Why BJP’s Lok Sabha outcome resonates with ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’

TV panellists stated a host of reasons for the BJP’s lacklustre performance. But did these explanations hold true?

WrittenBy:Vivek Kaul
Rahul Gandhi, Akhilesh Yadav, Amit Shah and Narendra Modi on a Gangs of Wasseypur poster.

Let’s start this one with a small story. 

In the run-up to the 17th Lok Sabha elections in 2019, I was a part of a TV news channel’s panel analysing the polls. The panellists and the experts who appeared on the channel were largely of the opinion that it would be very difficult for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to repeat its 2014 performance. And they said so in clear and confident terms, making for good TV theatrics.  

Once the votes were counted on May 23, 2019, and results started to come in, it turned out that the BJP not only crossed its 2014 tally of 282 seats but ended up with 303 seats in the Lok Sabha – and me and the other panellists ended up with an egg on our faces. (You can read the complete story here.)

Nonetheless, what I found fascinating was the flip these panellists and other experts appearing on the channel made the moment it became clear that the BJP had ended up in pole position. Within minutes they were offering what they thought were ‘valid’ reasons for the BJP’s win. And these were the same people, who until a night earlier, were confident that the BJP wouldn’t be able to repeat its 2014 performance. 

That was the last time I appeared on a TV channel. Other than the monetary loss, it also led to a dip in my graph amongst relatives, which, after many years of dipping, had finally started to take off when I regularly appeared on TV. 

Now, what happened in 2019 at a significantly smaller level is happening in 2024 at a much larger level. The Noida Film City-based Godi Media and Delhi’s Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg-based so-called national media, were sure that the BJP would win many more seats than in the previous two elections. Of course, the optimism of the Godi Media was significantly higher than that of the national media. 

Once the results were out, and in the days since then, neither the Godi Media nor the national media have gotten around to telling us, “sorry, we got it wrong” – but they seem to have had many explanations to offer on the BJP winning 240 seats in the Lok Sabha instead of the much repeated Abki baar, 400 paar (This time, we will cross 400.)

Of course, the disclaimer here is that the national media has been better at offering these explanations, with a lot of Godi Media gradually going back to what they are the best at – being Godi Media. And not just the national media, everyone from the international media to WhatsApp bhakts, has been busy offering explanations. The human mind likes explanations and stories. It abhors a vacuum. 

Let’s look at some of these reasons. 

1. High inflation. 

2. High unemployment. 

3. The BJP’s divisive campaign did not work and it was a rejection of the politics of 


4. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) did not come out to support the BJP, like it normally does. 

5. The construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya did not turn out to be the huge vote-spinner that it was expected to be.

6. The Agniveer scheme hurt. 

7. The caste-arithmetic did not work. 

8. Farmers did not get remunerative prices for their produce.

9. BJP’s thanda social media campaign.

10. A poor choice of candidates in states such as Uttar Pradesh. 

I guess I can go on and on with this, but let me stop here and make the points I want to make. 

1. Now, none of these reasons came into existence on the afternoon of June 4, when the electoral trend was more or less clear. Almost all of these reasons were as valid on June 4 as they were before the elections started in April. Given that, all the experts offering these reasons now should have been able to use these reasons, and conclude that the BJP won’t get anywhere near 300 seats, forget crossing 400 seats, before the elections started. Now, how many such predictions were made?

2. Let’s look at reasons such as high inflation and high unemployment. These reasons have largely been offered in the context of the BJP winning just 33 seats in Uttar Pradesh, where the alliance between the Samajwadi Party and the Congress won 43 seats.
The data from the Reserve Bank of India shows that in 2022-23, the per capita income of Uttar Pradesh was Rs 47,066 (in constant terms, adjusted for inflation). 

Now, Uttar Pradesh’s per capita income gets a boost, given that parts of the state are very close to Delhi. If a more detailed breakdown of data on the state were available in the public domain, it would be easy to show that a large part of the population in the state makes a lower amount of money per year than the state’s average income. Or, the fact that the income of the average person living in the state is lower than the state’s average income.

In 2022-23, with a per capita income of Rs 31,280, the only state that came below Uttar Pradesh was Bihar. So, issues like high inflation and high unemployment should have been as valid in Bihar as they are in Uttar Pradesh. Given this, those who offer high inflation and high unemployment as reasons for the BJP's poor showing in Uttar Pradesh should also be able to explain why these reasons did not impact the party and its allies as much in Bihar.

3. Now, let’s look at reasons like the divisive campaign not working and the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya not turning out to be a huge vote spinner. Again, if these factors led to the BJP's poor show in Ayodhya, then we need to have an explanation for why the party did well in states like Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Gujarat, practically winning everything that it contested. Or, the fact that the party’s vote share in the southern states went up. So, did these reasons hurt the party in Uttar Pradesh but help it in other states? Or were there other reasons at work in the states that the party did well? 

