Indian cabinets, like Indian politics more generally, are rather complex.)

Of particular interest, ministers include:

Ram Vilas Paswan (of LJP), Ashok Gajpati Raju (TDP), Anant Geete (Shiv Sena), Harsimrat Kaur (Akali Dal), Narendra Singh Tomar, Jual Oram and Radhamohan Singh.

Why will it be a multi-party cabinet when a single party won a majority of seats? Because of alliances, as I point out in virtually every post I have written on India. This is a government of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), a pre-electoral pact without which Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would not have the majority. Thus it will divide the executive amongst the major alliance partners.

The public comments of the two largest allies over the weekend are interesting in their distinct approach. Following a meeting with Modi, TDP leader N Chandrababu Naidu said, “I did not ask for any representation” in the cabinet (Indian Times). “We are an ally of the NDA, power is not important, national development is important.” Of course, if one interpreted that as forgoing any offers he knew were coming, one would be misinterpreting. By contrast, senior Shiv Sena leader Subhash Desai said, “Shiv Sena is expecting good positions in the central government. The BJP has assured us that would happen”. A bit more forthright.

One thing I do not know, but wish I did, is how much of the post-election division of powers is already worked out during the pre-election stage of setting the alliance (which includes mainly agreements on which partner will run where, in exchange for the other’s standing down), and how much is deferred till the results are known. I suppose some of both goes on.

Postscript: A more recent article suggests the cabinet will be somewhat smaller (30-35), and gives some of the specific portfolios. It also says, importantly, an expansion of the ministry could take place later.

The India, 2014, result: district-level patterns

Some revision of the thesis the other day is in order, now that I have had a chance to look at the district-level results (as part of a project with Royce Carroll). Again, these are preliminary results, but final results are unlikely to be substantially different.

A key point of my earlier thesis was that this was less a smashing electoral mandate for Modi than it was a product of strategic alliance-building by the BJP and fragmentation of the rest of the field. The BJP, after all, won a majority of seats on a mere 31% of the vote. I think most of that thesis remains accurate, but should be modified in one crucial respect now that I have seen the district-level patterns.

First of all, the BJP’s biggest advantage was not that it faced fragmented opposition, but simply that it had a highly efficient distribution of its votes. Had fragmentation been the key to its success, we would expect it to have won many seats with under 45% of the vote, maybe under 40%. In fact, its mean winning percentage was 48.8%. If anyone benefited from fragmentation, it was the Indian National Congress, whose mean winning percentage was only 42.8%. (The difference is statistically significant–easily.) The BJP averaged 32.6% where it came second, so it is not as if it lost many close races. In fact, out of the 54 seats where it came in second, there were just ten seats in which the BJP had over 40% of the vote. (Congress averaged 33.0% where it came second; that was 223 districts, including 44 where it had over 40%. In percentage terms, that’s about the same failure rate in 40%+ districts.) It seems that the BJP put its resources into winnable seats and thus wasted few votes outside of places where it could harvest seats.

[Paragraph that contained an incorrect statement about the 1999 national result removed.]

Moreover, as I said in the earlier post, alliances were indeed critical. It is impossible to know how many fewer seats the BJP might have won without stand-down agreements with parties like Shiv Sena (Maharashtra) and Telugu Desam Party (Seemandhra), but these and other parties’ voters gave votes to BJP candidates that could have been decisive in many seats in their respective states.

The efficiency of both the BJP and its ally is really on display in Maharashtra. There, the BJP contested 24 districts, and averaged 54.6% of the votes; it won 23. Its ally, Shivsena contested 20, averaging 50.4%, and won 18. In those 18 seats won by Shivsena, Congress was the runner-up in 8 (averaging 34.4%) and its ally Nationalist Congress Party was runner-up in 7 (averaging 33.1%). The results are remarkably stable across the alliance pairings.

All in all, the victory is a combination of a very favorable swing (the BJP had won less than 19% in 2009), an organization that allowed it to target seats where it could win close to a majority of votes and not spread itself thinly around the country, and assistance from key regional allies.

Common flop party

What happened to the Aam Adadmi (Common Man) Party, which was such a media sensation following its electoral breakthrough in Delhi last year?

It won 4 seats in the Lok Sabha polls; that’s 0.74%. It did win almost a third of the vote in Dehli, and came in second in every constituency. In a plurality system that doesn’t cut it.*

All of its seats came in Punjab, where it tied for the lead in seats with 4 of the state’s 13. It was third there in votes (24.4%), behind Congress (33.1%, and yes, Congress is still the plurality party in a few states!) and the Shiromani Akali Dal (26.3%). The SAD is the incumbent government at the state level, and is the other party that won 4 seats; it is part of the BJP-led NDA.**

The AAP and its leader Arvind Kejriwal made a massive miscalculation that it would be rewarded for resigning after failing to secure assembly support on its central campaign plank (an anti-corruption body), rather than attempt to build a record of governance on what it could accomplish as a minority administration in Delhi. It decided to go for “national party” status, and ran over 400 candidates (more, I believe, than any other party). The outsider stuff will carry one only so far.

