The exit polls have generated fiery debates and vociferous arguments and speculation, all anticipating the final result that will be revealed today. Some of the predictions are bound to be off the mark, and the strident statements of party spokespersons who refuse to acknowledge that they will fare badly at the hustings will stand exposed. However, the show must go on, and the same people will continue defending themselves long after the results have been announced. They will continue to ignore ground realities. That is what seems to keep Indian television going. It is a carnival where anything goes and there is no accountability at all.
In the days when there were no poll surveys or exit polls, the print media covering and analysing the elections managed to be more or less accurate in their predictions; this was because they had no choice but to talk to people, understand their moods, and connect and engage with voters. This was unlike the sort of coverage we get to see in present times. This current method of covering and analysing the elections is impersonal and cold. It does not work in a country such as ours; it is better suited to a more ordered and straitjacketed society and political system such as those found in the United States of America. In India, the person being questioned susses out the one asking the question. The ordinary citizen often takes great pleasure in fooling young journalists who are covering elections for the first time. Looking at the expressions of the crowds of people surrounding a television reporter in a public space reminds one of the amused curiosity with which people look at animals in a zoo. The common citizens know that their chance to be amused at the sight of famous celebrities and news anchors walk around on ordinary, potholed streets will be short-lived.
Too little, too late
Indians are no longer in awe of such television personalities or of the media as a whole, and this is evident from the way in which they look into the camera and speak at it. Often, it seems as though they are mocking the medium and the people associated with it. No one can force the ‘right’ answer or the truth out of them. In the past, getting citizens to reveal who they were voting for, and why, happened via long conversations at local tea stalls or dhabas where people met after a day of work to exchange gossip and political views, and to discuss what they had heard on the radio or read in the local paper. The information gathered from such encounters was far more authentic and reliable. Maybe poll experts ought to introduce some complexity and soul into their surveys. They should work harder and more consistently.
Going by the measures and indications of possible success or failure that my generation were used to — we listened to the stories, responses and views of the ordinary engine and taxi drivers, as well as the boatmen at the Ganga-Yamuna confluence who, apparently, get it right time and again, and trekked for months through the countryside and stayed in touch with people in villages and towns — it looks like the Bharatiya Janata Party, on its own, could get a minimum of 220 seats or so. The higher count is anybody’s guess. The Congress might get 90-odd seats, at the very most.
These two generalized figures are not very far from the ‘average’ count of all the poll surveys. This trend, if it proves to be true, was evident as a probable outcome way back in March 2013. Indians were tired and ashamed of all the corruption they saw. No one was held accountable for such wrongdoing. Silent arrogance among the political class reigned supreme. The government started waking up only when it was too late. It had lost the people’s trust. The Opposition had started fighting to win the elections decisively.