You are here: Rediff Home » India » Get Ahead » Leisure » Columns » Sidin Sunny Vadukut
Search: The Web
  Discuss this Article   |      Email this Article   |      Print this Article

It was the summer of 2004
Sidin Sunny Vadukut

Get news updates:What's this?
December 26, 2007

It was the summer of 2004. I was sitting in the common room of a college hostel in South Mumbai with a handful of complete strangers. The TV was on and everyone was watching with their mouths wide open.


Wait. It's not what you think. Well at least not then. Maybe a little later that night. When the warden was away and the DVDs came out.


But just then honest, candid film-making was the last thing on people's minds. Most people had expected the BJP-led NDA to come back to power comfortably on the back of sound economic development. So much so that the NDA even launched that infamous "India Shining" campaign to highlight how economic development had touched so many Indians that they would, out of sheer joy and gratitude, shortly vote the NDA back into power.


Every single person in the room looked shaken as the UPA, along with some help from the dynamic and enthusiastic team players in the Left parties, grabbed the majority needed to form government. Instead of India Shining the UPA would soon launch a rule for the betterment of the aam aadmi (mango person).


In the days to come Sonia Gandhi [Images] would take oath, via a certain Manmohan Singh [Images], as Prime Minister of India and a whole new era of government would start.


What struck me odd at the time was the sheer number of people who were shocked that the UPA had come to power. They were calling it an upset win. "After all, the exit polls said that the NDA would come to power or there would be a hung parliament!" shell-shocked people were telling each other. The exit polls had given them false hope, alas!


Without doubt one of the most widely discredited jobs in India right now is that of the Exit Poll Professional. I have no first-hand experience of how this works. But that does not mean that I should not make an educated guess using Google.


I am guessing that exit pollsters lurk around outside voting booths and then ask people difficult questions when they emerge after casting their franchise:


Pollster: "Ma'am, have you voted?"

Woman: "Yes, I have."

Pollster: "Who did you vote for?"

Man from local political party carrying large axe-like implement over one shoulder: "Yes, yes. Who did you vote for?"

Woman: "I protest this invasion of my privacy but I have no hesitation in saying that I voted for precisely this gentleman's party. Have done so for many, many years."

Pollster: "Thank you for your candid opinion."


The pollster is normally a part-time jobber who is doing this to make a little extra pocket money on the side. And he may be getting paid for every voter response he gets. This means waiting all day outside the booth and talking to several hundred voters, all the while trying not to get in the way of man with axe and the irresistible charm that comes with it.


After many hours of hard work the pollster then retires to an air-conditioned internet cafe nearby with over three dozen filled forms. He then notices that he is a little behind his quote and fills up another 400 himself.


At the end of which he realises that he got the order of check boxes wrong and, therefore, Mr KK Velayudhan of the Thrissur District Revolutionary Freedom Bar Owner's Party for People's Development and Liberation is all set to win by a landslide to the Lok Sabha.


But by then time is running out and the pollster has to file his report. So he asks the guy sitting in the next booth who he voted for, marks it and then photocopies the form 400 times. (He bills for 600 of course.) He sends the final report to the head office, certain in the knowledge that due to the law of averages his fraud will get adjusted away.


Unfortunately, exit polling is now a keenly fought business and his company does not have the budget to station pollsters in all areas. Or all states. The clerk at the head office picks up our pollster's data and, with a click, extrapolates it across all of Kerala [Images].


Mr Velayudhan is quickly on his way to stardom. He has no idea, of course. Even Velayudhan didn't vote for himself.


All the while several other pollsters are plying their trade for other employers and media brands alike. Reports begin to flow back into the newspapers and TV channels from pollsters all over the country.


TV anchor: "This exit poll looks great! You think Velayudhan would make a good PM?"

Poll researcher: "What? Who? Of course. Our data comes from highly reliable researchers all over the country."

TV anchor: "However there is only one problem. These predictions are exactly the same as NDTV's."

Poll researcher: "Don't worry about that. I will add a few seats here and there, flip a few constituencies, make this graph red, that one blue--"

TV anchor: "Without compromising accuracy of course."

Poll researcher: "Of course! What sort of ragtag outfit do you think we are."


As usual, when the exit polls come out there is surprise all round. But, because no one wants to back the wrong horse entirely, all the polls begin to indicate a wave of support rising for Velayudhan.


Velayudhan is suddenly a star. Broadcast vans park outside his house all day waiting for a comment or a single photograph. India TV has a special report and interviews people who are close to the Velayudhan election machine: milkman, LIC [Get Quote] agent, postman, classmate, third cousin on the neighbour's side and the man Velayudhan overtook last week while driving home -- on the WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD!


"Naya Rajneetik Jadugaar Ya Underworld Don!" ("New political magician or underworld don?") is the headline of their expose. The Times of India is not far behind with the famous headline: "Velayudhan-dhana-dhan Goal!"


He becomes the first person to appear on both the India Today and Vogue India cover simultaneously. He is significantly better looking on the latter.


One morning, Velayudhan gets calls from both the Congress and the BJP. They intend to form a coalition with his party at the centre. He is bewildered and refuses to commit to either. Sonia Gandhi threatens him by saying that if he did not side with the Congress she will call him "a saudagar (merchant) of something or the other like maut (death)."


Unfortunately, three days later the Election Machine comes out with the actual result and Velayudhan just misses out winning by a number equal to the winner's total tally. He does not even get a single vote.


Poll researcher: "This is almost exactly as we had predicted!"

TV anchor: "But you guys said he would win and become a kingmaker with the potential to rock the national political scene and hold the stability of the next government in the balance!"
Poll researcher: "We said maybe, okay!"

Earlier columns:

More adventures of the Vadukuts, mister and missus, can be found at Domain Maximus.

 Email this Article      Print this Article

© 2007 India Limited. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer | Feedback