Battleground UP: Why political parties and not candidates matter in India’s most populous state
About two weeks ago, five BSP MPs and a BJP lawmaker in Uttar Pradesh joined the Samajwadi party, which gave Akhilesh Yadav a boost. While it’s not uncommon for politicians to jump ship before elections, even more so in India’s most populous state, is it simply personal ego or the victory factor that propels such defections?
Why are political leaders, including sitting MPs, changing parties en masse in UP?
The two simultaneous trends that can be seen in the last four legislative elections offer some answers. First, UP has gone from fragmented mandates earlier to fairly decisive mandates now. Second, the success rate of first-time applicants, as opposed to experienced applicants, is steadily increasing.
The latter, the rookie triumphant for the veterans, indicates that victory depends much more on partisan affiliations than on the stature of the candidates. Hence the rush among potential candidates to get the party right before the election, just to give itself a chance to come back as MPs.
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The beginner’s ascent
Data analyzed by India Today Data Intelligence Unit (DIU) shows that while up to 66% of newbies won their seats in 2002, the proportion of first-time winners jumped to 78% in 2017. It was 69% and 71. percent in 2007 and 2012, respectively.
The 2017 parliamentary elections were also the most decisive, with the BJP winning nearly 80% of the seats. The 2002 verdict, on the other hand, was fractured, with the largest party, the Samajwadi Party, winning just 143 of the 403 seats in total.
In 2002, one in five laureates had at least one previous term as a Member of Parliament. The share of second-term MPs fell to one in seven in 2017. The importance of experience has therefore decreased considerably, even if the premium demanded by beginners has increased by several notches.
“The main result of the past decades has been a growing preference for parties over candidates among Indian voters. And the CSDS surveys have also shown that the proportion of people who decide well in advance on which parties to choose has increased significantly. In other words, the proportion of engaged voters is now much higher than what was the case in the 1990s, ”observes Sanjay Kumar, director of the Center for the Study of Developing Societies. He has followed the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections for nearly three decades and has written extensively on the UP elections.
The misfortunes of renomination
As party preference increased, incumbent MPs struggled to secure nominations and return as lawmakers.
In the last four elections, only 40 percent or less of incumbents were re-elected by their party. In fact, in the 2012 election, only a third of those who won the last ballots re-run. And only 41 percent of re-contest applicants emerged victorious that year. The winning percentage of applicants re-competing was less than 30 percent in 2017.
The data establishes that the mandate at the local level has become more and more a handicap and therefore the reluctance of political parties to reappoint candidates.
Another notable trend of the past two decades has been the not-so-impressive performance of defectors. The numbers reveal that among those who switch sides before the election, the likelihood that only those who side with the eventual winner is higher.
For example, the success rate of incumbent MPs who moved to PASB before the 2007 elections was an impressive 100%. Recall that the BSP came first in this election. Likewise, the success rate of defectors who ran as SP candidates was 75 percent in 2012 and on BJP tickets a whopping 84 percent in 2017. The SP won the ballot boxes in 2012 and the BJP five years later.
The performance of defectors who failed to make the right match has been relatively lackluster otherwise.
Therefore, all the data clearly indicates that local MPs face the wrath of voters, shielding their parties from any impact from the ruling opposition. It looks like the trend will continue given how the incumbents are flipping this time around.
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