Thursday, November 12, 2015

Why Bihar election was a really tough one for pollsters

Aap toh Bihar se hain, aap bataaiye...” goes the routine line. If you are from Bihar, and also a journalist, you are expected, often quite mistakenly, to know who will win in the "Modi versus the rest" contest.
It’s been one of toughest, most complex elections to predict a clear winner, with layers of conflicting factors at work. No wonder, most political pundits have disappointed with their "play safe" approach.
Even exit polls — with the exception of Chanakya that gave the NDA a tally of 155 in the 243-seat House — have predicted that the coalition, despite claiming to be riding on Modi magic, is fighting a neck-and-neck battle with the Grand Alliance of Nitish Kumar, Lalu Prasad Yadav and Congress.
The people of Bihar have clearly stumped the pollsters, unless it is actually, and unfortunately, a "dead heat" or a "photo finish", pushing the state to the worst possible scenario — a hung Assembly.
With the BJP, Nitish was seen to have built a fine partnership, putting Bihar back on track. His joining hands with Lalu, perceived to be the principal architect of Bihar’s unmaking, was said to have shrunk his following.
Senior editors in Bihar, some of whom have been seen to be cosying up with Nitish, however, said Yadavs, who had enjoyed power for a long time, were voting aggressively for Lalu and the Grand Alliance. Those seen on the other side of the fence said a sizeable section of the new generation of Yadavs was fed up with Lalu’s "cosmetic caste empowerment" and was voting for the BJP wherever Yadav candidates were fielded.
Some said 40 seats to the Congress, a party which ruled Bihar for 40 years before Lalu took over, were way too many. But then Nitish’s individual popularity, many said, remained a big pull. How does one know which factor will work, and which won't?
Since the election is being seen as a referendum on Narendra Modi, the prime minister pulled out all the stops, and held as many as 30 rallies, which were planned and executed by 20 Union ministers. This blitzkrieg, coupled with a multi-million dollar Bihar package announced by Modi, should have clinched the deal.
But has it been so? We saw what happened in Delhi. The states where BJP won post-2014 Lok Sabha polls had a straight, two-party contest. Unlike in Delhi and now in Bihar.
This is really a high-stake election. A defeat in Bihar may lead to a cascading effect and spoil the BJP’s plans to strengthen presence in states, without which many of Modi’s agendas will continue to be disrupted in Parliament.
So there is a whole lot of people who catch hold of you with: “Aap toh patrakar hain, aap bataaiye...”
And I am clueless. The mood among journalists cannot be better captured than this tweet: “Nobody has a clue what secret sleeps in Bihar's voting machines. One of the most complex elections. Each #ExitPoll is sheer timepass.”
But even otherwise, do journalists really have the ability to predict who will win? Political reporters do have the advantage of covering rallies, speaking to voters and the netas themselves. But does it really help or clutter the mind even more?
Most commentators who come from outside see what they want to see. Those who belong to the state but live elsewhere with years of disconnect clouding their sense of judgment are the most wayward.
The content of the "sons of the soil" argument does not change through various phases. Is this not because they say what they want to say and not what they see? Just watch them on TV discussions and read some of their pieces. Mid-level political reporters are in any case consumed by rhetoric.
At 2pm on Sunday, Nitish may or may not sit for the last time in the chief minister's car and leave to give his resignation to the governor, but results will be announced that day. Let’s wait till Sunday. We would all be wise in hindsight, again.

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