Saturday, April 2, 2011

Which way will SHG Vote Swing?: Battle for Tamil Nadu

In 1994, Chandra Babu Naidu of the Telegu Desam was quick to grasp the huge potential of SHGs to swing tightly fought electoral contests. He then supported the anti-arrack (local liquor) agitation that was spearheaded by Self-Help Group (SHG)s and rode the accompanying wave that catapulted him as Chief Minister of the state for two terms. When he betrayed SHGs by removing prohibition and encouraging for-profit micro-finance agencies like SKS; SHARE; BASIX, SPANDANA etc who exploited the poor; SHGs turned against Naidu, one of the major reasons why he was booted out of office unceremoniously. 

That's the power of SHGs.  From then on, SHGs had been increasingly targeted as a vote bank in many parts of the country. However, they rarely behave as a single vote bank as these are basically disparate groups, showing large variations in their demographic and socio-economic profiles, particularly caste electoral behaviour.

At least 1/6th voters in Tamil Nadu are members of Self-Help Groups (SHGs). There are an estimated 500,000 to 800,000 SHGs within the state with each unit having a membership of 20. Collectively, they comprise half of Tamil Nadu's roughly 30-40 million of the state's total electorate. It is not merely the strength of the membership alone that makes SHGs a significant constituency which no politician can ignore. Research studies indicate that each SHG member could influence the voting pattern of at least 3 other non-SHG members.

Little wonder that the two main alliances in the state are bending backwards to woo SHGs. The DMK alliance promised each member of a SHG Rs 5,000-10,000 as a grant. Its rival, the AIADMK promised Rs 1 million to each SHG, three fourth as loans at soft interest rates and the remainder as a subsidy. 

So how will SHGs vote in the current Tamil Nadu Assembly Elections? 

 We have great pleasure to bring you an opinion poll conducted by Bhakther Solomon,   development practitioner-consultant, Chennai. Bhakther has nearly 40 years of experience within the NGO sector and have previously worked with international agencies such as ActionAid. His organization DPG has a fairly large network of micro-credit SHGs, spread over Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

An economist by academic qualifications, Bhakther was magnetically drawn into the science of psephology twenty-five years ago just as several other economists including Pranab Roy of NDTV, the master psephologist in the country. Bhakther's opinion polls have been frequently published in leading newspapers such as Times of India; Kannada Prabha; Dinamalar, The Hindu etc since 1989.

In Tamil Nadu, where two alliances DMK and AIADMK usually alternatively come to power, Bhakther’s surveys have always captured the main change trend and often hit the bulls-eye in terms of both vote and seat shares. In Karnataka, Bhakther’s opinion polls hit the bulls-eye repeatedly and had been among the handful of polls that captured the rise of the BJP to power in the state.

SHGs positive tilt towards a particular alliance has a high likelihood to place that alliance in the lead over its rival. The fieldwork for Bhakther's opinion polls among SHG members was undertaken mid-March. It suggests that DMK holds a healthy edge over its rival AIADMK. But as much as 20% are still undecided and as 13th April, voting day approaches, this category will very quickly dwindle in numbers as people make up their minds. It is really for this 20% undecided category, the rival political alliances are pulling out all stops to woo.

For more details on one of its kind opinion poll, read here: