Populist policies in Gujarat have been part of election euphoria for several decades now. In the 1990s, Narmada as the jivadori (lifeline) of Gujarat through the Sardar Sarovar dam was very much part of the election campaigns for both the Congress and the BJP. In 2012, the Congress’s Ghar nu Ghar scheme, where the party promised to provide affordable housing for the urban poor and for rural dwellers if it come to power, got thousands of women standing in queue to register for the housing scheme before the elections.
In the electoral contest today, the scene has changed as there is a third party on the ground to attract the voters with promises of free electricity, free education, employment for the youth and a corruption-free Gujarat. In Gujarat, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is campaigning on populist policies especially on the basis of its model of Delhi and Punjab, focusing on subsidised and free electricity and education. The BJP, too, is seeking the support of the voters on the basis of what it projects as its good record on national policies and good governance for more than two decades in the State. The Congress too has included populist schemes in its agenda.
The Lokniti-CSDS survey tried to look at these populist promises and the impact of these on Gujarat’s voters. Close to half the respondents believe that populist policies are necessary to give relief to the common people (Table 1). Interestingly, a majority of those who hold this view are BJP voters. Two-thirds of those who felt that these populist policies are bad for the economy are also supporters of the BJP. Thus, the BJP support base is divided on the impact of populist policies.
The AAP’s vigorous campaign revolves around price rise and the need to give a chance to a new player. It is important to underscore the fact that of those who felt that populist policies were essential for giving relief to the common people, about one-fourth supported the AAP and another one-fourth backed the Congress (Table 1).
An interesting pattern emerges when we look at the educational background of the respondents and their response to populist policies. With greater access to education, the support for giving relief to the common people through populist measures increases. The trend clearly indicates that populist policies seem to find favour among those with higher levels of education and among urban respondents.
The media is definitely one of the main tools for political parties to communicate with voters. It is clear that with the increase in media exposure, the opinions on populist policies become more clear (Table 3). Post COVID-19, at a time of inflation, populist politics as played out by the political parties appear to be a key factor in the coming Gujarat elections.
Mahashweta Jani is State coordinator of Gujarat for Lokniti-CSDS