The results of the Assembly polls in Maharashtra are anxiously awaited. The four main contenders, the Congress, the NCP, the Shiv Sena, and the BJP have all been part of one of the two principal coalitions, the Democratic Front (Congress and the NCP) which ruled the state for the last 15 years, and the Mahayuti (Shiv Sena and the BJP) that has been the principal opposition alliance.
The battle against the `other'
The roots of this angst date back to the Samyukta Maharashtra Movement launched in 1955 in Pune. As Kumar Ketar in the Asian Age says:
the business lobbies, mostly consisting of the Gujarati's and Marwaris wanted Mumbai to be an independent city state or a bi-lingual or autonomous city state. But the mass movement led by Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti foiled that plan. The Marathi angst of the time was one of the reasons for the Shiv Sena's rise, and continues to the reason for the undeclared hostility between the Gujarati-Marwari business community and the Marathi working class.
The Gujarati-Marathi antagonism was mostly restricted to Bombay. In other parts of Maharashtra, it has always been a "Maratha" vote, something that the Congress and the NCP had capitalised on over the last few decades. In the 54 years since Maharashtra was formed, the Congress has ruled the State for 49 years. Of its 17 Chief Ministers, 10 have been Marathas. The outgoing cabinet did not have a single non-Maratha!
By this logic, you would have expected that a national party, with a low support base in Maharashtra in the past, with a Gujarati leader and a Gujarati campaign manager, would not fare that well in the coming elections.
Several commentators, have, however argued that the new Marathi middle class has moved on in its economic and cultural ambitions. It no longer shares the sense of injustice that was the cornerstone of the Samyukta movement, and is in fact, brimming with enthusiasm to participate in the new India. In addition, over the years, migration on a large scale has taken place into Bombay and it's environs, and into Poona, which has created a new set of immigrant voters.
How relevant is the issue of the "marathi-manoos"?
FourthLion Technologies has been conducting message testing polls in the run up to the elections in Maharashtra to tease out voter preferences using its Instavaani. The methodology involves using a control and multiple treatments, and comparing the treatments to the control to get a relative understanding of the persuasion power of different messages.
In a message testing poll, the control is a simple horse-race poll, that asks voters to pick the party or candidate of their choice. The poll on October 1, 2014, showed that 41% of voters preferred the BJP, 11% Congress, 14% Shiv Sena and 11% the NCP. BJP was comfortably in the lead. This is the control.
In each treatment, a particular message is read out to the listener, and then the horse-race question is asked again. Differences from the control give us a sense of the immediate short-term impact of this message on the minds of the populace. These polls are conducted by randomly sampling phone numbers across the entire state. The poll typically strives for 200-400 observations. With assumptions of perfect random sampling of a small sample from a representative population, the margin of error is 0.98/sqrt(n). At 200 samples, the margin of error is 7%, and at 400 samples, it is 5%. These polls are typically carried out as soon as news breaks out, and situations develop in real-time, allowing the observation of the mood of the people within hours after an event.
Here are some results which illuminate attitudes to nativism:
- `Prithviraj Chavan is a true son of Maharashtra. He went to school in Karad, which is in south Maharashtra. His mother and father, Premalakaki and Dajisaheb Chavan, went to jail because they fought for an independent state of Maharashtra. No other candidate for Chief Minister has the same legacy of fighting for Maharashtra as Prithviraj Chavan'.
This shows that the CM's background matters quite a bit, and led 10 percentage points of voters to switch from the BJP to the Congress. This also explains why Prithviraj Chavan led the Congress' campaign in the state - his popularity is higher than the party's.
Would you vote for % of respondents BJP 31% Congress 26% Shiv Sena 15% NCP 11% Others 17%
- `In 1960, Gujarati minister Morarji Desai ordered police to fire on activists of the Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti, killing 105 Marathis. The Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti activists won their fight to create an independent state of Maharashtra. Today, the BJP is bringing Gujaratis such as Amit Shah to again place Maharashtra under Gujarati dominance'.
If there was indeed strong antagonism about Gujaratis, this question should have caused a lot of people to switch votes out of the BJP. However, only 8% of the voters seems to have moved away from the BJP, mostly to the Shiv Sena.
Would you vote for % of respondents BJP 33% Congress 14% Shiv Sena 25% NCP 11% Others 17%
- `The BJP has no leaders in Maharashtra who are clean, honest and capable of running the state government. That is why the BJP has to parachute in outsiders like the Prime Minister and Amit Shah to campaign for them. The BJP is afraid to announce who their CM candidate will be because their local leaders, including Devendra Fadnavis and Eknath Khadse, are inexperienced and unqualified to run the second-largest state in India, and also have dozens of criminal charges against them'.
This yielded the least movement away from the BJP: only two percentage points, which is not statistically significant. 39% of voters continue to root for the BJP. It shows there is far greater confidence in the BJP leadership than in that of any other parties.
Would you vote for % of respondents BJP 39% Congress 15% Shiv Sena 19% NCP 10% Others 17%
This post is about nativism, so we don't talk about other measurement of how voters feel. But one point must be made. None of these treatments work as well as other treatment messages that talk about construction of roads, public works, anti-corruption, etc. These results suggest that the passions of caste and creed are now less important; that the history of the Gujarati-Marathi antagonism has faded from memory. By this logic, the BJP was perhaps on the right track in breaking away from the Shiv Sena, and focusing on its core messages of development and good governance. This is what voters in Maharashtra seem to care about.
We may conjecture that three things are going on:
- Part of the reason for this move away from nativist sentiment is the personal appeal of the Prime Minister. His approval ratings, measured in a survey FourthLion did for Mint on August 16, 2014, were highest in Maharashtra and West Bengal. In the bye-polls, there was very little involvement of the Prime Minister, and the BJP did not do well. It is no surprise then that the BJP is seeking votes under the Modi banner, with messages like "Chalo chale Modi ke saath" ("let's walk with Modi") and "Ab ki bar Modi sarkar" ("this time let's make it the Modi administration").
- Anti-incumbency against the state government, and the 2 parties (INC + NCP) that jointly governed the state for 15 years, has voters looking for an alternative. Given the BJP's own brand, their assessment of being able to achieve a majority on their own, and the country beginning to taste the benefits of a clear mandate, the BJP has an edge in asking voters in Maharashtra and Haryana to give it a clear mandate in the states too, so that they can work well with the Centre.
- But most important is the fact that the Indian electorate has moved on. The desire of the voter to look beyond tribal considerations is the reason why Maharashtra might be the first state to throw up a verdict that challenges preconceived notions about the eternal power of old hatreds.
Does this have implications for regional parties elsewhere in India? Many regional parties may have to go in for radical reconstruction if nativist fires are subsiding. Some, like the BSP, have begun doing this. The entire eastern and southern belt, which sees strong regional parties - West Bengal, Orissa, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu - could see change. While Jammu and Kashmir and Jharkhand will give us some more intuition in the coming few months, Bihar is going to be the next big test in 2015.
One possible argument is that Maharashtra is a better state, with greater exposure to new ideas, low levels of violence, and a successful economy. In contrast, the backward parts of East India may still be trapped in the old nativist ways. But what about the South? The developments in Maharashtra could be particularly portentious for the better states of the South.
The politics of Bombay has long been benighted by the problem of nativism. What was once a great metropolis has been bogged down by decades of nativist politics. These results show a possibility for becoming a normal city, where the political questions that matter are about efficiently producing local public goods.