Who Put the BJP in Power?: Decoding the Government's Mandate

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IDFC Institute presented the inaugural IDFC-U roundtable with Neelanjan Sircar, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Center for the Advanced Study of India at the University of Pennsylvania, for a discussion on “Who Put the BJP in Power?: Decoding the Government’s Mandate,” on August 7th, 2014. His presentation was followed by an off-the-record interactive discussion.

Watch excerpts of the discussion below:

During his presentation, Sircar drew on Election Commission of India data and the nationwide pre-election Lok Survey on social attitudes and electoral politics spanning 68,500 respondents. He observed that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 282 seats on 31% of the vote share in 2014, while the Indian National Congress Party (Congress) won just 206 seats on 29% of the vote share in 2009 during the national general elections. He explained that the BJP efficiently converted vote share to seats, but faced significant regional disparities. In fact, much of the BJP victory was attributed to their figuring out how to win the two states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Further, the BJP vote share seemed to correspond with increased voter turnouts.

Sircar explained that the BJP won 66% of the constituencies in which it contested, but displayed significant regional variation. In Bihar, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh, the BJP won 91% of seats it contested, but in Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal, it won only 7% of seats it contested.

Further, in constituencies in which the BJP competed head-to-head against the Congress, it won 88% of contested seats. In Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, the BJP won 85% of contested seats. These two categories yielded 247 out of the 282 seats won by the BJP.

The results, Sircar noted, were extremely regionally concentrated and explained the effective conversion of vote share into seats. So, even though the BJP was able to articulate an effective national vision in its campaign, Sircar said that the BJP was not representative of India in terms of acquiring vote share from across the country. He also observed that the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi maintained his campaign on a positive and national level message, while other allies and affiliates did some of the more controversial bits of campaigning. Furthermore, the BJP still seemed unable to break into constituencies dominated by non-Hindi speaking populations.

Analysing election statistics, Sircar explained that the likelihood of a BJP victory was significantly higher when the increase in voter turnout was greater, and that voters were heavily mobilised in constituencies where the BJP was competitive (defined as competitive if it was one of the top two vote getters in the constituency), particularly in head-to-head competition with the Congress. Conversely, in constituencies where voter turnout increased only marginally, typically the BJP did not win. 

Odisha, however, was an exception, because the state saw increased voter turnout and the BJP was competitive in many constituencies, but it won only one seat, largely because of the strong position of the regional Biju Janata Dal (BJD) party.

In terms of the electorate’s views, Sircar explained that the economy dominated people’s concerns, and surmised that government benefits such as subsidies matter less today than is commonly assumed. He also showed a high convergence between concerns of rural and urban voters, and political preferences of literates across rural and urban areas and those of illiterates across rural and urban areas.

For more details, please see Sircar’s presentation below.


Neelanjan Sircar

Neelanjan Sircar is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi. His research interests include Indian political economy and comparative political behavior with an eye to Bayesian statistics, causal inference, social network analysis, and game theory. He received a Bachelor’s degree in Applied Mathematics and Economics from UC Berkeley in 2003, and a Ph.D. in Political Science from Columbia University in 2014.


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