Rythu Bandhu is not the only reason for TRS’s win in 2018

The Odisha Government anounced Kalia, a farm income support scheme. This is based on the assumption that the Rythu Bandhu scheme helped TRS win Telangana. However, study of data suggests something that is more complex

  • First thing we know for sure and this is by using multi-variate techniques that no single factor won the election for TRS.  However, when one deconstructs the data – two factors appear to explain a lot of the vote share variance – Consolidation of OBCs and Dalits behind TRS.

– Consolidation of DalitsWhile it was assumed that Dalits were going to vote against the TRS due to the failure if the 3 acre scheme, the reality is quite different. Many dalits were also part of rural labour and rural wage growth (whether it was NREGA or General agriculture labour –2015 vs 2018) has grown by close to 9% per annum in the last 4 years. In a low inflation period this is a huge plus

– Consolidation of OBCs – Even in 2014, OBCs voted strongly for TRS. However, many OBCs voted for the TDP too. Between 2014 and 2015, a large number of TRS and Congress MLAs had defected to the TRS. Of these, 16 of them got re-elected as TRS MLAs in 2018. While the Congress managed to retain its vote in these seats, the TDP was literally quiet between 2014 and 2018 enabling these defectors to align the TDP infrastructure with the TRS party infrastructure. This translated into a huge gain both seat wise and votes wise. Further, rural wage growth was a plus for OBCs too. In urban Telangana, OBCs shifted en masse from TDP as they did not see Congress as a viable alternative having voted against the Congress in the past. It also helped that urban OBCs benefitted from stupendous service sector growth (about 16% per annum, nominal) giving them the confidence to vote for the TRS

– Role of Farmers – When one looks at correlation with TRS vote share, while cultivators correlation was close to 70%, it was lower than scheduled caste and OBC votes (close to 80%). However it was 70% even in 2014 indicating a growth in vote share. However, while Farmers did consitute an important part of the TRS voting block, they responded differently across the districts. In Mahbubnagar, the large scale gains from the Kalwakurthy irrigation project wiped away the fortunes of numerous Congress stalwarts who won in 2014. The Congress and TDP won 7 seats in 2014 in Mahbubnagar, this reduced to just 1 in 2019. The acreage data is clearly indicative of the role played by the irrigation projects.  In Medak it appears that OBC farmers strongly supported TRS on the back of the absence of TDP , Rythu Bandhu and a further loan waiver that was promised by the TRS. TRS unfortunately did not make major gains in the relatively low OBC+SC districts like Adilabad, Nizamabad and Khammam. This confirms the fact that Rythu Bandhu alone was not enough, it worked well in alignment with other factors. However, the sustained share in low irrigation/low obc/low sc districts suggest that Rythu Bandhu may have played a defensive role. 

In sum, it is the massive consolidation of SC and OBC voters who due to a combination of higher wage growth (whether in rural or urban) and also lack of alternatives (given the dismantling of TDP in most seats between 2014-18) aligned substantially behind the TRS. It also helped that the TRS was seen as in OBC party even in 2014. Except that in 2014, OBC voters was split between TDP and TRS. The defection of TDP and Congress candidates ensured this consolidation. Further, Mahbubnagar farmers moved towards the TRS owing to the gains in irrigation that district. However, the continued importance of farmers in the TRS vote seems to suggest that Rythu Bandhu along with the new farm loan waiver scheme announced by the TRS ensured that farmers continued to stay with the TRS instead of defecting to the Congress. The lesson for other States is to understand that it was critical to engage with all voting blocks instead of concentrating votes with one group. The data is also clear that caste politics and connections with voters on the ground continue to be critical drivers of voter choice and cannot be removed from any strategy. Lastly, old fashioned income growth cannot replace any strategy. Incumbents must focus on income growth continuously to win elections.

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