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Sai's Take: For whom the exit polls toll

May 20, 2019 08:27 IST
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'When the clouds lift and the mists clear, when saner heads and minds sit down to parse the outcome, they will find that the Congress was not lacking in either fight or spirit,' notes Saisuresh Sivaswamy.

KBK Graphics

So the exit polls have done their bit, declared a winner ahead of the actual winner the nation will get to know on May 23.

But there are really no surprises in the results announced with great fanfare on Sunday evening across television channels.

For the many Bharatiya Janata Party fans who were expecting a slap from the voter, if not a rap on the knuckles, the exit polls have delivered a reassurance.

A majority for the government on Thursday will do wonders to their self-esteem, which has been battered these last few months, since the adverse assembly poll results last year.

For the many vocal Narendra Damodardas Modi critics, the exit polls are yet another instance of the compromised media currying favour with the government.

Most likely, the media will join the list of suspect institutions on Thursday, along with the Election Commission of India, the Supreme Court of India, etc.

With exit polls becoming commonplace -- with only players like NDTV staying out of the race -- television channels are faced with the dilemma of differentiation. How do you pitch yourself as the best, truest, etc, since the claim can be verified only on May 23?

Times Now and Republic TV hit upon the idea of commissioning not one, but two exit polls to show they were cut from different cloth -- never mind if the two showed differing numbers.

Will they show two different interpretations of the actual results on Thursday too, you know, in order to stand out?


One of the phrases that came in handy for Rajdeep Sardesai on Sunday evening was 'If these results hold out', which he kept bandying about every few minutes before making a statement. The caution was understandable. No one had given the BJP+ the numbers India Today TV's exit polls had: 339 to 365.

If the latter figure 'holds out', it will be an absolute majority for the saffron grouping, something we last saw in 1984.

After having spent weeks lamenting the farmers crisis, the Dalit anger, minority angst, etc, it can be tough to digest the fact that your channel's own exit polls showing that none of these issues seemed to have mattered to the voter, at least not substantially.

So yes, the caution was understandable.

On Republic TV one saw a Mahagathbandan of experts whose numbers could match that of the prime ministerial aspirants in the Opposition camp. The exit polls had delivered the kind of results that the network had always longed for, and no wonder the famous anchor sounded orgasmic.

'How's the josh, Anirban?' he taunted a panellist from the other side of the debate, the latter word used under advisement.

On Times Now it seemed like one panellist was having a meltdown of sorts. 'Garga Chatterjee, one minute,' Navika Kumar kept exhorting the Trinamool Congress's voice who was letting it fly at the BJP, in a TV studio version of the confrontation in Bengal.

Even as her chanting of his name seemed to have little effect on his nerves, Navika handed him a glass of water, as nothing else would make him shut his mouth.

Given the projected numbers, with no one predicting that there won't be an NDA 2, it was gloom time for those who had convincingly painted a picture of the imminent change of guard. And no one seemed more shattered than Yogendra Yadav, formerly of the Aam Aadmi Party, the articulate psephologist who believed that the NDA's end was nigh and spoke about it virtually every other night.

Calling the election a 'battle for the soul of India', he ripped into the Congress. If it cannot fight this battle 'it has outlived its purpose', he lamented, and it was time to wind up the grand old party.

'We need an alternative to divisive politics, Rajdeep,' something the Congress clearly couldn't become, in his opinion.

That, however, is simplistic reductionism of a complex mandate. When the clouds lift and the mists clear, when saner heads and minds sit down to parse the outcome, they will find that the Congress was not lacking in either fight or spirit.

If anything, the party which had been brought to its knees in 2014 has shown remarkable spunk in rising to the challenge.

If any blame is to be apportioned, it is to be laid at the doors of the myriad Opposition leaders who saw and continue to see the Congress as the bigger threat to their existence than the BJP.

Each one saw themselves as the Iron Man snapping his fingers and sending Thanos into oblivion, and no one wanted to play the Ant Man, the small guy who plays a crucial but minor role in the battle against an enemy they cannot fight singly.

The Congress's Sanjay Jha refused to join issues with Yogendra Yadav, instead saying with dignity that 'everyone in this election has been on the same page', and ending with the words, 'This is the Mahatma's land, not Godse's.'

Sai's Take

Mihir S Sharma of the Observer Research Foundation pointed out that the exit poll results, if borne out by the actual numbers on Thursday, were not based on economics. A mandate of 300+ during an economic downturn, when demand is low, etc, makes it clear that the vote was based on something else, and certainly not on economics.

So was the Congress, in its effort to steer the debate away from the BJP's strong points and raising issues like unemployment and job losses, the agrarian distress that is so beloved of Yogendra Yadav, actually barking up the wrong tree?

Had the Modi factor reduced the roti, kapda aur makaan issues to irrelevance, apart from cementing caste faultlines that so many had set out to exploit in this election?

If the numbers hold, who was the last leader who managed to do that? No, not Indira Gandhi, it goes even beyond her.

Tejaswi Surya, the BJP's young and vocal candidate from Bangalore South, offered a ready explanation for the expected mandate. 'The voters have shown that sincerity, honesty and hard work are respected.'

'Young India votes for leaders who respond to its aspirations, that is New India's unequivocal message.'

Rahul Kanwal, Rajdeep's wingman on the show, tried to inject a sense of humour in the deliberations when he said that with the return of the NDA, New Delhi's Khan Market may be renamed as Deendayal Upadhyay market, a quip that fell flat the first time it was made and fared no better when it was repeated a few minutes later.

Clearly, this New India also has no time for levity, it seems.

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