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Changing Tides | Analysing Political Shifts in Karnataka and Rajasthan

The electoral experience in both states brings to light a new set of questions about freebies and welfare schemes.

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[This two-part series has insights drawn from Centre for New Economics Studies (CNES) work on producing the Access (In)Equality Index. Access the report from here, and a series of detailed regional studies earlier carried from the AEI’s findings here.]

As the largest democratic exercise in history concludes, the 2024 Lok Sabha election results have delivered significant surprises, starkly contrasting those from 2019.

This dramatic shift underscores the need to examine progress in crucial areas such as basic amenities, socio-economic security, education, healthcare, and legal recourse in pivotal states like Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Rajasthan, and Manipur, which have experienced notable changes.

The overall strike rates also revealed surprising trends: the BJP's strike rate dropped to 54.4 percent in 2024 from nearly 70 percent in 2019, while Congress saw an encouraging increase, with its strike rate rising to 30.3 percent in 2024 from 12.4 percent in the previous election.

This article is part one of the series that aims to examine the overall growth trajectories of the key states of Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Rajasthan, and Manipur. The goal is to assess their performance in areas such as basic amenities, healthcare, education, socio-economic security, and legal recourse. By analysing these factors, we aim to understand the shifts in election sentiments and voter behaviour, offering a comprehensive insight into the evolving political landscape of India.

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A Look at the Schemes in Play in Karnataka

The BJP-JD(S) alliance is set to form the government in Karnataka once again. However, unlike the 2019 elections, where it achieved a landslide victory of 25 seats, the NDA (National Democratic Alliance) lost considerable ground in the 2024 elections, winning only 17 seats. Notably, the Congress gained 8 seats this year, a marked improvement from its single seat in 2019.

Despite the NDA’s waning influence, Karnataka retains eighth place in the Access Inequality Report 2021 as well as 2024. Its performance in the sub-indices paints a clearer image of the extent to which development and ‘access’ to the five pillars have been possible. As per the 2024 Report, Karnataka’s performance on access to health was indexed at 0.52. Although it is the lowest amongst its southern counterpart states, it still holds the tenth rank.

In spite of Karnataka’s position as an ‘achiever’ in its Access to Basic Amenities, Karnataka has made significant headway following the implementation of welfare schemes like Swachh Bharat Abhiyan that improve sanitation and hygiene in rural areas. The Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna has resulted in the construction of over 3.35 lakh houses for the urban poor and further sanctioning of the construction of two lakh more.

Since the launch of the Jal Jeevan Mission in 2019, for the first time, more than 50,000 households in Karnataka have been provided with tap water connections. The implementation of the Ayushman Bharat Aarogya scheme has fared remarkably well in Karnataka, the highest in the country. Since 2018, 55 percent of women beneficiaries out of a total of 63.17 lakh beneficiaries have benefited from the scheme.

Karnataka is one of the richest states in India but its expenditure on health and access to basic amenities remains relatively consistent at 5 percent, which is well below the national average of 5.7 percent as per the RBI.

Regardless, the state has managed to utilise all the allocated funds for health expenditures as per 2023 data collected by the Suvarna Arogya Suraksha Trust. In 2024, the state’s focal point has been public health infrastructure and technological development by ensuring uniformity in health services across all districts and preventing unequal development; a total of ₹280 crore has been allocated to constructing taluk hospitals in the districts of Anekal, Nelamangala, Hoskote, Sringeri, etc.

It is worth noting that while Karnataka has performed very well in implementing welfare policies and in its praxis of access to health and basic amenities, its sub-index results say otherwise. On the front of socio-economic security, Karnataka delivered a subpar performance with an index of 0.45, similar to its performance in 2019. Interestingly, it has achieved a sub-index performance of about 0.55 of legal recourse access in 2024, a marked increase from its performance of less than 0.32 in 2019. 

The BJP promised Karnataka the implementation of welfare schemes and freebies like gas cylinders and the reimposition of the Atal food centres. Similarly, the Congress ensured the implementation of the Gruha Jyoti Initiative, amongst other schemes. Visibly, development and welfare schemes are figured as the resting points of the manifestos of both parties, schemes that could potentially improve the state’s access to basic amenities.

Rajasthan With Respect to Access to Basic Amenities

Akin to Karnataka’s victory, the BJP retains its foothold in Rajasthan with 14 seats, although it lost 8 seats to Congress. As per the AEI Report 2024, Rajasthan has maintained its position in the ‘Achievers’ belt, where its performance is stationed at the twelfth rank, improving it by six posts since 2019. Rajasthan’s performance in its access to healthcare facilities subindex score remained well below the 0.45 mark both times.

As the largest state in India, connectivity and access to clinics and doctors have been problematic in the past, as over 20 percent of the doctor’s posts are vacant. To combat this and the state’s lower-than-average performance on the front of public health, Rajasthan announced the Right to Health Act. In 2021, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot announced the implementation of the Chiranjeevi Yojna, a healthcare scheme that is aimed at improving healthcare standards for citizens and ensuring easier accessibility, specifically in treating COVID-19-related illnesses and symptoms.

Similarly, the sub-index rank on Rajasthan’s access to basic amenities was at a similar level of below 0.71 in 2019 and 2024. The onsite experiences present a reality that is markedly different from the implementation of schemes and the promises made in the election manifestos. One of the tenets of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan was to ensure that rural India is open-defecation-free, an aspect under access to basic amenities. Reports, however, suggest that surveyors would mark villages in Rajasthan as open-defecation-free even though they were far from it.

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The electoral experience in both these states brings to light a new set of questions regarding freebies and welfare schemes. Do states like Karnataka that have delivered a consistent performance in the AEI Reports, specifically on the front of public health and basic amenities, really require freebies? Or does it require the proper implementation of welfare policies specifically designed to address urban and rural disparities in access to the five pillars in order to ensure uniformity in development?

As of 2020, Karnataka reports one of the highest numbers of diarrhoea-induced deaths at 7.13 lakhs, followed by Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan at 6.26 lakhs and 6.06 lakhs, respectively. As for access to healthcare, almost 53 percent of patients in the southern states eligible for the Ayushman Bharat scheme accessed private health services due to less-than-ideal health infrastructure.

Right to Health in Rajasthan, a scheme that was aimed at ensuring access to health services in villages, specifically for the impoverished like the STs, fails to fulfil its core aim due to a lack of documentation to avail health services, a goal that was meant to be achieved under the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission. Scenarios like the ones above draw one’s attention to the importance of proper implementation of the five pillars and ensuring ‘access’ to them for all sections of society, in their truest sense.

As is evident, election outcomes underscore the complex and dynamic nature of India's democracy, where voter behaviour is influenced by a blend of development metrics, governance effectiveness, and socio-political issues. As the nation continues to evolve, the shifts in political power in states like Karnataka and Rajasthan offer critical insights into the aspirations and concerns of the Indian electorate, highlighting the importance of responsive and inclusive governance.

(Deepanshu Mohan is Professor of Economics, Dean, IDEAS, Office of Inter-Disciplinary Studies, and Director, Centre for New Economics Studies (CNES), OP Jindal Global University. He is a Visiting Professor at the London School of Economics, and a 2024 Fall Academic Visitor to the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Oxford. Bhanavi Bahl and Aditi Desai are co-leads of the Centre for New Economics Studies' InfoSphere initiative. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for them.)

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