Angry Indian Voters: Can Centre and State Governments Act Jointly To Calm Them?

Delivery of poll promises, jobs, food election after election, has been the single point messaging from the voter.

8 min read
Hindi Female

Indian electorate comprising smart people has been clear on what they want. Indian political milieu has changed tremendously in the last few decades and it continues to change. While issues highlighted by the national media are picked up as "talking points" and "big debates", it is not enough to waver the resolve of a resolute electorate and what it wants.

It wants delivery. Delivery of poll promises, jobs, food—election after election, this has been the single point messaging from the voter. And by ousting the non-performers, they manifest their desires.

Who Does India’s Blood Boil Over?

This is precisely what Indians have indicated in the latest Anger Index— a quarterly survey conducted by CVoter. We asked Indian citizens who were they most angry with and given a chance to change one of them immediately, who would they pick?

The options for the respondents ranged between three layers of Governance viz Central government, State government and Local government followed by three layers of Govt heads Prime Minister, Chief Minister and, Local Mayor/Sarpanch and eventually ending with elected representatives at each layer: Sitting MP, Sitting MLA or sitting Corporator/Panchayat member. Thus, the 3x3 matrix of 9 layers of anti-incumbency is being mapped on daily basis across all States.

Survey responses were very interesting, and some insights indicated that the Indian voter still remains the most powerful enforcer of change in the world's largest democracy.


Sarpanch More Trustworthy Than CM

Almost half of India wants their state government to change immediately. At least, 46.6% expressed anger against their state government with 24.6% angry with their Chief Minister. Anger against central governance stood at 34.8% while a meagre 18.6% were unhappy with their local governance.

This strengthens the age-old point that the grassroots political system in India is still what several Indians depend and count on.

Comparatively, anger against the state government (10.7%) and the sitting MLA (11.2%) is way higher than the anger against local sarpanch (8.1%) and the local panchayat (5.1%). Alternatively, the best-performing CMs are grappling with the non-performance of their sitting MLAs.

Almost all the top-rated CMs have their sitting MLAs rated in really poor numbers by the electorate. Similarly, the states where ratings of PM Modi are rocket high are also the states where the ratings of sitting BJP MPs are rock bottom.

PM’s Popularity Remains Rock Solid

When analysed closely, the data clearly shows that the majority of Indians at this moment are placing most of their trust in the local governance and larger faith in the Central government than the state. The popularity of Narendra Modi remains unwavering as only 17.9% blame the Prime Minister for poor machinations of state governance.

Here's where the data gets more curious. While 66.8% are angry with state governance in Telangana, they rated their local governance quite high.

Telangana has topped the list of states where people are most satisfied with their local politicians— only 5.4% are angry with the state of local governance. Overall, anger against local governance outweighed anger against state and central government.

One of the reasons for these figures could be that the smart Indian electorate places more faith in the local leaders than those whom they only periodically face rather than the State level leaders who don't really visit the constituencies after winning the Vidhan Sabha or Lok Sabha elections. The physical proximity of a public servant is clearly more important for respondents.

Metro City-Dwellers Unhappy With Municipalities

However, this public perception changes from state to state. There seems to be a new trend in Mega Metros where local municipalities have the budget and resources at par with many smaller State Governments. For example, Delhi and Maharashtra respondents have expressed maximum unhappiness with the local municipal governance rather than their respective state governments.

This underlines the huge anger getting built up at the municipal-level governance in India's political capital and the financial capital, both of which are likely to hold the much-hyped Municipality Elections in coming months.

If we put this simply in electoral terms: the BJP ruling in MCD Delhi and the Shiv Sena ruling in BMC Mumbai should be red flagged with the anger index above danger levels raised against their sitting Corporators and Mayors.

If the trendline of the Anger Index is taken to be something of a bell weather, the BJP is likely to face the anti-incumbency heat in Delhi while the MVA partner Shiv Sena might get into rough weather in Mumbai.

Do Indians Have a Real Sense of Governance?

The data will not surprise those who understand how Indian politics veers towards personalities who emerge as political anchors for their parties. Since 2014, Modi has become a towering figure in terms of popularity among Indians. So much so, that if a particular state government was doing well, the electorate would jump to credit the central government, especially PM Modi's leadership, for a job well done.

The data could also mean that Indians have a skewed view of how the governments in India work. The number of respondents unhappy with the Prime Minister (leader of the Centre) outweigh the number of those unhappy with the central government.

This only means while the brownie points of all important works done by Centre are credited in PM Modi ratings, in the states where the Central government is discredited, the blame also lands at the personal ratings of the Prime Minister.

Equally true are trends at the state level, where all CEO-styled chief ministers get the credit done by the state governments, but they also end up facing the public anger as and when the disenchantment with the state government seeps in.

‘State Govts Reel Under Anti-Incumbency Sentiments’

Indians have a natural dislike for those who have already been in power, except Narendra Modi but anti-incumbency sentiments factor more during elections than anything else. Before every election, political parties focus first on anti-incumbency factors and then create their manifesto to make a lasting impression on the voters.

However, appeasing the voters with empty promises isn't working anymore. In a world enabled by tech and social media, imagine a sugarcane farmer sitting in a village in West Champaran district of Bihar, who has access to what other sugarcane farmers in the world are doing and how the government is enabling them. And then they ponder over their own situation. Political rhetoric, cliched statements and mere words will not assuage these farmers but actual work will. And the Anger Index, precisely, proves this point. Anti-incumbency sentiments are higher against state governments compared to the Central government; the survey showed.

