With India’s national elections less than a year away, key state assembly polls have stirred the political pot with regional and national parties contesting for power across five states: Chhattisgarh, Mizoram, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
From Prime Minister Narendra Modi extending the PMGKAY free ration scheme for another five years, to Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot promising 100,000 jobs to curb unemployment, populist welfare announcements made by parties for electoral reasons are in full swing.
Journalist Ajoy Ashirwad argued that the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) national government, under Modi’s leadership, has been a symbolic force for cultural renaissance and large infrastructural development.
The national opposition, Indian National Congress’ (INC) campaigns have also highlighted that an overdose of Hindutva and big business development, under the BJP, have resulted in a neglect of issues like the farming crisis, unemployment, and poor public health and education infrastructure.
BJP’s rival parties, especially Congress, have focused on long-term welfare schemes in their agendas for the five states to gain support from the poor and marginalised. Congress’s Priyanka Gandhi, in one of her rallies in Madhya Pradesh announced: “Congress wants to make a Suraksha Chakra (protective field) around you,” stressing the party’s socio-economic welfare credentials.
To give an idea of how each Indian state and union territory is performing economically, O.P. Jindal Global University’s Centre for New Economics Studies devised the Access (In)Equality Index which ranks each on their access to basic social and economic services.
The index measures to what extent essential social and economic services are distributed. It uses a holistic approach that reflects social inclusion, human capital development and labour force engagement, all crucial for economic growth.
It takes a multidimensional approach and assesses the performances of the states in terms of access to five main pillars: basic amenities, education, healthcare, socio-economic security and justice (legal recourse).
The idea of ‘access’ is drawn from a critical assessment of the public health literature, which studies access from the perspective of 4As: affordability, availability, approachability and appropriateness.
How Were The States Graded?
The Index Report has three levels of classification: ‘aspirants’, ‘achievers’, and ‘front runners’.
Aspirants are at the lowest end of the spectrum. Achievers are in a more advantageous position and front runners refer to the states with the highest level of performance. Madhya Pradesh falls into the ‘aspirants’ category, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh are ‘achievers’ and Telangana and Mizoram are the ‘front runners’.
Given the overall composite rank is based on five pillars, it cannot ensure similar performances of the states in the individual pillars. How each state performed in each pillar is summarised below.
Access To Basic Amenities
Access to basic amenities such as electricity, sanitation and water, among others, are important factors people consider while voting.
Of the five states having elections, Mizoram ranks top. Telangana and Rajasthan have shown satisfactory performances. Water has been a persistent concern for the voters of Rajasthan where the Congress Party under Gehlot has started building two dams to ensure access to drinking water for the towns and villages in the state’s west.
Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh are the weakest performers. A 2.64 percent rise in electricity prices in Madhya Pradesh prompted Priyanka Gandhi to announce 100 units of free electricity at a rally in Jabalpur.
Access To Education
Young voters are very concerned about better education and jobs. Of the five states, Rajasthan is the best-performing in terms of access to education.
The current Congress Party government has opened Mahatma Gandhi English Medium schools, set up 300 robotic labs, and initiated several welfare schemes to ensure quality education. Chief Minister Gehlot has guaranteed to provide laptops or tablets to students in government-run colleges.
Congress in both Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh has guaranteed financial support through free education and monthly allowances to students. Both these states, along with Telangana, have shown satisfactory performances.
Mizoram is the worst-performing state, due to factors such as teaching quality and inadequate infrastructure. The youth unemployment rate in Mizoram (11.9 percent) is higher than the country’s joblessness rate (7.95 percent). The rate is also high in Rajasthan (12.5 percent) and Telangana (15.1 percent).
This segment of youth voters is important for all the parties, as reflected by Congress’ guarantee of an unemployment allowance in Rajasthan and the BJP’s promise of providing 250,000 government jobs in the state.
Access To Healthcare
A recent survey reveals that health is one of the most important factors that can sway voters. To garner support, parties in the five states have promised health insurance to residents.
Rajasthan is a ‘front-runner’ and the incumbent Congress Party has been seeking votes by offering several health insurance schemes, especially the Chiranjeevi health scheme.
Telangana and Mizoram follow Rajasthan in terms of their performance, and are ‘achievers’. Bharat Rashtra Samiti, the incumbent political party in Telangana, guaranteed the Arogyasri health scheme, a universal health coverage for families below the poverty line.
Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh are the worst-performing states with healthcare centres in both regions reporting a persistent shortage of specialists and doctors.
Access To Socio-Economic Security
Access to social security is necessary to reduce the vulnerability of citizens when at risk and enhance their capacity to manage those risks.
Telangana is the highest-ranked state, helped by the state government providing financial assistance to different groups such as lower castes and weavers. The other four states are weak performers in this category.
Access To Justice (Legal Recourse)
Access to justice (legal recourse) examines access to a safe and secure environment through the legal system. Madhya Pradesh is the front runner while the other four states have shown satisfactory results.
The biggest grievance among voters in all the states is agrarian issues, including high electricity rates, water crisis and high debt level, among many others.
According to one survey, “voters often mention development as the most important issue for them at election time.”
Media reports have shown voters are beginning to tire of Hindu-Muslim polarisation which the BJP has depended on to hold power.
Congress has mostly been focused on issues related to socio-economic development, and the BJP has followed suit. For instance, the BJP in Rajasthan has announced skill training to 600,000 rural women.
Drawing from the state-level performance metrics of the Access (In)Equality Index, the run-up to the latest round of assembly elections indicates to what extent issues of socio-economic welfare, especially those surrounding the agrarian economy, are likely to dominate even 2024 national elections.