The fog of opinion polls
By : M.J. Akbar
May I make a fervent plea to the Indian Election Commission for some immediate electoral reform? This prayer is placed before the Commission rather than Parliament because it is within their remit to make this change.
Could the Commission kindly ensure that results are never declared on a Sunday? This makes life terribly difficult for the crowded and varied group of columnists and pundits who enjoy making an appearance, clothed in wisdom, in the Sunday papers.
You see, we are used to being wise after the event. Please do not force us to be wise before the results, on Saturday, when we need to do the writing. This intrudes heavily on our already stretched resources of knowledge, interpretation, analysis. The strain is difficult to bear. We are human. We hate the thought of egg on our face.
When exit polls for the Bihar election swing as widely as they have this week, our insecurity becomes that much more intense. Both sides can read the predictions that suit them; the unaffiliated grope in confusion, with a shrug as their only consolation until the big bell rings and the referee begins the countdown.
Being a member of a political party, and hence partisan, it is but obvious that I find Chanakya’s prediction of 155 seats for NDA the most palatable. I take comfort in his past success, noting that even if sometimes he did not get the figure right, he always correctly spotted the trend that the vote was taking.
This estimate, in my view, reflects the enthusiasm shown by the massive crowds which came to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rallies, and the electric response of the young.
But here is a suggestion for all companies in the prediction business. I hope they check their estimates with the most realistic entry and exit polls in the fray: bookies. Their methodology is not vastly different, actually.
Moreover, bookies investigate every single constituency before notching up their numbers. Opinion poll companies can afford to make mistakes, because they pick up their cheque in advance. Bookies can’t. Each mistake costs them serious money.
Some election results were declared on Saturday. They were not on a Bihar scale. They did not consume the lung space or national attention given to Bihar. But they offered significant signals for the future. The results of local elections in Kerala told a very interesting story.
The Left Front was ahead of the Congress-led UDF, which means that the weather has changed and the Left could be back in power in Kerala after next year’s Assembly elections.
The message that is emerging from across the country, whether Ladakh or Assam or Kerala, is that irrespective of who wins Congress has lost the confidence of the electorate. In Kerala, the UDF has been weighed down by the burden of carrying Congress. But that is not the only message.
According to trends available at the time of writing, Congress has lost the corporation elections in Thiruvananthapuram, a celebrity seat that Congress held in 2014. Remarkably, BJP has made impressive gains in a number of district towns and a few rural regions, becoming the largest single party in Palakkad, ahead of UDF and the Left.
Perhaps Congress leaders think that things cannot get any worse after the nadir of 2014. Maybe they should think again. The reason is clear. Congress political tactics this year have floated out of the range of common sense. The people will not support obduracy and hysteria. It is the job of opposition to oppose, but there is always a measure.
The response must be reasonable and proportionate. Under Rahul Gandhi, Congress has developed expertise in creating mountains out of molehills. Since these mountains are full of air, they get punctured. Voters can hardly be expected to endorse thoughtless obstruction of governance and development.
The Election Commission is certainly not thoughtless, nor does it seek to disrupt governance; it does a fine job with impressive integrity. But there is still room for a second plea — this time, a serious one.
Do elections in one state have to stretch into months? It surely cannot be the case that our authorities do not possess the resources for conducting more than an average of 50 MLA seats on each polling day, which was the Bihar average. An obese election may provide some excellent theater for all of us, but it effectively interrupts governance.
One is not talking of a pause only in Bihar, but also diversion of national attention and time. A stand-alone Bihar election can be easily wrapped up in two days. Trust me, the longest thank you notes will come from politicians, with only slightly shorter ones from voters.
M. J. Akbar is an eminent Indian journalist and a national spokesperson of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Write to him at: email@example.com
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in the Column section are their own and do not reflect RiyadhVision’s point-of-view.