India's federal structure and the continuously deteriorating relations between several state governments and the BJP-led central government have been a point of debate since 2014. While Narendra Modi has himself said that India's federal structure has emerged as a "model for the world" post COVID-19 debacle, the political chasms between several state governments and Centre continue to grow. And the electorate clearly understands this.

State vs Centre: Political CEOs Battle It Out

According to the Anger Index, 46.6% respondents are unhappy with their state governance while 34.8% are angry with the Central government. Indians are most miffed with their Chief Ministers (24.6%) while only 17.9% are unhappy with PM Narendra Modi.

Lack of a healthy relationship between state and central governments came into the open during the first wave of COVID-19 in India - the centre blamed the state machinery for not being robust enough and the state governments, in turn, called out Centre on not being given enough notice before imposing the lockdown.

Similar discord was witnessed when the migrant exodus happened in the middle of the pandemic. The state governments were not equipped to handle the load that was returning home which resulted in several being stranded midway and many dying due to COVID.

Nevertheless, in the past few years (since 2014, to be precise), Centre-State relations have been politicised for various reasons.

Since 2014, non-NDA parties have been less than willing to play along with Centre reforms. Some of the more vocal ones like Bengal's Mamata and Maharashtra's Uddhav have historically not gotten along with Centre. But it's clear from these numbers that partisan divides between the NDA and non-NDA ruled states are starting to overshadow the vision of cooperative federalism promoted in the first half of Modi's term in office.

Southern States Continue To Rate the Centre Poorly

Apart from Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Kerala are most unhappy with Central governance at 48.4%, 47.7% and 46.6% respectively. The anti-BJP and anti-Modi sentiments in the southern states could be the reason behind these states' unhappiness with the Centre. These figures are also telling since BJP's electoral account in the southern states is dismal.

Additionally, growing discontent between non-BJP states and the Centre and their public discourse could have been the reason for the growing sentiments of unhappiness. As far as Punjab is concerned, the prime minister and the Central government probably garnered a poor rating post the protests against the farm laws and the eventual scrapping of it.

It is important to mention here that Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Punjab have been consistently returning poor ratings for the PM for the last eight years. In political terms, these three states also happen to be the final frontier that BJP needs to cross electorally in quest of becoming India's default party of governance, a term which analysts reserved for Congress for almost six decades after Independence.


Are Unemployment and Public Anger Linked?

The survey results showed interesting correlation between anger against the Chief Minister and the recently-released unemployment data in India.

As far as the data suggests, Indians are clearly not biased towards a BJP or a non-BJP ruled state when it comes to their anger against their state governments and chief ministers. Indians are most angry with Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot (a Congress leader) and least angry with Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel (another Congress leader). India Tracker delved a little deeper on this point.

Rajasthan numbers aren't surprising given the latest crisis in the Rajasthan government and the open rebellion between the two powerheads in the state Congress - Pilot and Gehlot. The latter has been referred to as a "reluctant CM", however, once Pilot's name was floated as the new CM the crisis in the state unit deepened. This wasn't the first time that the state leadership was divided over a power struggle. While the state leadership, the CM included, was so busy with infighting, Rajasthan also registered the highest unemployment rate, according to  Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) data.

While Rajasthan ranked second on the list of rampant joblessness at 28.8%, according to CMIE data, Haryana took the top slot and stood at 34.5%. According to the Anger Index, 35.4% Indians are angry with Rajasthan CM, while equally mighty 30.7% were miffed with the Haryana CM. In Bihar, where unemployment stood at 21.1%, at least 32% are angry with Nitish Kumar.

Interestingly, Chhattisgarh recently emerged as a state with least unemployment rates among all the states; and one can't overlook the fact that Chhattisgarh CM has emerged top ranked as far as managing the public anger is considered.

Ironically, the trend is not visible in all states. Himachal and Telangana, which ranked poorly on the Anger Index, ranked decently on the rate of joblessness. While a whopping 66.8% are angry with the Telangana state government, and 63% expressed their unhappiness with the Himachal Pradesh government, the unemployment rate in both states stood at 8.3% and 9.2%, respectively.

Alternatively, states that recorded least anger with their state governments and their chief ministers have shown good ratings on the unemployment chart.

State Least angry with State Level Governance CMIE Unemployment Rate

Delivery of poll promises, jobs, food election after election, has been the single point messaging from the voter.

State Level Governance CMIE Unemployment Rate

(Image: Kamran Akhter/The Quint)


CMIE data, juxtaposed with the anger index findings, decisively prove what analysts and pundits parrot after every election results - the electorate doesn't need promises, they want results. Labour markets are showing signs of economic distress as India's labour force fell by 38 lakhs in the month of March, lowest level in the last eight months.

In a statement, CMIE said millions left the labour markets, they stopped even looking for employment, possibly too disappointed with their failure to get a job and under the belief that there were no jobs available. And they clearly blame their CMs and state governments for it.

(Yashwant Deshmukh is the Founder Editor of CVoter and Devparna Acharya is Executive Editor of India Tracker at CVoter Foundation.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Read Latest News and Breaking News at The Quint, browse for more from opinion

Topics:  Narendra Modi   Chief Minister   Sarpanch 

Speaking truth to power requires allies like you.
Become a Member
3 months
12 months
12 months
Check Member Benefits
Read More