Election Games: Biting the bullet of the ballot – I

Anna Hazare and his anti-corruption crusaders have announced that they would join electoral politics. How difficult is their task? What kind of electoral calculus are they up against? In the first part of a three-part series, Sandeep Khurana, explains the challenge of manpower and the key states that matter

Ever since some of the leaders of the popular anti-corruption movement led by Anna Hazare and India Against Corruption (IAC) announced that they would form a party and fight elections, there is lot of speculation about whether the anti-corruption agitators are fully aware of the implications of their decision. Fighting elections in India, a vast and fractioned country, is not easy. The entrenched political parties have found ingenious ways to exploit the vote bank, using religion, cash, film stars and cricket players. Do the anti-corruption crusaders stand a chance?

India is a participatory democracy where we have been repeatedly told that since it is we, the people who elect the representatives, we have the opportunity to participate and elect who we want to. So far, this has not yielded much good governance, and we now have to go a step beyond—to influence the process—from casting our one vote to getting good governance. If that is the interest of ordinary citizens, and given that well-intended but political novices would then seek to be the future representatives, the stakes are surely higher. We would possibly have a new bunch of clean alternative candidates, who are also new to electoral planning and active politics. We have a generation of few crores of new voters who are more politically tuned, thanks to a popular movement and who will cross the age of 18 by 2014. That apart, across the country, every concerned citizen would be interested in the electoral process more, when we see a viable alternative. For this to happen, we need to understand electoral calculus, and convert our individual votes into a powerful people power to force a change for the better.

Let’s try to decode the electoral calculus for all those who worry for India’s future and are now having to shape it at short notice through participatory electoral means. We start with the fundamentals, derived through detailed data analysis of past elections, and share key insights.

An Indian MP (Member of Parliament) elected in 2014 would, on average, represent a human population of approximately 23 lakh. To put that in perspective, that is more than populations of nearly 100 countries of the world today. And while the Indian MP is just part of larger system in state and the nation, the rulers of these countries may get a complete cabinet and a government to assist.

The challenge for an MP has increased over the years, in both scale and scope. Let us look at decade-wise change in numerical representation by a member of parliament.


While there are pros and cons to having less and more MPs than now, the issue is not about the number but about finding such leaders who can represent this scale. An unfair comparison, but even the active strength of the Indian Army is merely half the number represented by an MP on average. Failing through incompetent leaders could be as worse as failing through corrupt representatives.

And if you think leadership is all inspiration, you may well have to ensure that at least 99 more convert your inspiration to perspiration. You will need at least an army of not less than 3,000-4,000 to perspire. Given that on an average there are 1,500+ polling stations per constituency, just to man the stations on behalf of candidates, a basic necessity to ensure ground presence to assist and guide electors, a candidate would need ideally four, but a minimum of two support staff per polling station. That they need to be not just present, but motivated, trained, knowledgeable, good communicators, is asking for bare minimum effectiveness.

Key Factor 1: Representing 23 lakh people is not for the faint-hearted and inexperienced, howsoever well-intended you are on the issue of corruption. Integrity, leadership, strategy, and management/administration/logistics of a constituency are critical dimensions.


A comprehensive state-wise spread is given below. Note that if the number of polling stations is less, the geographical spread is likely to be more, since polling booth numbers are designed to balance these two—easy reach and viable size.



Key Factor 2: Any serious candidate would require best of his administrative and logistic skills to motivate and manage over 3,000-4,000 support staff. Large population, vast geography and tough terrain—one or more of these are sure to tire out all except the most tenacious and well-funded

Next we need to see how the numbers add up. We have 543 Lok Sabha seats and the magic number to form the government at Centre, is 272. We have a system where a single party or coalition gets at least half the seats (absolute majority) gets to form the government. But when it comes to election of individual MPs, it is first past the post (or relative majority) i.e. one who gets maximum votes, wins. Regardless of the percentage of votes being as low as 10%-20%, if one has the highest number of votes polled as against the competitor contestants, one is elected.

Since 272 is the magic number and states/Union Territories (UTs) come in all sizes contributing 1 to 80 MPs, size matters. No party seriously contesting elections, can ignore the big six states. Just look at how numbers stack up.


So, theoretically, one could get the long tail, and possibly 22 states and all the UTs, but one would remain in opposition, unable to form government. A new part must aim to get the maximum share in these six—Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Tamil Nadu. This is reason why Mayawati, Mulayam, Jayalalitha,

Key Factor 3: To make a dent in the larger electoral outcome for the nation, a new party will have to make an inroad into the big six states

Mamata, YSR, Nitish or Maharashtra politicians exercise control over the Centre. They are all from these states.

For large states, this is a boon and bane. While they wield importance and power, they also bear the brunt of vicious battles and power-mongers. It is no coincidence that Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh—all continue to be low on human development factors. This makes for different politics in these states in common and in specific. We discuss these next.

If the anti-corruption leaders enter the electoral battle, they have to pay attention to the landscape, the rules and the competition. Strategy is as important as good intent. Gods too rely on battle-strategy, as any mythological text would tell you.

Next in the series: Crime, money and education—role of fear, greed and ignorance 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
Dear Mr.Khurana,
First of all we would like to congratulate you for a well researched article.
It was insightful too.
Will wait to read the next article!
MK Gupta
1 decade ago
Whatever intellectual analysis with whatever subtext is done, the truth is that (1) the people are NOT interested in doing away with corruption, (2) no political party/cndidate can ever gight any election (including Univ. students' unions) without (unaccounted) money and (3) there has never been any "participatory democracy" (or rule of law) in India. It is frustrating to see that this so called anti-corruption hegemony has entered into the political fray. All want the spoils of the system. Those who want to understand this, must read Anuj Dhar's India's Biggest Cover-up". It is the bureaucrats who will never allow the system to be transparent and "reward-free" (read: corruption-free) and every political person must be corrupt to allow the system to go on as it is
1 decade ago
Well researched and argued
Dr Pankaj Gupta
1 decade ago
seems to be well researched and worth reading through entire three episodes...
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