Despite my “flop” remark above, the party did win a higher share of the vote in Delhi than it had in the assembly poll (29.5%, which put it second to the BJP’s 33.1%). New elections in Delhi are likely some time later this year. The AAP is not seeking my advice, but if it was, I’d say focus on the 8 districts won by Congress last December and a few of their own strongest constituencies, because likely they will be playing for minimizing a BJP win, rather than an immediate new shot at the power they had and gave up rather too easily.

* The BJP won all 7 Lok Sabha seats with 46.4% of the vote. The Congress managed 15.1%, which is quite a collapse even from its bad result in the assembly poll in December, when it was a close third place, on 24.5%.

** The BJP won 2 seats on just 8.7% of the statewide vote, but this is again a case of stand-down arrangements between the BJP and a stronger local ally.

Bihar and Indian electoral alliances

Continuing the theme of why I do not think the big BJP win means a fundamental change in how India is governed, let’s look to the case of Nitish Kumar, leader of the Janata Dal (United) party of the state of Bihar. He has now resigned as Chief Minister of the state, and there is speculation about whether the BJP will attempt to form a government there. It would probably fail, but then that would set up early elections in the state that the BJP would be well positioned to win.

Kumar’s party is in disarray–thereby not living at all up to its (name)–following its disastrous result in the polling for the state’s Lok Sabha delegation. The JD(U) won only two of the state’s 40 LS seats. The BJP won 22.

In votes, the JD(U) sank to third place, on only 15.8%, although the BJP’s majority in the new Bihar delegation comes on only 29.4% of the votes. Another regional party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) came in second in votes, with 20.1%, yet managed only 4 seats.

What is the significance of this for my thesis of Indian politics not having changed fundamentally? When Kumar became Chief Minister in 2005 and then was returned following the 2010 election, he was suddenly the media darling. Bihar voters supposedly rewarded him for his laser-like focus on development, and various stories suggested not only that he offered a model for a more results-oriented government, but that he was on track to be a serious candidate for Prime Minister of India. This was an idea Kumar himself took seriously even during the run-up to the recent campaign. And now his party will hold 2 seats in the first chamber of the federal parliament.

What changed? Alliances! His victory and reelection as Chief Minister were at the head of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the state. However, reliant as he is on Muslim voters in his state, he broke with the BJP (the central party in the NDA) when it became clear that the BJP would project Narendra Modi as its leader. Competing separately, obviously the JD(U) was no match for the BJP in the current Lok Sabha polls.

Kumar is now “rethinking” his resignation, and one possibility is a new alliance with the RJD and the Indian National Congress.* Had such an alliance been put together before these LS elections, the BJP surely could not have won over half the state’s LS seats, and possibly would not have a majority in the incoming Lok Sabha. For that matter, had Kumar not had the alliance with the BJP in past elections, he probably never would have been Chief Minister, would not have had the 20 seats the JD(U) won in the 2009 Indian general election**, let alone been a alleged PM-in-waiting.

Modi will need to keep this lesson in mind, as some of his alliance partners will not be as keen on some of his projects as are the more Hindi-nationalist and economic-liberalizing elements of his own support base.

* Based on the 2010 Bihar state assembly results, this combination would have about 48% of the seats (JDU 115, RJD 22, Cong 4). The BJP won 91 (meaning the then-alliance won 206 of the 243 seats, or almost 85% by the two parties’ not competing against one another). Obviously, the potential new JD(U)-led alliance in the assembly would require either the support of parties/independents, or defectors that it may have brought in since the election.

** In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, in addition to the JD(U)’s 20, its pre-poll ally the BJP won 12 seats in the state.

Indian election result, 2014

Does the dramatic result of the Indian election re-write the fundamental rules of Indian politics? I don’t think so.

One disadvantage of waiting all day to write something about the Indian election is that others beat me to many of the points I was thinking of making. Or is that an advantage? Manuel offered some important perspective on the votes-seats translation in a comment to the earlier thread. Adam Ziegfeld, writing at the Monkey Cage, has made the correct–in my view–point that this election was not as “historic” as many think.

Inevitably, some of what I write here is going to duplicate some points, but maybe offer slightly more detail or different emphasis along the way. Who knows, maybe I’ll even say something original.

All results are preliminary, so I am going by what is on the Electoral Commission website as of around 6:30 AM, Delhi time, 17 May (about 6:00 p.m. Friday my time).