4. Farmers not getting remunerative prices for their produce – this has also been offered as a reason for electoral losses in states such as Haryana and Punjab. Now, why did it then not matter in states like Bihar, where the procurement system through which the central government buys agricultural produce directly from farmers is very weak?  It could possibly be argued here that caste was the most important factor in Bihar. Then why did the caste alignment work for the BJP and its allies and not for Lalu Prasad Yadav and his allies? And also, what about caste alignment in Uttar Pradesh?

5. The Agniveer scheme for recruitment, which makes the dream of a government job for Indian youth much more difficult, has also been offered as a major reason for the electoral setback. Again, why did it matter in a few states and not in other states? An explanation needs to be offered. 

6. As far as a reason like the BJP’s thanda social media campaign is concerned, this should have been obvious before the elections ended. And so is true about reasons such as poor selection of candidates. I mean, most candidates who lose an election are bound to be poor choices. So, how is that even an explanation? 

7. When it comes to the RSS not actively campaigning for the BJP as it usually does, this is a standard reason that is offered every time the BJP doesn’t do well in an election, particularly in the Hindi heartland. So, while offering this reason, it is also very important to elucidate why the RSS decided not to campaign as actively for the BJP as it normally does. 

Now, this is not to suggest that none of these reasons mattered. Saying anything along those lines would be even more stupid than offering these reasons. Of course, they mattered. But as the British economist Joan Robinson once said: “Whatever you can rightly say about India, the opposite is also true.” This is why, when aggregate all-India reasons are offered as explanations for a political result, it is also very important to offer all the ifs and buts that might be right at the same time. A part that can be different from the whole, is something that needs to be kept in mind when it comes to any all-India-level analysis. 

The trouble is, in order to be able to do this, an analyst or a commentator should have a tremendous hold over the politics and economics of the length and breadth of India, which is easier said than done. And which is why it is just easier to offer reasons like high unemployment, high inflation, mandir-masjid not working, and other general reasons to explain why the BJP ended up with 240 seats without getting into any nuance that might exist across different regions, different states, and even different districts. Indeed, the same set of analysts would have offered a different set of reasons had the BJP won more than 300 seats in the Lok Sabha to explain the party’s win. 

Those who understand this anomaly are essentially saying that this election was fought on local factors, without elaborating on what these local factors were across different states or different regions. And that’s simply because understanding every local factor and still being able to offer coherent, confident, and clear analysis at the end of it is very difficult. There is only so much a human mind can comprehend until bounded rationality sets in. 

Now, this leaves us with a very important question: Why does such a huge market for a post facto election analysis exist? The reason is inherently simple. The human mind likes explanations. It likes stories. It likes rationalisations of an event after it has happened, no matter how unexpected it might have been. A mental vacuum is not a natural state of being. And the market for post-facto electoral analysis simply caters to this human need. There is money to be made trying to predict which way an election will go (read exit polls), and there is money to be made analysing which way an election has gone (read exit polls going all wrong). The market always wins by going where the money is. 

Or as Duncan J. Watts, a computational scientist, once told me in an interview: “Once we know what someone did, we will immediately be able to come up with a plausible explanation for why they did it, at which point it will seem obvious. But what we don't realise when we do this is that if they had instead done the opposite of what they did, we would have been able to explain that just as easily, simply by invoking a different set of reasons.” What is true at an individual level is also true for electoral results, the broader economy, government actions, and business plans. Or, to use the title of a book that Watts wrote, everything is obvious once you know the answer

So, where does that leave us, the humble viewers, the individuals trying to read and understand things, the individuals trying to watch reels, shorts, and videos to understand things, or the quintessential aam aurat or aam aadmi, trying to sound intelligent on social media, among friends, and on WhatsApp? I started this piece with a story. Let me end it with a story as well.

Quite a few years back, a book called Eats, Shoots and Leaves, written by Lynn Truss and basically a book about punctuation in the English language, became a bestseller. And like is the case with any post facto analysis, several reasons were offered for the success of this rather esoteric book. But at the end of the day, there was only one true reason, which, as Watts writes in his book Everything is Obvious Once You Know the Answer, was: “In the end, the only honest explanation may be the one given by the publisher of Lynne Truss's surprise bestseller, Eats, Shoots and Leaves, who, when asked to explain its success, replied that it sold because lots of people bought it.” 

Along similar lines, the BJP did not cross 400 seats in the Lok Sabha, or, for that matter, did not even cross 250 seats, because it won only 240 seats. And given that any true analysis of the BJP's performance not meeting expectations should start with its vote share, In the elections to the 18th Lok Sabha, the party won 36.6 percent of the votes polled. In the 2019 elections to the 17th Lok Sabha, it had won 37.7 percent of the votes polled. So, how did just a 1.1 percent drop in votes polled by the party lead to a fall of 63 seats in the Lok Sabha (303 seats minus 240 seats)? Any serious answer needs to start by first addressing this question, otherwise, the analysts are just feeding into the noise and ensuring that they continue paying their EMIs. 

Or as the greatest Indian fictional philosopher Ramadhir Singh from Wasseypur in Dhanbad, Jharkhand, once said: “Sabke dimaag mein apna apna sanima chal raha hai (Everyone has got their own movies running in their minds.)” 

Vivek Kaul is the author of Bad Money.

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