Do populist welfare schemes necessarily help in winning votes? Data shows a different trend. Why else would the Congress party post such a dismal show in state elections even after the landmark food security bill, steep hike in MSP, universal education and health insurance schemes and the over-arching Bharat Nirman programme. A faster economic growth, which generates jobs, raises income and reduces poverty, is a big factor for the ruling party. But even that is not enough. Governance and other factors do play a major role. Which ever way you look at it, sensing the pulse of voters is becoming a difficult task for all parties.
Still, political parties leave no stone unturned to win back the confidence of voters. The biggest doles that have been rolled out by successive governments are in the form of subsidies on fuels, food and fertiliser. The resultant effect of the rising subsidy bill has been quite detrimental to the fisc but hasn't helped the ruling party at the Centre always. Same is the case for welfare schemes. Some of the schemes rolled out by the UPA such as farmers debt waiver and MGNREGS may have helped the Congress Party to come back to power in 2009. But the same party failed to gain ground in UP, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. CAG has pointed out an interesting trend – states which had the highest number of poor household were not the biggest
beneficiary of the scheme. So, it's not just the scheme per se but its implementation is what matters the most. Even in case of the world's largest health insurance scheme Rashtriya Swashtya Bima Yojana (RSBY), independent studies show awareness about the benefit of the scheme have been pretty low.
On the macro front, some of the states which have been very progressive in terms of infrastructure development and economic growth such as Delhi and Rajasthan, have seen a change in guard. However, voters in other fast growing states including Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh have shown solidarity with the ruling party. So growth is necessary but not a sufficient one to win elections.