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is sitting on 282 seats. In further detail, that is 278 won, 4 leading. This is important, because 272 is a majority, and the Commission says it has “won” enough to clear the majority threshold. Congress, the lead party in the incumbent coalition government and the party that has ruled India far more than any other, has 44 seats. This is a stunningly bad result. In fact, it is only seven seats more than the third largest party, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), which is a party based solely in the southeastern state of Tamil Nadu.

The media narrative is all about a landslide and a “Modi wave”–the latter referring to BJP PM candidate, Narendra Modi, the current Chief Minister of Gujarat. In terms of seats, one can hardly argue with the outcome being characterized as a landslide. We have a majority party that has 7.6 times the seats of its closest rival. (Mull that over a bit!) And no doubt Modi was a central factor in the campaign and result. However, the media coverage that I have seen does not even mention the voting breakdown (though Ziegfeld, in the post linked above, makes it central to his argument).

The BJP has won 31.1% of the vote (based on preliminary results). Yes, that is 51.9% of the seats on not even a third of the votes. Congress trails far less in the votes than in the seats, with 19.3%. Still a terrible result, but it drives home just how disproportional the electoral system is. In recent elections, disproportionality has not been as high as in many single-seat district plurality systems, but in this election, the result is highly disproportional. That is mainly due to the fact that there was no one clear alternative to the BJP. Congress was discredited by ten years in power marked by recent slowdowns in growth and numerous corruption allegations. Its pre-electoral coalition, the United Progressive Alliance, partially split up, meaning Congress and regional parties did not put up a united front.

On the other hand, an important thing to consider is just how much the BJP’s allies in its National Democratic Alliance (NDA) have contributed to this victory. Obviously, the BJP does not need allies in the Lok Sabha, having a majority on its own. However, it is certain that stand-down agreements it negotiated with its various partners before the election were essential to winning this majority. (I will give one critical example below, but surely there are others as well.) I would imagine there will be a coalition government for this reason. Moreover, assuming Modi and its other leaders are smart (and I think they are), the BJP will not govern as if it has a sole mandate. (It will have to restrain some unsavory radical elements within, and that will be a major challenge.)

I will not pretend to offer a systematic account of the state-level and alliance dynamics, but some things stood out for me in perusing the results.

The BJP made a huge breakthrough in Uttar Pradesh (UP). This does not surprise me, as that state (India’s largest) has multi-party politics. In recent Lok Sabha and state assembly contests the BJP has often been the second or third party in numerous districts that another party won with well under 50%. So it was well positioned to swing a lot of seats its way even if it came well short of a majority of the statewide vote. And that is what happened. In the state, the BJP won 71 of the 80 seats on 42.3% of the vote. The Samajwadi Party, which had won a majority of the state assembly in 2012 on only about 29% of the vote, came second in this election, with 22.2%. But that netted it only 5 of the state’s 80 Lok Sabha seats.

In Maharashtra, the BJP has won 23 of 48 seats on 27.3% of the vote. However, this understates its victory. We can’t overlook the alliance it has with a state-based party, the Shiv Sena. This ally won another 18 seats on 20.6%. So the NDA has 41 seats (over 85%) on 47.9% of the votes. Congress and its in-state ally, the Nationalist Congress Party, combine for only 6 seats; their combined votes were 34.1%–obviously a far better result than the Congress itself nationwide. Many of the seats the BJP has won in the state are due to its not facing competition from a Shiv Sena candidate (and, of course, the reverse is also true, in other districts).

These two state results are important, because they contain a key message for thinking about the broader implications and possible future trends: Alliances remain the key to Indian politics. If the BJP had not had an alliance in Maharashtra, it would not have won a majority in the Lok Sabha. And if the Congress were able to forge an alliance in UP, it could potentially wrest many seats back from the BJP. Making an alliance is something it tried to do on various occasions in recent years, but separate party interests always got in the way. Things might look rather different to the various parties now that they face a strong BJP. The point is that this strength is conditional to a considerable degree on parties’ strategic pre-election behavior.

As for the Modi wave, if it were so strong, then why did his party get only 31%? I just don’t see it. Sure, he was important; the BJP has a higher vote share than it has had before, and much of that is surely do to the strong personal reputation of Modi. But don’t look at this as if it was equivalent to a national presidential election. It was not. Modi benefitted from the disproportionality of the plurality electoral system for parliamentary elections and strategic alliance behavior. The existing practices of Indian politics do not seem to me to have changed fundamentally.

AAP minority government of Delhi resigns

Well, that did not last long. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Admi Party (AAP) tendered his resignation today after his minority government was refused support by both Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party for tabling its signature Jan Lokpal Bill to create an anti-corruption body.

The federal dimension of the Indian system is critical to the story here, as the Congress, which had earlier promised support (at one time even saying it would be “unconditional”) to the AAP, is now claiming that an anti-corruption bill for Dehli can’t be submitted without clearance from the central (Congress-led) government.

The legislators from the Congress and BJP who voted today to prevent him from tabling the Jan Lokpal Bill say they support the proposal, but cannot ignore the fact that it has been vetoed by Delhi’s constitutional head, Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung. The chief minister had firmly rejected the opinion that before it is presented for review in the legislature, the bill must be vetted by the Lieutenant Governor as a representative of the centre.

Of course, the underlying story here is that the BJP expects it might lead the next central government, after elections in April-May this year. The upstart AAP is one of its principal competitors in some parts of the country for voters turning away from the Congress party. If the resignation holds, most likely the assembly would be put in “suspended animation” under rule from the center until new elections would be held. Those elections could be concurrent with the federal election.

For background on December’s Delhi assembly election and formation of the government, see my earlier post.

Delhi AAP conducting poll about whether to form government

…and the results are in: The Aam Aadmi Party of Delhi has polled and obtained “a sense of what the people want”, which is that it form a government with the backing of the Congress Party.

In the assembly election on 8 December, the Congress Party’s 15 years of governing Delhi came to an end, with the party falling to just 8 of the 70 seats. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won the most seats (31, plus 1 for a pre-electoral ally), and the AAP, a brand new party focused mainly on anti-corruption, won 28.

With no party having a majority, the options were a post-electoral coalition or a minority government–or, failing agreements, an early election following a period of what is known as President’s Rule. (During President’s Rule, the assembly would be kept in “suspended animation”–truly a lovely political science concept!) The latter was seen as likely, after the BJP refused the day after the election to stake a claim to forming a government, and the AAP initially did likewise.

However, the AAP’s decision caused some controversy, because Congress had stated on 13 December it would support an AAP minority government “unconditionally“. The Congress observed on the 17th that most of the eighteen issues on which the AAP sought “clarification” from Congress and BJP do not require assembly support, so essentially the Congress simply said: just form an administration and do it. (In the same statement, the Congress also backtracked on the idea that support would be “unconditional”.)

It is not hard to see why the party would be torn. It campaigned against corruption and might be reluctant to depend on the very party it just defeated to remain in office. It’s a parliamentary form of government, and thus the support party could pull the plug whenever it found it convenient. On the other hand, AAP was the big winner of the election, even if it fell short of a majority, and one can’t effect much change from the opposition benches. Complicating matters further, a new election might have been held concurrently with the federal election due in April or May, 2014. With a BJP wave anticipated at that election, the AAP might not do better than it did this month.

So the AAP announced it would conduct a poll as to whether it should accept the Congress offer of support to form a government. It appears it will accept yes for an answer after all.

In the election itself, it should be noted, the BJP’s seat gain came in spite of a loss of votes. (That calls into question a coming BJP wave, of course.) In other words, in some constituencies, the AAP’s cutting into Congress’s votes resulted in the district being won by the BJP, even though the AAP presumably cut into the latter party’s vote as well. (India uses the first-past-the-post rule both in federal and sub-national elections, so correspondence between votes and seats is not guaranteed, especially with multiparty competition.)

Meanwhile, the AAP surge may have been what finally pushed both chambers of the federal parliament to pass a long-delayed bill to establish a “Lokpal”, which will be an anti-corruption ombudsman.

Karnataka state election, 2013

This Friday, 5 May, is the general election for the state legislature of Karnataka, a major state in the south of India (capital Bangalore). The state is ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP); in fact it is one of the rare states outside of the north where the party has ruled recently. With general elections due for the federal government within in a year–and potentially coming earlier–this is a key state contest to watch.

The BJP is facing a major challenge in projecting a national leader and PM candidate. It is widely expected to endorse Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister (state PM) of Gujarat. Modi campaigned today in Karnataka. However, Modi’s past associations with communal violence means that his nomination would cause severe tensions with coalition partners in the National Democratic Alliance, the BJP-ruled opposition alliance. ((Tensions are especially high the Janata Dal (United), which currently rules the northern state of Bihar in coalition with the BJP. The Chief Minister of Bihar, Nitish Kumar, has hinted at quitting the NDA is Modi is its PM candidate.)) Thus Karnataka is a test not only for the BJP and NDA as units, but for Modi personally.

The federal ruling party, the Indian National Congress (which rules through the United Progressive Alliance), has dispatched its national leader, Sonia Gandhi, to campaign in Karnataka as well.

The BJP has experienced internal splits in the state, including the launching of a new party, the Karnataka Janata Paksha (KJP), by former Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa. The BJP is unlikely to retain a majority of seats. Yeddyurappa has stated that, “There is no question of going back to the BJP”. If Congress likewise does not win a majority, a Congress-KJP post-poll alliance is likely.