Crying pollsters. Journos eating humble pie. India and democracy, ‘that delicate thing’

Rashmee Roshan Lall
3 min readJun 8, 2024
A rangoli to mark the 75th anniversary of Indian Independence. Photo: Rashmee Roshan Lall

One of the most interesting spectacles after a significant ‘diary’ event (as we call big set-piece entries on the news calendar) is sight and sound of journalists explaining why they were totally, half-way or only slightly wrong.

Something similar is underway after the Indian election results, which came in on June 4 after a six-week, seven-phase voting period across that vast country.

Narendra Modi at the head of the BJP appeared to have an iron hold on India’s imagination (and free institutions) and journalists seemed content to repeat the opinion polls — that the Hindu nationalist BJP would win another landslide. That the main opposition Congress Party and its ragtag INDIA coalition of parties was a wasted attempt to slow the BJP’s takeover of the country. No one, me included, could’ve foreseen that the BJP would lose its parliamentary majority and be forced into a coalition government and that the Congress-led INDIA bloc is roughly 40 seats behind it and so can hold it to account in parliament.

Journalists eat humble pie in a most charming fashion as you’d expect from people who make their living as communicators. Consider this, from Emma Hogan, The Economist’s Asia editor: “Even when murmurings of a lower turnout seemed to suggest that Mr Modi’s shine was fading, few would have bet that his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would win just 240 seats. Indeed when I was in India last month, the team in our Delhi bureau did a sweepstake. None of us predicted that the BJP would get fewer than 280 seats (however, one of my colleagues based in Mumbai, Leo Mirani, did wager that it would be “less than 272”, when he belatedly joined the competition). I was the most bullish, suspecting that there were many more “quiet Modi” voters than the metropolitan elites in the capital may have accounted for. I bet that the BJP would win seven more seats than in 2019, taking its tally to 310 without its allies in the Lok Sabha. I now owe all of our bureau in Delhi-which is not small-dinner.”

And here’s Bloomberg’s Menaka Doshi, not quite eating humble pie but explaining that Bloomberg’s India newsletter had taken a cautious approach all along: “The verdict is a reminder that although India is home to two of Asia’s top billionaires, it also has 800 million Indians who rely on free grain.

“If Modi’s $142 billion food drive wasn’t enough to secure a thumping win, then his economic policies may need course correction.

“While the government’s fiscal discipline and infrastructure investment-led approach has been appreciated by investors and ratings agencies, with private investment yet to pick up significantly, jobs and consumption remain weak.

“This newsletter had in March pointed out that while billionaires such as Ambani were shining, things were looking gloomier for the average Indian.”

I suppose we should leave it to the non-journos, the former diplomats who bring out the International Intrigue newsletter to have the last word. They asked us all to “spare a thought for Pradeep Gupta, India’s well-known pollster, who wept on live national TV as his (and everyone else’s) forecasts proved wrong. Though that’s the fun of this delicate thing we call democracy.”

Originally published at https://www.rashmee.com

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Rashmee Roshan Lall

PhD. Journalism by trade & inclination. Writer. My novel 'Pomegranate Peace' is about my year in Afghanistan. I teach journalism at university in London