29 SC reserved constituencies will be a game changer in Andhra Pradesh for the 2019 Assembly Elections. A People’s Pulse study shows that YSR Congress is having an edge in 12 constituencies, the ruling TDP in nine and the remaining eight would witness tight contests. In two of these constituencies, the Congress would decide the outcome and Jana Sena would determine which way the scale would tilt in the remaining six. Yet, neither the Jana Sena nor the Congress would win these eight seats on their own. The BJP and the Left parties have no role to play.
The 29 SC reserved constituencies cover a total of 137 mandals and six municipalities or Nagar Panchayats. People’s Pulse conducted a mood survey in these areas. 17 mandals are extremely strong bases for the YSR Congress and similarly eleven mandals for the TDP. The reason they are classified as extremely strong is because the party is enjoying support in the ratio of 60:40.
Next are the strong bases. The TDP has 61 mandals while the YSR Congress has 48 mandals. They enjoy the strength in the ratio of 55:45. The TDP has similar support in the municipalities or Nagar Panchayats. The Jana Sena has some influence in five to six mandals.
The People’s Pulse conducted a quantitative study from December 1 to December 15 in these constituencies. Our research scholars conducted freewheeling interviews and focussed group discussions with the people. They spent five days in each of the reserved constituencies. The focus of the study was on the MLAs performance, government’s performance and the strengths and weaknesses of the respective parties.
It must be mentioned that Dalit voting behaviour in general is different from that of reserved constituencies. In these constituencies, only Dalits contest and they act in sync with the dominant communities. Over the past several elections it has been noticed that these constituencies tend to move with the general mood of backing the party which is likely to come to power so as to reap some benefit in the post-electoral scenario.
To help put things in perspective, SC constituencies are not only about Dalits. It is also about the dominant communities in each of the constituencies that play a key role in who their MLA would be.
The MLAs, irrespective of whether they belong to the ruling party or the main Opposition party, are facing a great amount of ill-will from their constituents. If the same candidates are fielded again they are almost certain to lose. It’s therefore imperative that the parties would go in for fresh faces, but the extent to which the changes happen remains to be seen.
Two features need to be mentioned. The Congress has improved since its disastrous performance in 2014 where it got around two percent of the vote. It’s now in the range of around five percent. The anger that they have split the state has considerably reduced. Even then they are in no shape to emerge in the frontrunner’s position.
There is a lot of heat and dust about the Jana Sena. But on the ground level there is not much talk about Jana Sena or their leader Pawan Kalyan. Nobody knows what the party stands for. Worse, there is no clarity among the people what Pawan Kalyan stands for or what change or development he aspires to bring. Far from being a frontrunner, he and his party would be a spoiler in this elections affecting the winning or losing candidates fortunes.
The other main feature is that Rahul Gandhi has emerged a firm favourite for the next Prime Minister of the country. It is certainly a contradiction when this is read along with the Congress’ depleted position in the state. The people are angry with Narendra Modi and literally view him as the villain for the state getting a raw deal particularly with the Centre going back on its promise to grant Special Category Status to bifurcated Andhra Pradesh.
This is not the case when it comes to the chief ministerial choice. The response is mixed for the two principal leaders. When it comes to Chandrababu Naidu people fear that whatever good that has begun after bifurcation might stop if he is defeated. People believe that he steered the state in difficult times thanks to his administrative and political experience.
Coming to Jaganmohan Reddy – people say that he is a youngster, who is capable of replicating the governance of his father late Dr. YS Rajashekar Reddy. People further say that so many leaders occupied the top post in the state and therefore Jaganmohan Reddy could be given a chance. Pawan Kalyan is on the fringes of this discourse.
Further, the choice of chief minister also runs on caste lines. The Kammas, Backward Classes and some sections of the forward communities’ back Chandrababu Naidu. The Reddys, Dalits and the minorities support Jaganmohan Reddy. The Kapus, who play a decisive role, are not too particular that one of their own should be the chief minister, in this case Pawan Kalyan.
