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Daily Take: Exit poll woes

April 27, 2004 04:51 IST

Politicians may scoff at opinion and exit polls, and not without good reason. But that does not mean they remain unaffected by the results.

Earlier it was the Congress that was cavilling at these exercises, because, quite naturally, the pointers were not too happy for the grand old party.

Now, of course, it's the Bharatiya Janata Party's turn to complain. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee himself yesterday termed the opinion polls showing the National Democratic Alliance sliding as 'interested propaganda'.

The Congress, on the other hand, is quite gung-ho, its earlier objections to opinion and exit polls more in the nature of an aside now.

In fact, so pumped up is the party that it claims that it will form the next government at the Centre, that too without the support of the Samajwadi Party of Mulayam Singh Yadav and the Bahujan Samaj Party of Mayawati.

That's the good thing about chief Congress spokesman S Jaipal Reddy. He can make you laugh.

Laughs aside, the race for the fourteenth Lok Sabha is well and truly on, if the exit polls are to be believed.

Which one you want to believe is, well, up to you. But no matter which one you choose, one thing is clear: it's not going to be as easy for the NDA as had been believed until just a month ago.

After the second round of polling on Monday, April 26, the various pollsters have again recalibrated their predictions. And, worryingly for the ruling alliance, none is now predicting more than 280 seats for it.

Sure, 280 would be good enough, because the half-way mark is 272. But that is just the best-case scenario for the NDA at the moment. And even 280 may not lend the kind of stability that 300+ did the last time round.

Already there are signs of disquiet among at least some of the more unsteady NDA partners. The most unsteady of them all, Mamata Banerjee's Nationalist Trinamool Congress, has already declared that it cannot rule out a review of its association with the NDA. "Strategy may have to be altered if the situation asks us to do so," NTC spokesman Pankaj Banerjee said. Strip the rhetoric and it means the NTC will go with the prevailing wind.

But one man in the NTC must be very nervous at this turn of events. That man is former Lok Sabha speaker Purno Sangma. The Congress is becoming a sort of whirlpool for him. The more he tries to get away, the more it seems to drag him back. At this rate he will have no option but to join the BJP to get away from Sonia Gandhi.

Sangma's state of mind may be comic, but the turnout for the second phase of polling wasn't. It was rather sad. An overall polling percentage of 55 doesn't speak too highly of the wisdom of the electorate.

What is more galling is the lower turnout in places like Bombay, where you would expect the citizenry to be more alive and alert to their responsibility and power.

That is why celebrities like Anil Ambani and Sachin Tendulkar need to be lauded.

These are two of India's better known citizens, immensely rich and powerful. They will always have access to the high and mighty, no matter who rules India. Yet, they made it a point to go out and cast their votes.

Ambani, in fact, was among the first to vote as soon as the booths opened at 7am, coming in all sweaty and panting in shorts, T-shirt and headband, straight from his daily morning run.

That is the kind of commitment we could do with from some of our lesser known but far more cynical fellow countrymen.

But it would not be fair to blame only the citizens. At least a few polling percentage points were clearly lost on account of the inefficiency of the Election Commission. The number of people who are turned away every time from polling booths because someone has goofed up in updating the lists is not funny.

This is a serious matter for the commission, because this one recurring problem has the potential of eroding its credibility and respect among the people.

Stage one of electoral reform was to put the politicians in their place and ensure that they could not interfere in or influence unduly the electoral process. That stage was set in high-profile motion, to much applause, by T N Seshan more than a decade ago.

But since then the Election Commission seems to have got stuck in that same groove. Isn't it time to move on to stage two and streamline the commission's own working and find ways to curb, if not end, these recurring irritants? How about free and fair elections for ALL?

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India Votes 2004

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