If, like me, you formed the impression last week that the BJP had triumphed in the recent state elections whilst the Congress was simply routed, the following facts are not just a useful corrective but proof of how incomplete and, possibly, misleading was the press coverage we initially received.
First, Assam. No doubt winning was a huge achievement for the BJP, but if you compare the party’s performance in 2016 to 2014, something else also becomes clear. The number of assembly segments it ‘won’ came down from 69 to 60 and its vote share shrank from 37% to 30%. On the other hand, even after losing, the Congress’s vote share was bigger than that of the BJP (31% vs. 29.5%), although that’s because it fought more seats. So, despite victory, the BJP has to contend with a declining trend in terms of seats and vote share compared to 2014.
Next, West Bengal. In 2014 the BJP’s vote share was 17% and it was ahead in 24 assembly segments. Two years later the former diminished to 10% and the latter collapsed to just three. Seen in this light, West Bengal is not just a disappointment but a setback.
Third, Kerala. Here the BJP is proud of the fact it opened its account by winning a seat for the first time. That, admittedly, is a critical and credible achievement. However, in 2014 the party was ahead in four assembly segments. In 2016 it won only one. Second, although its vote share increased compared to 2011, it was static at 11% compared to 2014. Third, when BJP spokesmen boast of a 15% vote share in Kerala they are cleverly, but quietly, adding that of their allies to their own. The actual picture is different to the carefully concocted one.
Finally, Tamil Nadu. Here the vote share of 6% in 2014 halved to 3% this year. Consequently, the seven assembly segments the BJP commanded two years earlier were completely wiped out in 2016. It didn’t win a single seat.
Now let’s step back from the individual state pictures and take an overall view. Apart from the Assam victory, which is stunning, in the other three states — West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala — and Pondicherry (which, incidentally, the Congress won), the BJP won only four seats. Altogether in five states it won 64. In comparison, the Congress won 100. Again, the BJP’s overall vote share in these states fell from 17% in 2014 to 13% in 2016. The Congress’s vote share slipped from 19 to 18.
One last fact, though a little complicated, gives a clear picture of the contrast between the two big parties in these four states and Pondicherry. In 2014 the BJP contested 590 assembly segments and won 104. In 2016 it contested 661 segments but won only 64. The Congress in 2014 contested 749 assembly segments and won 110. Two years later it contested only 344 segments but still won 100.
My conclusion is simple. The media over-egged the BJP’s performance and presented a picture of grand success whereas the truth is more nuanced and somewhat less glowing. In contrast, the media interpreted the results as an unmitigated rout for the Congress when, in fact, there are many silver linings that could cheer up the dark clouds, including over Assam.
Finally, we should always look beyond the headlines — no victory is as supreme as the hyperbole suggests. No defeat is as damning as the cartoons portray.