Elections and economics

Elections and economics

Economics not determining electoral outcomes — save the election-eve spike in prices of onions — is a near-constant feature of Indian politics. Will this change in the forthcoming elections to five state assemblies? As reported in Mint last Friday, it might.

In a landscape dominated by caste, regional and religious identities, it’s much easier to mobilize voters on these grounds instead of improving their life chances. Doing the latter requires putting in place the right economic policies, a much more difficult thing to do than dispensing caste-based favours. Unsurprisingly, the middle class is ignored and for good tactical reasons.

That may change. For one, delimitation of constituencies has accelerated the process of giving them an urban complexion. For example, the number of parliamentary seats in urban areas has increased to 100, or almost one in every five parliamentary seats. This change comes at a time of weakening economic performance, something that will make the politicians’ task of answering their constituents more difficult. It might even translate into electoral difficulties. As a result, this election season starting in November is likely to be interesting.

This process will accelerate in the times to come. As the income of an ever larger number of households increases, they will want to secure their hard-earned money from economic fluctuations. The National Council of Economic Research estimates that by 2009-10, nearly 13% of households across India will be in the income bracket of Rs2.5-12.5 lakh. In a country with a billion-plus citizens, that number can upset many political calculations if their interests are not taken care of.

Then there are the swelling ranks of “aspirers", the segment of the population in the Rs1.2-2.5 lakh bracket. This is a group that is vulnerable to economic shocks and comprises 34% of all households in India. It will be interesting to watch the dynamics of this group: It lies at the border of traditional notions of politics and more modern, market-aware, ones. If India continues to power ahead as it has in recent years, this group is sure to join middle-class ranks. Whenever that transition takes place, a new political script will have to be invented for India.

Will the next general election be any different? Write to us at views@livemint.com