Analyzing the pro-incumbency in Bengaluru

May 16, 2023 Vaidya R

Going into the election last week, an analysis in Citizen Matters by Deep C and Srinivas Alavilli had found that 16 of the 28 MLAs in Bengaluru had been in their seat since 2008. 22 of the 28 MLAs had been in their seats for more than one term. Only six MLAs were first-timers.

Most of the same parties/MLAs from 2018 win again

Now that the results are out, what we saw was that 23 of the 28 MLAs retained their seats. In two other constituencies the parties changed the candidates and retained the seats. Effectively, there was no change in party in 25 of the 28 seats.

Bengaluru election results – 2018 and 2023

The only changes were in Dasarahalli, Govindarajanagar and Jayanagar constituencies. The incumbents in Dasarahalli and Jayanagar had been first-time MLAs, and in Govindarajanagar the sitting MLA, V. Somanna was not given a ticket to contest the same constituency. All three constituencies reverted to the parties who had won in 2013.

A similar scenario unfolded in Pulakeshinagar and Mahadevapura where the sitting MLAs were denied tickets by their parties, but the same parties retained the constituencies. At the time of writing, Jayanagar is under dispute as the margin was only 16 votes, but we are going with the latest Election Comission of India (ECI) status.

What does the vote share tell?

In terms of vote-share, we looked at the difference between the vote-share of the winners and the runners-up to determine how closely contested the election was. If the vote share was less than one percentage points, we called it a “hair’s width” win, while between one and five percentage points it was considered a “close” contest. A comfortable win was between 5 and 20 percentage points, an easy win between 20 and 30 percentage points. Anything more than 30 percentage points difference between the winner and runner-up was considered a no-contest.

For e.g., in Gandhinagar constituency, the winner Dinesh Gundu Rao of INC had a vote-share of 40.81% and his nearest rival, Sapthagiri Gowda of BJP finished with 40.73%. This gave a difference of 0.15 percentage points making it a victory for the incumbent with a hair’s width margin. At the other end, in Chamrajapet constituency, Zameer Ahmed Khan of INC garnered 62.22% of the vote share, while his nearest rival, Bhaskar Rao of BJP, finished with 18.98% of the votes, for a difference of 43.24 percentage points, rendering it a no-contest.

Vote-share difference in Bengaluru constituencies
Vote-share differences in core constituencies of Bengaluru

As can be seen above, in two constituencies the contest was neck and neck with the victory margin too tight. In four constituencies, the battle was close with less than 5 percentage points separating the winners from their nearest rivals.

However, in 13 constituencies, the winners had a comfortable win, while in 3 constituencies it was an easy victory. Most concerning is that in 6 constituencies, it was no-contest with the rivals hardly putting up a fight. What it means is that in 22 constituencies the victory margin was more than five percentage points.

Interestingly, the biggest difference was in Pulakeshinagar constituency where the sitting MLA, Akanda Srinivasa Murthy was denied a ticket by his party, the INC. A.C. Srinivasa who was given the ticket in his stead, went on to win with a vote share of 66.72%, with Akanda Srinivasa Murthy, standing on a BSP ticket, managing to get only 19.18% of the votes.

What makes a contest close?

One of the differences noticed among the 25 constituencies where incumbent parties won was that in some constituencies the rivals were those who had stood in 2018 also, while in most constituencies the rivals were candidates who were representing their party in 2023 for the first time. What difference does having a repeat candidate make in the outcome of an election? We tried to find out.

Vote-share difference vs number of elections the rival has fought

What we found was that a candidate appearing in their second election or more had a significant vote-share which meant a very close contest with the incumbent. We also found that, in 21 of the 25 constituencies where incumbent parties won, the rival candidate was standing in that constituency for the first time.

The exception was Chickpet where RV Devaraj of INC, who had been the MLA of Chickpet from 2013 to 2018, managed 35% of the votes against 44% of Uday Garudachar, who was a first-time MLA looking for his second term. The other oddity was Pulakeshinagar which is mentioned above. In Mahadevapura, the sitting MLA, Arvind Limbavali was denied a ticket by BJP, but his wife Manjula S. represented BJP and won comfortably. Clearly, in both these cases, the parties had done their homework well.

In Bangalore South, M. Krishnappa retained his seat despite having to face R.K. Ramesh of INC for the second time. However, despite increasing his vote-share from 2018 to 2023 to close to 40%, R.K. Ramesh lost by a larger margin as the winner increased his vote share at the expense of the third party – JDS.

Yeshwantpur constituency has had ST Somashekar as the MLA since 2013. His biggest rival from 2013 has been T.N. Javarayi Gowda of JDS who has managed to keep the vote-share gap to less than 5 percentage points since 2018. A.R. Sapthagiri Gowda of BJP who lost to Dinesh Gundu Rao of INC by a margin of 105 votes was also his nearest rival in 2018 when he lost by 10,000 votes.

What this shows is while on one hand a party has a higher chance of defeating a rival by persisting with the same candidate through multiple elections, on the other hand, in most of the constituencies in Bengaluru the incumbents had to fight completely new candidates, many of whom were standing in an assembly election for the first time.

Persisting with a losing candidate across multiple elections helps the candidate develop a base in the constituency which can be used to upset an incumbent by increasing vote-share across elections. On the other hand, fighting elections is a costly affair, and it could be hard for a candidate to persist for more than two elections without reward. As can be seen above, Javarayi Gowda and RV Devaraj seem to be the only old faces in the fray who have fought more than two elections in the same constituency.

This partly explains how MLAs in Bengaluru get “stuck” to their seats. As a first-time MLA your biggest rival during re-election is likely to be the same from the last election. If you manage to win this contest, you are likely to retain your seat for more terms as your main rival is no longer around to challenge you anymore and you are likely to face first-timers in subsequent elections.