The slogan ‘From Saradha to Narada’ dominated much of the election rhetoric, with the Trinamool government being pilloried by the opposition over the alleged involvement of several of its leaders in the Saradha scam, the Narada sting, and for having overlooked corruption in the construction of the flyover that collapsed recently in Kolkata. Noise in the media created the impression that the elections were revolving mainly around the question of corruption. A comparative analysis of the Lokniti-CSDS post-poll surveys done in 2016 and 2011 shows that voters in 2016 perceived the TMC government to be only slightly more corrupt than the Left Front government that was voted out in 2011.
However, the Trinamool Congress government is seen as having encouraged corruption more than the Left Front — 35% of respondents compared to 19%. Further, 36% of respondents were of the opinion that if the Trinamool came back to power, it would lead to more corruption among government employees. Only 20% held a similar view for the Left Front.
The Left-Congress alliance failed to capitalise on the prevailing perception that the TMC is more corrupt than the Left. This was partly because, despite being agitated about corruption, it was not the issue topping the voter’s mind. ‘Development’ emerged as the issue that mattered most to them. Only among those who believed the ruling party to be ‘very corrupt’ did the Left Front fare better.
Asked specifically, voters did indeed express the desire to see the government deal with corruption strictly. That is why among those who were aware of the Narada sting, the TMC trailed. The other big issue, the flyover collapse in Kolkata, did little damage to the ruling party, as even among those respondents who were aware of this issue, more (24%) blamed the construction company and its engineers than the government and ruling party (16%).
A possible explanation for why corruption did not become an issue lies in the fact that only those voters who were highly exposed to the media considered the TMC corrupt. Data show that only 6% of voters have very high exposure to media. 66% have either low or no exposure. The perception of Banerjee’s government being very corrupt was the highest among those who were highly exposed to the media. This number fell in tandem with the reduction in the exposure to media.