Exit Polls, Modi, Rahul And Post-Truth Newsrooms – BloombergQuint

Can anybody tell us why the counting for the Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Mizoram elections could not begin at 5 pm on Friday, Dec. 7, right after the polling ended for Rajasthan and Telangana? The latter two states could have been counted on Tuesday, Dec. 11, in case four days were needed for mopping up operations; but why hold off on the three earlier states? As a colleague of mine put it colourfully, the authorities had enough time to move the electronic voting machines “to the Moon and back”, then why? WHY?

Exit Polls, Modi, Rahul And Post-Truth Newsrooms

Three Governments And 10 Crore Citizens On Administrative Standstill

Why have three states and 10 crore citizens been on an administrative standstill for several weeks, wasting billions of productive man-hours in idle gossip and titillating video downloads? Is it because we just have no respect for time in our country? Yesterday is the same as tomorrow for our jaded rule-makers? Or does bureaucratic sloth keep us tethered to ‘outdated traditions’? Or do we enjoy the tamasha (spectacle) of wildly inconsistent exit polls on television, three of which would have become redundant if Chhattisgarh, MP, and Mizoram had begun counting at 5 pm on Friday?

Ajmer: Election officers stand in queue  in Ajmer, on Dec. 7, 2018. (Photograph: PTI)
Ajmer: Election officers stand in queue in Ajmer, on Dec. 7, 2018. (Photograph: PTI)

Yes, I think that’s it! We enjoy the meaningless chatter that is inflicted on the nation for 75 hours by television anchors, partisan pundits and trainee politicians. Just look at the muddle peddled by contrasting exit polls – out of nine, three predict a Congress victory, three plump for BJP, and three for others! So, any outcome can be deduced from this statistical jumble; which is just another way of saying that nothing can be concluded from this stuff.

My Predicted Winners on Counting Day: 3-0 in Hindi Heartland

Since everybody and her aunt is predicting winners and losers, here’s my two pennies’ worth:

  • I shall rely largely on three of the credible pollsters, – CSDS, Axis and C-Voter; based on their numbers, my bet is that Congress shall win Rajasthan and MP quite convincingly.
  • Next, I give credence to the inscrutable Mr Chanakaya, who dazzled by making spectacularly aggressive (but correct) predictions in 2014 (291 to Narendra Modi in Lok Sabha) and 2017 (302 to BJP in UP). Since he has given the Congress a home-run even in Chhattisgarh, I think it could be 3-0 in Congress favour in the Hindi Heartland.
My ultimate confidence comes from one empirical truth, i.e. if a sample picks up a changing trend, then the actual number is stronger.
  • So, if a poll shows a 5 percent swing in favour of the Congress, you can pretty much bet that it will end up being a 6-8 percent delta in actual votes, simply because people are often cautious about openly admitting that they have gone against the incumbent. We have seen this phenomenon get repeated in election after election. Now, since the exit polls are throwing up significant gains for the Congress in Chhattisgarh, MP, and Rajasthan, it would be safe to predict that the actual swing would be even higher. This gives me the confidence to stick my neck out and call it 3-0.
  • Finally, in Telangana, and Mizoram, we could see a replica of the Goa/Manipur model; which simply means that the Modi-Shah duo will provide the ‘last-mile connectivity’ to KCR and MNF to breast the tape and form the respective governments. The Congress may have to settle for a strong opposition role in these assemblies.
Telangana caretaker Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao after casting his vote in Hyderabad, on Dec. 7, 2018. (Photograph: PTI)
Telangana caretaker Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao after casting his vote in Hyderabad, on Dec. 7, 2018. (Photograph: PTI)

Also read: Assembly Election Exit Poll: Photo Finish In MP, Chhattisgarh; Congress Ahead In Rajasthan

But What If These Predictions Go Topsy Turvy?

However scientific we try to make them sound, the fact is that the above conclusions are only fancy guesstimates. The reality will get unboxed on Tuesday; what if it’s sharply different? How do you prepare for that imponderable?

