Election Games: Biting the bullet of the ballot – 2

Greedy pursuit of seats—crime, caste, religion, money power

Members of the Team Anna have been forced to take the election route to bring about a change in democratic governance. That, as we have highlighted in the first article (Election Games: Biting the bullet of the ballot – I) is a matter of cold numbers. How are the numbers currently being obtained? This takes us to the murky domain of caste, religion, crime and money.

There is a vicious cycle, as Anna Hazare said at Jantar Mantar—“Satta se Paisa aur Paise se Satta”. Since numbers is all that matter in a first-past-the-post system, it follows that parties go all out, even unscrupulously, to secure seats in large states. Headlines from the recent elections in UP and Punjab included the following: free flow of liquor in Punjab, Salman Rushdie and Jaipur literary festival controversy, quota for minorities, central ministers taking on CEC for violating EC guidelines on sops based on religion… For discerning political observers, these indicators are strong enough but the profile of our candidates analyzed throw more concrete evidence too. But first the good news.

The Role of education

One often wonders about the educational levels and wisdom of our members of Parliament (MPs). Data indicates that keeping with rising child literacy at the national level, electoral success too is increasingly becoming the domain of the educated. We profiled the educational background data of all candidates in the 2009 general elections, who secured top three ranks in each constituency. The data clustered candidates into three categories:

  1. Graduates, graduates with professional certifications and post-graduates
  2. Class 10th, class 12th passed candidates and surprisingly, doctorate degree holders
  3. Illiterates, literates, class 5th, class 8th, ‘others’ and “not given” as in filings for the elections.

There are more from the first category—graduates and post-graduates, followed by class 10th and 12th passed candidates. To support, one would see educationally accomplished persons in the cabinet—economists, lawyers, IITians, Ivy League graduates and more. While it is too early to state who will contest elections from newer platforms, but as if to match, Team Anna has ex IPS, ex-IRS officers, eminent lawyers, and the likes.

A couple of states and small Union Territories (UTs) stand out for lower educational qualifications of their representatives. The reasons are understandable and only support the overall direction of a larger change over the years in educational profile, as in 2014, their profile is expected to only improve.

(A note on the graph: “Candidate Educational Qualification Snapshot” shows data of top 3 candidates in each constituency, aggregated at the state level and classified into educational backgrounds as per their affidavits. Color intensity is proportional to the percentage of votes polled in the constituency with DARK RED indicating highest percentages and DARK BLUE the lowest within the dataset of top 3 candidates. Blanks indicate no candidate from the said state and educational background in top 3 positions.)

Worry though may well be that the educated “illiterates” may tear Lokpal bills, or the educated but corrupt may actually do more harm than good channeling their education into personal good than societal and national. Or the concern may be the fake degrees or quality of education in itself—some may say. But more likely, the other factors come in.

Key Factor 1: A graduation degree, possibly with an LLB or post-graduation, seems the norm for a successful candidate. But beyond the hygiene factor, one would need to bring in other attributes for success.


Role of caste and religion

Caste and religion are the prime factors in electoral politics and the hotbed of caste and religion-based politics is Uttar Pradesh. Let us take the winning candidates’ share of votes polled. Uttar Pradesh stands out in terms of three-sided contests when compared to other states. This is reflected in over two-thirds winning candidates getting past the victory post with less than 40% votes polled, much higher than any other state.

Now let us look at the share of top three candidates within each constituency of Uttar Pradesh. We find that most contests are three-sided with the three of four main parties in state being the contenders.

The year 2009 is not unique in this pattern. We studied 2004, too, and found similar evidence with Uttar Pradesh standing out in tri-polar contests. So much so that the rest of India combined fell severely short of Uttar Pradesh, in terms of number of three-sided contests. See the graph below for the 2004 elections where candidates scoring over 20% of the votes polled, ended up as second runners-up are maximum in number in Uttar Pradesh.

All this data has to be seen in light of socio-political reality on ground in the state. Let’s go step by step. First, it is quite evident through consistent patterns shown, that the same issues do not hold sway as much over the electorate in the state. If this were so, one would go in favour or against the issue and a third view is generally missing. There could be sympathy wave, anti-inflation wave, against rising crime or anti-incumbent, but in most states, it would have led to and does lead to indirect favour to one group with binary contests. This begs the next question—why are issues not common amongst people? And, why issues are consistently so divisive to have three view points? The answer lies in the fact that there is no issue. Manipulative politics has shown issues of caste and religion being flared up to divide opposition vote and scrape by with smaller margins. Strategy has always worked for whoever has played it better.

