Rahul Ranjan, a student of Noida’s Amity University, is one of India’s 100 million new voters. He knows where India should be headed. “Look at China,” he says.
Rahul’s views signal the larger plank on which the 2014 elections are being fought: brighter opportunities.
Much is riding on the economy. In 2009, 81% of UPA’s vote came from voters who were either highly or partially satisfied with the economy, according to a published national study.
Studies have shown that the national economic condition as well as household financial situation influence voting behaviour of Indians. Psephologists now widely agree that about one-third of the vote in an election can be explained by, directly or indirectly, economic circumstances, a theory expounded by political scientists Lewis-Beck and Paldam.
A stalling economy has shrunk jobs at a time when more people are moving out of agriculture. An official survey says that the share of people relying on farm income has declined from 50% in 2009-10 to 45% in 2011-12. The economy effectively has added 2.5 million jobs in the last five years, when it should have packed in at least 10 million.
Two decades ago, elections were like a Molotov cocktail. In the 1991 polls, the Janata Dal stirred the Mandal issue for reservation, while the BJP whipped up a religious divide with its movement for a temple on the site of a mosque.
Although the ensuing polls would still be influenced by touchy topics, political parties are mostly responding to economic issues in their campaigns. “I talk of jobs, they try to bring up secularism,” BJP prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi said last week. Congress promised 100 million “decent jobs” too.
According to professor KC Suri of the University of Hyderabad, although identity and caste have often formed the key agenda, their underlying concerns were still economic prosperity. “Identity has been a camouflage for economic issues. Why else do dalits vote as a caste?” he asks.
Suri’s analysis of voting patterns has shown Indian voters judge their economic situation retrospectively, than prospectively. Industry tends to react the opposite way. Last week, foreign investors, betting on a change of government, sent the country’s stocks soaring.
“High prices are one of the main reasons why things look so bad for the Congress,” said Praveen Rai, a psephologist at Delhi’s The Centre for Study of Developing Societies. His analysis showed although inflation was the top issue for voters (48%), many still voted the UPA in 2009 because it was within limits and largely neutralized by welfare measures, such as rural jobs scheme. There’s less cushion now, he says.