The anti-incumbency factor, which is a nightmare for most political parties in the saddle, has been on the decline at the state level– a trend that is considered very positive by development economists since it allows political leaders to look at long term development measures rather than to focus on single term policies and populist measures.
Going by the trends in the state election results on Thursday, two regional party women chief ministers in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal have successfully bucked the anti-incumbency trend while two incumbent chief ministers have perished: the Congress and its allies have not been able to retain power in Kerala or Assam although the Congress was in power in Assam for 15 years.
In the case of West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, it appears that both the ruling dispensations managed to overcome negative feeling towards their governments by focussing their government’s policies on the rural population. While the urban population was eager for change –reflected on social media and in the mainstream media – the rural support base of both the AIADMK and the TMC seems to have stood by their chief ministers.
Political analysts who have observed the Mamata Banerjee government over the last five years, say, she made cosmetic changes in urban areas but rural folk have been happy with the government. In fact, Banerjee flaunted the “bhadralok’s” anger against her before the rural voters to project herself as a CM stands for the poor. Under her, the state’s growth has also been positive: in 2014-15, the West Bengal economy grew at a faster rate than the national average, as did its industrial sector. Over the last three years, per capita income in the state has risen significantly and the state has better standards of healthcare, analysts point out.
Similarly, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa relied heavily on freebies for the poor and they returned the favour. The government had distributed four goats and a cow to each BPL family; freebies included mixer-grinders for the poor, money and gold for marriage assistance, cycles and laptops for Class 11 and 12 students fans and free uniforms, shoes, bags, notebooks, geometry boxes and pencils for all children in government schools. The sops have certainly played a significant role in her historic victory – a government is returning to power in the state for the first time since 1980s. Another factor that could have worked in favour of Jayalalitha could be the number of women who voted in the state – the women outnumbered men. The Congress should take lessons from these two women chief ministers and from regional parties. Focussing on rural votes had helped the Congress come to power in 2004 beating the BJP-led NDA and to return in 2009.
Similarly, rural voters had voted out N Chandrababu Naidu in 2004 and reinstated the Congress in power for a decade.