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Polls: Good governance wins

By Business Standard
May 18, 2009 11:49 IST
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It is remarkable that all three states that had assembly elections along with the Lok Sabha polls Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Sikkimhave re-elected the parties that were running their governments till now.

Naveen Patnaik in Orissa is now into his third term as chief minister, and Pawan Kumar Chamling in Sikkim into his fourth, while YS Rajsekhar Reddy in Andhra Pradesh has got a second term.

This is entirely in line with the recent trend; three other states that had assembly elections a few months ago (Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Delhi) returned the parties that were already in power.

For good measure, Narendra Modi in Gujarat and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in West Bengal are also into repeat terms, as are some chief ministers in the north-east, including Assam.

While it is not unknown for chief ministers to lose (as Vasundhara Raje Scindia did in Rajasthan, Amarinder Singh in Punjab, Rabri Devi in Bihar and Mulayam Singh in Uttar Pradesh), anti-incumbency does not seem to be the near-universal fact that it was believed to be some years ago, when governments routinely got thrown out by the electorate.

When they won re-election in the late 1990s, Digvijay Singh in Madhya Pradesh and Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra Pradesh were seen as the exceptions. No longer.

The encouraging thing is that performance seems to register now with voters. Mr Reddy in Hyderabad has led a government that has focused a great deal on irrigation and water supply, with predictable results.

Mr Patnaik in Bhubaneswar has run into sustained protests over land acquisition for some large industrial projects, but is generally reckoned to have done well for his state in terms of the quality of administration; among other things, it has been free of corruption.

Indeed, performing chief ministers are also an asset for their parties when it comes to Lok Sabha polls the BJP has managed to improve its tally in Gujarat because of Mr Modi, Nitish Kumar has swept Bihar because he has re-established some basic norms of governance in the state over the last three years, Bhupinder Hooda in Haryana has been an improvement as chief minister when compared with his recent predecessors (helping the Congress win nine of the 10 seats in the state), Raman Singh is very well regarded in Chattisgarh where the BJP has done very well, and of course the Congress has swept Delhi where Shelia Dikshit is a popular chief minister.

In other words, delivering good governance at state level makes a difference in parliamentary elections too.

The populist thrust of recent years whereby people see the direct benefit of government programmes could explain some of the advantage that incumbents seem to have. Chief ministers and parties that could point to the benefits that they had provided have got a positive response from voters.

The early proponents of such an approach were MG Ramachandran in Tamil Nadu (free mid-day meals in schools) and NT Rama Rao in Andhra Pradesh (two-rupee rice).

Dayanidhi Maran has talked of the DMKs showering of gifts on the people free TV sets, free electricity, and rice at a rupee per kg.

The DMK has done well in the Lok Sabha, so the thesis would seem vindicated and would explain why, across the board, party manifestoes were focused on highlighting giveaways.

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