An unfortunate feature now is that neither the MLA or the government is delivering development. Officials are turning a blind eye to the needs of these constituencies. This has created a sense of a deprivation among the people and a large section of the people think that they are being discriminated against as they are in a SC reserved constituency.
This set apart, Andhra Pradesh does not have a single Dalit leader who has an appeal across the Dalit community, let alone these constituencies. Further both the parties, the TDP and the YSR Congress, lack a Dalit face. As far as Dalits are concerned across the state, they feel parties have taken their support for granted without giving them any kind of importance or recognition. In a sense they feel suffocated with the caste dispensation of the respective parties.
According to our study, the YSR Congress is ahead of the TDP by three seats in these 29 SC constituencies. The YSR Congress holds the edge in 12 seats and the TDP in nine seats. The remaining eight would be decided by the Jana Sena and the Congress. And whoever gets a majority of these seats would be able to breast the tape in the race for power.
The final result, however, would be fine-tuned by the formation of alliances, the finalisation of candidates, the dispensation of the dominant communities in the respective constituencies and the issues of the day. In the eight constituencies how much of a spoiler role the Jana Sena and the Congress would play would determine the winner.
In the second half of January, People’s Pulse will conduct a qualitative study in these constituencies and another round just before the elections. Alongside, the seven Scheduled Tribe constituencies would be subject to a similar quantitative study and mood report.
There are 29 Assembly constituencies reserved for Scheduled Castes in the 175 constituencies in Andhra Pradesh after delimitation of constituencies in 2008.
The main indicator of who is going to come to power is the party, which is going to win the majority of these reserved constituencies. In 2014, the TDP won 16 constituencies and the YSR Congress won 13. Significantly the Left parties, CPI and CPI-M, who claim to be fighting for Dalits’ rights contested ten of the reserved constituencies. They forfeited their deposits in all the ten constituencies.
The Congress, which believed that the Dalits were their exclusive vote bank, contested in all the 29 seats with some former ministers in the fray. They did not win a single reserved seat and they lost their deposits in majority of the constituencies. A major reason was that the Congress fell out of favour with voters, across the spectrum in Andhra Pradesh, as they felt let down with the bifurcation of the state in 2014.
In 2009, in these parts the Congress won 22 and the TDP won 7. The then newly formed Praja Rajyam Party, which won 16 seats, did not win a single SC reserved constituency.
In fact, this trend was seen even in the local bodies elections in 2014 and 2006. In 2014, out of 125 ZTPCs reserved for SCs the TDP won 68 and the YSR Congress won 56.
The two dominant sub-castes in SCs are the Malas and Madigas. In 2014, eight Malas and eight Madigas were among the TDP’s victorious candidates. In the YSR Congress, there were eight Mala and five Madiga.
Dalits have traditionally been with the Congress, especially the Malas. A small portion of Madigas preferred the TDP. But a large number of them drifted to the TDP after the issue of categorisation of SCs. Dalits on the whole, gravitated towards the YSR Congress, after the Congress became a pale shadow of its dominant self after the bifurcation of the state.
In the 2014 general elections, across all 175 constituencies, according to the National Election Study Post Poll Survey conducted by CSDS-Lokniti, 57 percent supported the YSR Congress and 28 percent backed the TDP.
Even in 2009, the Congress got a backing of 49.35 percent and the TDP got 37.45 percent respectively as per the CSDS-Lokniti. The then newly formed political party, Praja Rajyam Party, got only 9.1 percent. That year bifurcated Andhra Pradesh witnessed triangular contests. The Congress won 22 of these 29 Assembly seats under the leadership of Dr. Y.S. Rajashekar Reddy, which numerically states that it retained power because of bagging these constituencies.
Though these are termed reserved constituencies, non-Dalit and often forward communities dominate the voter attitude towards the elections. Of the 29, Reddys dominate seven, Kammas in six, Kapus in six and Backward Classes in eight constituencies.