Key Factor 2: For some it may be the will to serve the nation but for most mainstream parties, elections are route to power. And the latter being the case, all is fair. Caste and religion will be played up to make people vote on non-issues. One may have to adopt some of the tactics of the sharks to beat them in their own backyard.


Any practitioner of politics would tell you that converting two-sided contests to three-sided is a strategic weapon in the armoury of the Machiavellian. Behind closed doors, such acts get planned and innocuously executed publicly. While the Election Commission fumes, social media rages and masses get confused to take subterfuge in basic survival of being with their kin—through caste and religion, small acts add up to 1%-2% vote swings and convert wins into losses. Try reflecting over representative nature of the electoral democracy, in Mysore in 2004, where the winning candidate scored 33% votes polled. The first runner-up ended with a 32% vote share and hold your breath, the second runner-up with a 31% vote share. If such are the margins, and stakes to fruits of office being what we all know, anything goes—to divide the opposing vote.


Key Factor 3: Three-sided contests have to be strategized to advantage. May you be as noble and honest in your post-electoral goals, such contests are about strategy, and holier-than-thou contesting is like fighting with a hand tied behind one’s back.


While UP has been in the spotlight as the most prominent state, the practiced politics is not too different elsewhere, especially in the large states and many individual constituencies bear same analysis of divisive politics.

In the concluding part we discuss role of nepotism, crime and money in elections.

(Sandeep Khurana is the founder and principal consultant, QuantLeap Consulting services, based at Hyderabad. An ex-army officer, he is well-read and experienced in government and corporate sectors. Sandeep holds a management degree from Indian School of Business. He has interest in social media, analytics and operations. He can be reached at [email protected] or his twitter id is @IQnEQ.)


1 decade ago
Though the study results are true on open mind the reality test is the power of vote bank is the primary cause of failure of election, we endowed the universal franchise and cant restrict the entry into the election fray on any ground than unsound mind and criminal antecedence.
Over the years the Election commission is playing a secondary role by consulting the party dictates instead of people voice is the real cause to be addressed now.
MK Gupta
1 decade ago
I must submit again that, no analysis is really going to cure the election system in India from the systemic cancer of corruption. "Corruption" has been confined only to the limits of earning money and obtaining wealth that is not rightfully and legally due which, in law, is also tantamount to in terms of "unjust enrichment" at the cost of the country's/people's interest. But, no one starts at the beginning, following the motto that charity (or, morality and chastity) must and really does begin at home. Unless the feeling of one's remaining "honest" in terms of moral firmament, lack of avarice and respect to the social values is instilled into and followed all one's life by any person, there cannot be "moral integrity" underlying monetary/pecuniary honesty. Look at the permissiveness prevailing in the filmdom/show business/fashion world. In the prevailing scenarion where the society at large--if the society (including once puritan and above all doubts morally honest Communists of all colours)--does not only permit but even honours and recognises the right to such liberties being taken just for making money, there is just no question of talking only of corruption in terms of the looting for ages by the "babus" under the patronage and direct support/protection of the rulers and their stooges. One must never forget that piracy was the royally sponsored business of the rulers of the West who plundered the world and the result is what Indians spend money to hanker after:the "great" destinations like London, Rome, etc. In India, during the decaying stages of the great Mughals at least, every Raja/potentate/zamindar was a dacoit. Many of their projeny are law makers today.

It is in this context that any analysis of the culture/religion/mandate of corruption in the bureaucracy from the TOP to the bottom and in the ruling classs (elite) must be analysed and viewed. It is indeed ludicrous to target only politicians' and bureaucrats' corruption, forgetting the present values of social morality, in terms inter alia of revealing and certainly provocative dresses, drinking culture, the total ruin of the (feudal?) institution of marriage, etc., as submitted above.

