As the six-week-long Lok Sabha elections enters its final two phases, predictions about the results made by former psephologist Yogendra Yadav and former political strategist Prashant Kishor have stirred a debate over the last few days – as much for their contradictory forecasts as for the motivations being attributed to each of the men for reaching those conclusions.

Yadav, who heads the Swaraj Abhiyan political party, has said in several interviews that the Bharatiya Janata Party will fall short of the majority mark of 272 seats in the Lok Sabha, losing at least 50 seats from its 2019 tally of 303. Kishor, on the other hand, the chief of the Jan Suraaj political party, has predicted that the BJP is well poised to retain its current tally and could in fact add to it.

The diametrically opposite predictions from two men who have been in the business of analysing elections have been dissected avidly and the two have defended their conclusions vigorously. This was seen most dramatically on Wednesday, when journalist Karan Thapar asked Kishor about an election prediction he made in 2022 that proved to be wrong, sparking a heated exchange.

On social media, Yadav and Kishor have both been accused of being biased in their assessments. Yadav, after all, was one of the convenors of Congress MP Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra campaign, while Kishor was the BJP’s political strategist when the party came to power at the Centre in 2014.

Yadav has explained that his predictions are based on field trips across many states. Kishor, meanwhile, has said that forecasts arrived at on the basis of such trips tend to inaccurate. He said that his numbers were based on the lack of anger against the Modi government.

Here’s how Yadav and Kishore have explained the methods they have used to reach their conclusions.

Difference methodologies

Neither Yadav nor Kishor have cited granular data to support their claims. Yadav has made his predictions based on anecdotal evidence he and a team of colleagues collected as they visited several parts of India. Kishor has said that his claims are based on his analysis of the political situation.

Yadav told The Wire on Tuesday that his team had visited villages in several constituencies in eastern and western Uttar Pradesh, eastern Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka and Bihar.

“Some six or eight of us went to different tolas [areas] of the villages we visited and then exchanged the responses that we received,” Yadav said. For the states that his team did not visit, his predictions were based on inputs from local journalists.

Based on this, Yadav went on to provide a state-wise breakup of the possible gains and losses for the BJP in terms of number of seats.

Yogendra Yadab said that his predictions are based on trips across several states. (Photo: Yogendra Yadav/Facebook)

Meanwhile, Kishore in several interviews over the last few days did not mention whether he had based his conclusions on any surveys. His opinion seems to be based on his assessment of the public mood.

In his interviews, Kishor said that voters were to an extent disappointed with the Modi government’s performance and that the individual popularity of the prime minister had waned. But, he added, the Opposition has failed to do enough to translate this sentiment into an electoral victory.

“Two things can dislodge a government,” Kishor said in his interview to NDTV. “Either there needs to be widespread anger among the voters to remove the incumbent or there has to be a clamour to bring a new government to power.” Kishor said that both these factors were missing on the ground.

State-wise numbers vs cumulative figures

The difference in their methods is reflected in the way they presented their numbers. Yadav, elaborating on his claim that the BJP would lose at least 50 seats from its 2019 tally, gave a state-wise breakup. Kishore, however, spoke only about “cumulative figures”.

In his interview to The Wire, Yadav said that the BJP could gain up to four seats in Odisha, two seats in Telangana and three in Andhra Pradesh. He added that if the BJP performed really well in the southern states, it could win Puducherry constituency, and one seat each in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

For West Bengal, another state where the BJP hopes to improve its performance, Yadav said that a repeat of the 2019 results was expected. In that election, the BJP had won 18 seats and the Trinamool Congress 22.

Coming to states where the BJP’s tally could fall, Yadav said that the party could lose five of the 17 seats it holds in Bihar, six of its 10 seats in Haryana, eight of the 25 it holds in Rajasthan, 12 of 25 in Karnataka and 10 seats across Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.

In Maharashtra, the National Democratic Alliance of the BJP and the Shiv Sena before the Maharashtra party split had won 41 seats in 2019. Yadav predicted that this time the National Democratic Alliance of BJP, and factions of the Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party, will lose 20 seats from 2019.

He spoke at length about Uttar Pradesh, the largest state with 80 seats, of which the BJP had won 62 in 2019. This time, Yadav predicted, the tally could fall to 50.

“I have travelled more than 1,000 kilometres in Uttar Pradesh,” Yadav said. “Those who voted for the Samajwadi Party are not changing sides, but I found that one in every five or six of those who voted for the BJP are doing so.”

Yadav added that in 2019, the BJP had a 13% lead over its rivals in Uttar Pradesh, in terms of vote share. “By all estimates, this lead will come down to 5%,” he said. “And if that happens, by sheer logic of psephology, the BJP cannot win more than 50 seats in Uttar Pradesh.”

Kishor, in his media interactions, has not given a state-wise analysis of his predictions. Asked by Mojo Story to explain his claim that the BJP would not just retain its current tally but could make some gains, he said: “In the west and north, where the BJP wins bulk of its seats, it will not face any material damage. I do not want to go seat-by-seat or state-by-state.”

In the interview to The Wire, Kishor said that he would consider it to be a “material damage” for the BJP in states in the north and west only if the party lost more than 50 seats. He added that in the eastern and southern states, the BJP will improve both its vote share and seat tally, repeating that he did not provide a state-wise analysis.

Claims of bias

To counter the allegations of bias, both Yadav and Kishor have tried to distance their predictions from their political affiliations.

In an interview to News24 television channel, Yadav was candid in saying that in 2022, his own political party Swaraj Abhiyan had decided to suspend operations and back the Congress and other Opposition parties in their fight against the BJP “in the interest of the country”.

But in several other interviews, Yadav has claimed that his election predictions were independent of his political leanings. “I really try very hard to keep my hopes and my assessments separate,” he told India Today.

Criticised about the fact that he got the predictions wrong for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Yadav said that he had altered his forecast after Indian Air Force’s air strikes against a Jaish-e-Mohammad training camp in Pakistan’s Balakot two months before the elections.

“Everyone is now quoting a statement I made in December 2018 that the BJP could be down 100 seats,” Yadav told Mojo Story. “What everyone omits is that the moment Balakot happened, I said that this [2019] election was over.”

After many social media users claimed that Kishor had been speaking favourably for the BJP in order to boost the party’s chances in the remaining phases of the election, he too denied having any bias. Noting that he had not given interviews in the last few months, Kishor told The Wire that his intentions of speaking to the media during the last legs of the election was “not to please, or displease, or influence anyone”.

Throwing darts

In his interviews, Kishore has also defended his decision of not making state-wise predictions, saying that it was not possible to be accurate in such forecasts.

“You visit Uttar Pradesh once and make predictions about who is winning 20 seats, but the state has one lakh villages,” Kishor told Mojo Story. “When I was in Bengal, someone told me he had surveyed the state for six months. But even then how many booths could you possibly cover? And how do you know that the voters you surveyed earlier have not changed their minds in six months?”

There was not enough anger on the ground against the Modi government, said Prashant Kishor. (Photo: Anindito Mukherjee/Reuters)

Kishor did not criticise Yadav’s methods directly, but in his interviews, he said that the anti-BJP wave that some political analysts were citing in their assessments was the result of the “baseline effect”.

In an interview to The Wire, he explained: “The expectations were so high that you thought when I go to the ground to cover, I will only find fans of Modi. The moment you are not finding that, coupled with low voter turnout, you are trying to correlate it” with an anti-BJP wave.

Yadav, on his part, has directly countered Kishor’s predictions. He told The Wire that it was contradictory for Kishor to predict an increase in the BJP’s tally despite saying that the voters were unhappy with the party and that Modi’s popularity had declined.