Almost everyone in India is currently talking about NYAY. Playing on a hindi synonym for ‘justice’ the Nyuntam Aay Yojana (NYAY) scheme has evoked mixed responses from people and political parties across the aisle. From being cautiously optimistic to openly hostile, NYAY has undoubtedly gotten a reaction.  The flagship scheme announced by Congress in April 2019 has come on the radar and definitely set off waves. With political analysts questioning how much the scheme, with its almost last minute declaration, could impact the upcoming election, one wonders if it can, in fact, play a significant role. However, reports of how parties across the aisle have conducted internal analysis after the scheme was declared, highlight how NYAY has potential weightage and can affect political outcomes.

In an effort to understand the upheaval it might cause on the political stage, we examine electoral data from the 2014 LS Election and the State elections thereafter, contrasting them with socio-economic indicators from Socio-Economic Caste Census, 2011. The questions we ask are – Who is going to be affected the most by the NYAY scheme? Would it change voting patterns? Is this what could potentially move the battle for Delhi from the populous hindi heartland to central India? The goal of the analysis has been to evaluate if this last minute move by the Congress could reap electoral dividends in the states and constituencies it looks to target.

First to address the question of who the scheme impacts the most. Since NYAY is essentially an income support scheme for the poorest 20% of the population, states having a greater share of poor people are likely to be impacted more by its declaration. We used the Jaano India platform, which depicts SECC 2011 data on the number of rural households having monthly income of less than Rs. 5,000 for our analysis. This metric was used to understand and pinpoint the relative distribution of the poorest households in the country.

As is evident from the Jaano India maps, the states with the maximum proportion of the poorest in India are Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh. Almost 90.78% of rural households in Chhattisgarh have HH income less than 5K, while the same is true for 87.94% of the households in Odisha and 83.49% of the households in MP.  Going back to the data, we compared districts where more than 85% households earned under Rs 5000. In Chhattisgarh, more than 85% of the population earns less than Rs 5000 in most districts (excluding some for which data is unavailable). Similarly, Odisha and MP too see 73.3% and 42% of their population earning under Rs 5000. Immediate analysis of household income shows how the electoral battle is targeting the key states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Odisha.

However, it is important to note that the prevalence and spread of poverty in these states only indicates the presence of an electorate that could be swayed by the promise of NYAY. India is a country that votes not only on the basis of poll promises and manifestos, but also on party allegiance and class identity. Therefore, the idea that the scheme could directly affect polling trends is a risky extrapolation.

That being said, the likelihood of the NYAY scheme resulting in any electoral gains for the INC could partially be captured by the electoral history of these regions as well as the winning margins in previous elections. A prime example of this is the case with Uttar Pradesh. Shyam Singh, a daily wage earner living in Khatauli, a small village in Uttar Pradesh’s capital Muzaffarnagar swears by the party his family has voted for for generations and says ‘no election promises’ can make him shift his allegiance. His neighbours echo a similar sentiment.

While the the state too sees a large size of the population (71.87%) earning under Rs 5000, the NYAY impact on Uttar Pradesh is likely to be the least, even as rural distress is an issue in Uttar Pradesh and large swathes of UP are rural. The expectation is that Uttar Pradesh will vote on the basis of caste and identity. With its 80 Lok Sabha seats, Uttar Pradesh is seen as key to the reins of power in New Delhi. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) swept the state in 2014, winning 73 seats, which in turn gifted the NDA its massive majority. In 2017, the state again voted overwhelmingly for the BJP in the assembly elections.

Perhaps equally important in this conversation is the potential for swing. The three states go to poll for 29 Lok Sabha seats in Madhya Pradesh, 11 seats in Chhattisgarh and 5 seats in Odisha. Traditionally, Madhya Pradesh has always been a closely fought battle with the BJP recording its best performance in the state in the 2014 elections, but the party later saw the INC steal its seats in the Dec 2018 assembly elections in a closely scrutinised battle for the state. On the other hand, Chhattisgarh saw the INC celebrating a landslide victory over the BJP in the December 2018 assembly elections. Historically, voting trends in both these states show that the historical performance of the BJP and the Congress assembly election results have a bearing on Lok Sabha results. Reports also suggest that “there is a strong correlation between the difference in vote share of the BJP and the Congress and median victory margins in the state. This means that the probability of a lot of seats ending up as close contests in 2019 cannot be ruled out in Madhya Pradesh.”

The state of Odisha brings up another interesting trend. Odisha is more inclined towards BJD. This not only indicates the difficulty that national parties face in Odisha, but also that national-level policy is less of a consideration for the state electorate given their past voting trends seen in the state. As such, trends show that a  major turnaround in fortunes for the INC would be unlikely in the state.

However, for the states of Chhattisgarh and MP, the competition is clearly between the BJP and INC. In the previous General Elections, the BJP emerged outright victors in 2014. They however, lost considerable ground in the state elections of 2018 in both states indicating that an element of swing still exists in these states. To add to that, winning margins in 2014 too were limited for the BJP as they found themselves on the lower end of the spectrum with an average winning margin of around 10% in Chhattisgarh, and 20% in MP.  In the 2018 State elections held in December, the INC won Chhattisgarh by landslide margins and saw a close competition in the state of Madhya Pradesh. The performance of both parties in recent years therefore go on to imply a greater probability that the swing factor, and therefore the NYAY impact could possibly lead to an interesting match in the two states.

The promise of Rs 6,000 a month could becoming compelling for voters in the three states which have been at the receiving end of drought-like conditions and farmer-centric scheme that have not had the desired impact. Firm evidence in terms of recent voting trends and the characteristics of the population of the three states show the possibility of an electoral turnaround based on the NYAY Scheme. All three states possess a sizeable group which would be affected by NYAY, with Chhattisgarh having the largest proportion.

So does this mean that the scheme can become one of the biggest factors in swinging the 2019 Lok Sabha election? We doubt it. Could it lead us to witnessing very close margin? Most probably. And does this show us exactly how tough it is to predict the 2019 election? Most definitely!

The data from the Jaano India platform showcases how different states that are currently home to a large number of households earning less than Rs 5000 can possibly react to the announcement of the NYAY scheme. It also showcases how the battle for Delhi might not be centred around the hindi heartland anymore and is in fact, moving towards central India that hosts a greater concentration of pockets of poverty. While of course this analysis depends on how well the INC itself markets the initiative, trends strongly indicate that NYAY stands a good chance of impacting electoral fortunes for the INC in Chhattisgarh and to a lesser degree in MP. The NYAY scheme that was until recently looked as a ‘hail mary’ by many, may just win over aspirational districts looking for some justice.