While this is a hypothetical, harmless contingency for some of us, for many others, it is a matter of life and death. Just imagine the dilemma facing those television newsrooms (we all know which ones these are!) who take their orders from the current rulers. How can they prepare a post-truth narrative that serves their masters, whatever be the outcome on Tuesday, Dec. 11? They shall do that by creating two plans – Plan A and Plan B.

Plan A: If Congress Wins In The Hindi Heartland

Insulate Modi: highlight the fact that the Prime Minister addressed very few rallies; that he had massive state responsibilities at G-20, etcetera, etcetera, which kept him away from the campaign trail. In any case, the margin of defeat would have been much higher but for his last-minute effort. Hang the whole blame on incumbent chief ministers reeling under a massive backlash.

BJP supporters wear masks of Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje in Ajmer, on  Dec. 5, 2018. (Photograph: PTI)
BJP supporters wear masks of Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje in Ajmer, on Dec. 5, 2018. (Photograph: PTI)

Then pick up slivers of planted data to show how voters will support Modi in 2019 even if they have gone with the Congress now. So, it’s still game, set and match to Modi next year.

Neutralise Rahul: create a colourful map linking Rahul’s rallies with the constituencies where the Congress lost, however tenuous that connection may be. Then scream loudly: “see, Rahul Gandhi is a political liability”; create larger-than-life cutouts of state-level Congress leaders and give them the whole credit for mounting an “indefatigable campaign in the face of huge odds”. Go to town saying “the Congress never won this battle, since the incumbent chief ministers lost it”.

Now trot out the various Congress claimants for the top job and trap them into a slugfest on “why do you play second fiddle to the high command when you have the people’s mandate?”. Finally, create hyped-up bio-pics of younger Congress winners like Sachin Pilot and Jyotiraditya Scindia; trigger an utterly fictional discussion around how “Rahul Gandhi will never make them chief ministers because he does not want to create charismatic rivals”… this entire ‘rob Rahul of the political credit’ narrative will be screamed into the airwaves by Indian television’s ‘puppet anchors on a string’.

President Rahul Gandhi Jyotiraditya Scindia and Kamal Nath in Rewa, Madhya Pradesh, on  September 28, 2018. (Photograph: PTI)
President Rahul Gandhi Jyotiraditya Scindia and Kamal Nath in Rewa, Madhya Pradesh, on September 28, 2018. (Photograph: PTI)

Also read: Why The Semifinal To 2019 Is The Congress’ To Lose

Finally, the attempt will be to discredit Congress’s ‘soft-Hindutva’ as a ‘craven, opportunistic outreach, a pseudo-Hinduism’. Why? Because the single-biggest threat to the RSS/BJP combine is an assertion of liberal/Gandhian Hinduism by Rahul/Congress, which shows up radical Hindutva for the poisonous, anti-Hindu ideology that it is. If Rahul/Congress can succeed here, it shall kill the RSS/BJP’s trump card once and for all. So, this must be vilified.

Plan B: If The BJP Does Better Than Expected

Give full credit to Modi: extol how the Prime Minister’s energetic last-minute rescue overcame years of anti-incumbency; ‘good for nothing’ BJP Chief Ministers now owe him a perennial debt of gratitude; 2019 shall be a bigger victory than 2014.

Double the playout of the map linking Rahul’s rallies to the lost constituencies; drop all other Congress leaders, veterans or young `uns, like hot potatoes; just go hammer and tongs at ‘Modi wins, Rahul loses’.

Try to scare the Congress into abandoning its politically critical assertion of liberal/Gandhian Hinduism; manufacture a narrative of how ‘soft Hindutva’ robbed the Congress of both Muslim and Hindu support; somehow try to wean them off an ideological correction which can prove lethal to the RSS/BJP combine.

Welcome to India’s dangerous ‘post-truth newsrooms’, where truth is the biggest casualty. Tuesday, Dec. 11, will be fun!

Raghav Bahl is the co-founder and chairman of Quintillion Media, including BloombergQuint. He is the author of two books, viz ‘Superpower?: The Amazing Race Between China’s Hare and India’s Tortoise’, and ‘Super Economies: America, India, China & The Future Of The World’.

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