Did Old Pension Scheme win Himachal Pradesh for the Congress?
Anecdotal accounts of the party’s campaign in Himachal Pradesh suggest that the Congress gained significantly because of its promise to restore Old Pension Scheme
Did Old Pension Scheme win Himachal Pradesh for the Congress? The short answer to this question is no. The more nuanced answer is: promises such as Old Pension Scheme (OPS) can at best provide a last mile advantage to a political party in a tight contest.
Anecdotal accounts of the party’s campaign in Himachal Pradesh suggest that the Congress gained significantly because of its promise to restore OPS. Did the promise play a big role in the Congress’s victory in the state?
An analysis of postal ballots may help answer this question, albeit not conclusively. Postal ballots are used mostly by government employees who cannot vote on polling day due to election duty deployment . Because the OPS promise offers material benefits to government employees, postal ballots are a good indicator of the political mood among the constituency that stands to benefit the most . To be sure, one must read any such analysis with the caveat that promises such as restoration of OPS can also have an impact among family members of government employees or young voters who aspire for a government job. There is no effective way to track the impact of such sentiment on voting.
Congress has done better in postal ballots in both Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat
If only postal ballots are taken into account, Congress has a lead in 50 assembly constituencies (ACs) out of 68 in Himachal Pradesh. Even in Gujarat, the Congress lead increases to 27 from its current tally of just 17 in the current assembly.
But this is not enough to argue that OPS swung government employee votes
Reading these numbers as conclusive proof of political support due to OPS promise can be a case of mistaking correlation for causation. A look at the 2017 election –OPS restoration was not the on the agenda then – postal ballot numbers in the two states makes it clear. Congress had a lead in 17 and 114 ACs in postal ballots in 2017 elections in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. The Congress promised restoration of OPS in both Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat in these elections, but it seems to have worked only in Himachal Pradesh.
Did postal ballots swing any AC for the Congress in 2022?
An analysis of votes polled through the postal ballot route shows that they reversed the position of winner and runner-up in exactly one AC among the 250 in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh: Bhoranj in Hamirpur district of Himachal Pradesh. Here the BJP would have won with a victory margin of 0.12% if only EVM votes were counted. However, Congress’s lead in postal ballots ensured that it emerged the winner in the AC with a margin of 0.10%.
Does this mean postal ballots are insignificant?
HT calculated the share of postal ballots in total votes polled in each AC in the 2022 election. This shows that such votes had a share of more than 0.98% in all ACs in Himachal Pradesh, of more than 1.8% in 80% of the ACs, and of more than 2.5% in 40% of the ACs. In Gujarat, which is a much bigger state than Himachal Pradesh postal ballots had a smaller share in overall votes polled as well as at the AC-level. The only conclusion which can be drawn from these numbers is that schemes such as OPS can only help a party win an elections if it is already within striking distance.
This tactic would be benign if state governments had enough fiscal capacity to finance the restoration of OPS. The real political impact of OPS, at least in the long-term will have to wait for the day when state governments have to reduce spending on other important heads in order to finance the expensive promise of OPS.