A childhood and lifelong friend was a chief income tax commissioner, handling high profile cases and finally retiring, witout any grudge though, totally unsung and rather derided for failure (failing?) to make and share money that was and still is expected of the officers in such posts/Service. Forget about his unpublished memoirs, I just want to share his feeling of shame and guilt as an election expenditure observer. Without going into details, I may just say that, in his words, his experience brought him again (after his own personal sense of deprivation and exclusion during the childhood and formative years and the experiences of his postings in small towns/hamlets in various parts of the country) face-to-face with the hollowness of the country's apology to "democracy" and a farcical election system. According to him, every candidate, be one an independent or from a political party, from a rich/wealthy family or from a poor economic background, resorts to the same rules of the game and the entire process of election is based on and oiled/funded by black money acquired through the court-approved principle of unjust enrichment. According to him, there just can never be any "honest" politician, at least none in power as the supporters are to be bought and bribed--till the time at least the person reaches his/her goal. And the path is really adorned by loot, murders, rapes, criminal activities with profit-sharing with IAS/IPS?IRS?Forest Service top guns and their (costlier) subordinates on the field. It is simply not possible for any candidate ever to even dream of entering the fray.

I myself remember my college days--college elections (university election is too big and murky a world) were very expensive even in the late fifties and now it is a trillion dollar exercise compelling the Supreme Court taking note of the happenings in terms of money--murders apart. Even a cooperative housing society or residents' association or jagrata committee (like the Bengalis' Durga Puja committee) elections have never been any exception.

Then why must we cause the people such suffering by holding traffic and circuses in the name of anti-corruption rally, when every common man (including bureaucrats) must shell out money to get emergency treatments at hospitals (govt. or pvt.) or oay capitation fees to even pre-school business persons (what to talk of pvt colleges and public schools "of excellence"), to the thanedars/municipal/panchayat officials and officers irrespective of the state/city/town/panchayat regularly?

Let the self-proclamed leaders of anti-corruption delve i8nto these aspects and ask first whether they believe (unlike doctors!) in the adage:heal thyself, doctor. How many top doctors in the suoper speciality hospitals (govt/pvt) and top lawyers or accountancy professionals account for and declare all their income in their IT statements? I know (through my IT friend who retired without a dwelling place or immovable prioprty) of many leading lights in these professions who, especially in "silk", demand 90% fees in cash and only a token in cheque. I also came to know that a very wellknown vigilance ikon enjoyed the gold pass issued by the railways when a very big railway scam of corruption was being probed under him. Taking libertyy of going on unauthorised leave is no exceptio, unless one were to argue that, I may do all I like but the entire bureaucracy and poltical ruling class must be honest! I was told of an example of honesty personified in an upright IPS officer (from BC, of ourse, and unrelated to any powerful mama/chacha or having any godfather) of the Maharashtra Cadre. He was the CVO of a PSU. In the course of his duties he stumbled upon evidence of mammoth corruption against the CMD and the ministry summarily relieved of his post by a fax on a day he was on CL. It is a different matter that the CMD was removed years later, after he had stashed billions abroad.

This being the backdrop, why must the ruling family and their subordinates in the party and the affiliates alone be targetted, leaving the other parties and their leaders only because they unfortunately missed the bus and are ready to cross the floor if the bid money is right?

The society is corrupt. Those who go on protecting the earthen lamp at the Tulsi altar from being extiguished in a stormy night with their palms are doing their job in silence, not on Ramlila Ground or in luxary islands/cruisers with foreign nobodies (at least for the common masses) or in yoga classes in the richest people's huge garden houses or in their own (unexplained) roperties. The media must ponder too if it is free of all such inherent problems of control by big business. Those who feel for the sufferings of the millions of marginalsed/nameless commoners suffer in silence with their fellow human beings and annoint their injuries without seeking funds to float politial parties.
One thing is certain, as my still optimistic friend thinks too. It is much safer for one family or one known conglomerate ruling the country in whatever mannwer they like than to allow plunderes of unknown antecedents or with criminal past to act as Taimur Longs.
Sonia Gandhi at least does not rush every moment to the press or the podium to declare that every allegation/report against her (like those of rape) is all deliberately and maliciously being planted (having paid the alleged victims to so say) to discredit her govt.
One need sanity now just to stand by the common people--not agitations. And, for at least five years, let Sadhus and Yogis refrain themselves from delving into ephemeral issues of power games. They, against the canons of the Hindu religious embargoes, are merrily making untaxed money--let them do so, but not at the cost of the working people's interst. Let them rather follow that fool,Vivekand or the great Baba Amte who remained incognito for years before the world at latrge knew about his work.
And let them not seek media coverage too!
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