The impact of the non-Dalit communities cannot be more evident than in the fact that of the seven seats dominated by Reddys, the YSR Congress won six in the 2014 elections. The YSR Congress is perceived to be a Reddy party. Alternatively, the TDP, which is seen as a Kamma party, won five of the six constituencies they influence.
In these elections, the Kapus predominantly were backing the TDP. They won five of the six seats where they are the dominant community.
A major reason for the TDP considerably increasing its seat share in reserved constituencies in 2014 was because the Congress vote shifted to the TDP. This is despite the fact that the YSR Congress vote is essentially the Congress vote. But, the YSR Congress failed to ensure the transfer of this key remnant of the Congress vote ensuring that that it trailed the TDP in the SC constituencies and failed to come to power.
Caste and voting behavior are two variables whose interface help us understand the electoral and political shifts taking place in India. The old cliché that ‘Indians don’t cast their vote, they vote their caste,’ may be a contested socio-political fact academically, but in core electoral studies, this interplay of caste and vote still emerges as the rule of thumb.
In this backdrop, it is relevant to analyze as to how the Dalit voters think and determine their electoral articulations in constituencies reserved for them.
Based on the electoral analysis of various elections in India, we have a glimpse into their voting behavior wherein one gets a layered and complex pattern of the same.
Before we delve into this exercise, let’s delineate the nature and social composition of Dalit constituencies. First, sociologically, there is a gap between a Dalit constituency as a political space and a Dalit constituency as a social space. That is, while politically, a Dalit constituency is solely reserved for the Dalit candidates, sociologically a significant number of voters in the same constituencies happen to be non-Dalits whose voting pattern would be guided by the prevailing power equations between the Dalits and non-Dalits.
Going by our experiential accounts and endorsed by various political and anthropological studies, the dominant facts happens to be a sense of mistrust and tenuous equations between the Dalits and non-Dalits. This tenuous equation between Dalits and non-Dalits gets further accentuated in the constituencies reserved exclusively for the Dalits.
In this backdrop, it appears that most of the time, the political parties, who Dalits feel strongly related to, usually fields a candidate from the dominant sub-caste of Dalits. In the backdrop of the existing tenuous power equations at local levels, the non-Dalits take this consolidation of the dominant sub-castes of Dalits (Jatav-Chamar in Uttar Pradesh, Mahar in Maharashtra, Mala in Andhra Pradesh and Madiga in Telangana, etc.) as a challenge to their local power configuration and in turn, tend to vote for a Dalit candidate who belongs to relatively weaker (numerically or politically) sub-caste.
This then, gives an incentive to the rival political parties to field the Dalit candidates in constituencies reserved for them from non-dominant Dalit sub-caste with the objective of fetching the votes of the non-Dalit castes in the constituency. This equation also read by the aspiring elites and masses of weaker sub-castes of Dalits who find a better bargain in voting for the party that non-Dalit castes identify with.
For instance, the non-Jatav Dalits like Pasis and Khatiks would like to vote more for BJP than BSP as they find BJP’s overture to them a better prospect in the backdrop of their reading that the non-Dalit castes would like to see BSP defeated and therefore would back BJP, which means a Pasi or Khatik candidate.
In a nutshell, this electoral equation can be summarized as follows:
The dominant Dalits in a reserved SC constituency tend to vote more for a party that they strongly relate to (like Jatavs for BSP) as the pro-Dalit party usually fields a candidate from the dominant Dalit sub-caste.
On the other hand, the weaker sub-castes of Dalits tend to vote for a party that they find friendlier to non-Dalits as the party in question usually fields a candidate from non-Dalit sub-caste with the aim to consolidate the non-Dalits by tapping upon their uneasiness with disruptive effects that the assertive politics of dominant Dalits and their favored party tend to have upon the prevailing social power equations at the local level.