Return of the ‘National’ in Indian Elections: When do National-level Factors Play a Role in Influencing the Outcomes of State Assembly Elections?

Date01 June 2014
Published date01 June 2014
Subject MatterArticles
/tmp/tmp-17KF5eRA08VCX6/input Militar
Artic y-Madr
Global Thr
asa-Mullah Complex
Return of the ‘National’
Studies in Indian Politics
2(1) 81–97
in Indian Elections:
© 2014 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
When do National-level Factors Play
SAGE Publications
Los Angeles, London,
a Role in Influencing the Outcomes
New Delhi, Singapore,
Washington DC
of State Assembly Elections?
DOI: 10.1177/2321023014526093
Rahul Verma
Jyoti Mishra
Shreyas Sardesai
Sanjay Kumar

The outcome of the assembly elections held in November 2013 in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan,
Chhattisgarh and Delhi could possibly be summarized in one sentence: Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)
retained Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, and the incumbent Indian National Congress (INC) lost
power in Rajasthan and Delhi. It was a 4–0 defeat for the Congress. What explains the Congress’ rout
in these four states? Moreover, why did the BJP do well? And how did a new political outfit—Aam
Aadmi Party (AAP)—manage a stunning debut in Delhi within a year of its formation? Using data
from the pre-poll and post-poll surveys from the above mentioned states, we find that there was a
visible dissatisfaction with the Congress-led UPA government at the centre and that led to the party’s
debacle during the elections. We suggest that the interaction of two variables—temporal proximity
of state assembly elections to Lok Sabha elections and nature of party competition in the state—
determines when national-level factors would play important role in influencing electoral outcomes in
state elections.
Anti-incumbency, electoral cycle, party competition, linkage between state and national politics,
government performance
Rahul Verma is Research Associate at Lokniti, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), New Delhi.
Jyoti Mishra is Research Associate at Lokniti, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), New Delhi.
Shreyas Sardesai is Research Associate at Lokniti, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), New
Delhi. E-mail:
Sanjay Kumar is Co-Director of Lokniti, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), New Delhi.
India Quarterly, 66, 2 (2010): 133–149


Rahul Verma, Jyoti Mishra, Shreyas Sardesai and Sanjay Kumar
This article has three objectives. First, it explains the outcome of assembly elections held in November
2013 in Madhya Pradesh (MP), Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Delhi. Second, it uses this round of assem-
bly elections as an opportunity to intervene in an important debate—the linkage between national and
state politics—among scholars of party politics in India. Third, drawing upon the recent formulations
on this debate (Palshikar, Yadav & Suri, 2014), the article puts forward a framework to test the linkage
between the national and state politics.
We argue that in federal polities, the domain of state politics cannot be free from the pulls and pres-
sures of the national politics at all times.1 We acknowledge that without state specific contexts, the
verdicts of national elections are most often unintelligible for a federal polity such as India with vast
geography, large population and heterogeneous demography. However, the consensus among scholars
of Indian politics that states have emerged as autonomous units of political choice (emphasis added)
needs a revisit.2 The popular rendering of Yadav and Palshikar thesis (2003, 2009) on state politics
as autonomous domain has manifested itself as if the linkage between national and state politics is
only uni-directional only.3
Later interventions in this debate reformulated the original proposition that voters in India always
(emphasis added) view national politics through the prism of the state. Explaining the 2009 national
election results, Chhibber (2009) suggests that national elections in India do have elements and senti-
ments that are national in nature despite the dominance of state-specific factors. Similarly, Verma (2012)
offers an insight into why the incumbent central government in 2004 (National Democratic Alliance)
lost the elections, while the incumbent central government in 2009 (United Progressive Alliance) won
the elections in 2009 despite enjoying a similar level of popularity in opinion polls. Using survey data
from 2004 and 2009 National Election Studies (NES), he shows that electorates in India base their final
vote by assessing the performance of their elected representatives at multiple levels, that is, national,
state and constituency level.
These interventions, however, left an important gap in this debate: when do national-level factors
influence the outcomes of state assembly elections? Our article adds to this important debate on the link-
ages between state and national politics in India. We suggest that the results of the assembly elections
in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Delhi indicate that national-level issues are increas-
ingly influencing electoral outcomes in state elections. Therefore, we argue that the consensus that the
state-level issues are ‘principal’ and national issues are ‘derivative’ in determining political choices by
Indian voters (Yadav & Palshikar, 2009) needs a revisit for three reasons.4 First, there is no gain in
re-emphasizing that, ‘the national government in India has constitutional supremacy, retains sufficient
political authority, and commands significant control over the allocation of financial resources,’
(Chhibber, 2009, p. 58). Second, some of the core features of ‘third electoral system’ that lay at the
heart of the Yadav and Palshikar thesis have become routinized affairs of post-Congress polity and
thus opening a space for the return of national-level factors playing a role in influencing the outcomes in
state assembly elections. Third, Yadav and Palshikar thesis limits the possibility of analyzing the results
of an election that has plebiscitary character on a national issue.
We first analyze these four elections as one unit of electoral cycle to understand the role of national-
level factors in shaping the outcome. We find that the Congress faced double anti-incumbency in states
where the party was in power (Delhi and Rajasthan). The dissatisfaction with the performance of the
Studies in Indian Politics, 2, 1 (2014): 81–97

Return of the ‘National’ in Indian Elections 83
Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government mars the chances of the party during
November 2013 elections. In contrast, the BJP had advantage of pro-incumbency in states where the
party was in power (Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh) and benefitted from the popularity of its
projected prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. Finally, we conclude by highlighting the most
important factors that explain the outcome.
The Linkage between State and National Politics
Why do we need to revisit the linkage between state and national politics? Yadav and Palshikar thesis
(ibid.) on state politics at its core has some specific features:
… the eclipse of popular national level leadership and consequent loss of plebiscitary character of the parlia-
mentary election; the rise of state level parties whereby popular choices in each state assumed an independ-
ent structure; differentiated reception of and reaction to ‘national’ issues (such as Mandal or Mandir) in most
states; and the organizational fragmentation of the so-called national or all-India parties and blunting of their
ideological edge. (Palshikar, Yadav & Suri, 2014, forthcoming)
In our view, some of these features of ‘third electoral system’ have acquired a status of ‘normal’ aspect
of post-Congress Indian politics (Palshikar, Yadav & Suri, 2014, forthcoming). ‘Mandal’ and ‘Mandir’
are no longer emotive issues in India politics. Second, though we lack empirical evidence to substantiate
our claim, popular writings in media suggest that the contents of election agendas seem to be set by the
debates on news channels. The proliferation of media houses and increasing media exposure of Indian
electorates has started giving a plebiscitary tone to electoral campaigns. Elections in India are increas-
ingly becoming a site of referendum on leaders, pretty much like in countries with presidential system of
governments. Third, the organizational decline of Congress and subsequent rise of state-level parties has
become a ‘routine’ feature of India’s electoral landscape. And finally, more and more governments have
stable five-year tenure and the electoral cycles have been routinized. Analytically, it has become much
easier to categorize states on the basis of electoral cycles and use it to create testable hypothesis about
changing nature of party politics in India.5
Drawing upon the formulation in Palshikar, Yadav and Suri (2014, forthcoming), we set up a new
typology (see, Table 1) to study the linkage between state and national politics. We argue that both the
temporal proximity of state assembly election and nature of party competition in the state, play a role
in determining the influence of national factors in state-level elections. Why does the interaction of
electoral cycle and state party system matters? Scholars of India’s party politics see delinking of
national and state assembly elections in 1971 as one of the major factors that...

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