Bihar: Poll Heist that Failed
What did the pollsters expect by creating a phantasmagoria of a BJP win?
Sanjay Kapoor Delhi
Long before Prime Ministerial attention and big bucks began to lavish on Bihar, ABP News and Nielsen conducted a pre-poll survey in July, three months before the voting took place, on the likely winner in the Assembly elections. The results of the poll, buried deep under the avalanche of subsequent surveys – even a Google search throws it up only on page 4 – is amazingly close to the outcome. It showed the Grand Alliance (GA) the winner with a poll percentage of about 43 per cent and the BJP-led NDA getting a poor 32 per cent. It showed an unbridgeable gap of 11 per cent, which never really changed right till the actual results were declared – when the GA got 46 per cent and the NDA just 34 per cent. The ABP News-Nielsen poll was conservative in converting votes to seats, bizarrely showing a difference of just 11 seats with an 11 per cent vote margin. Why?
This intellectual or professional dishonesty of not stating the obvious and showing the GA ahead by considerable numbers – contrary to the mood on the ground – epitomised the scandal of many opinion pollsters using slanted surveys to create the fiction of a close fight between the two alliances. Subsequent to the July survey, most opinion polls before the five rounds of voting began, showed a tantalisingly close fight and a BJP win. Every gargantuan rally of the Prime Minister in the state where he made electoral promises was shown as the reason why the BJP was improving its tally. Backed by these polls and aggressive TV reporting, a myth was created to show a BJP win. Newspaper reports to the contrary in the national media were dismissed by BJP leaders as “spin” by a hostile Delhi-based media.
The endeavour of this high-voltage campaign was to reiterate the inevitability of a BJP win and sway the fence-sitters amongst voters and financiers. BJP President Amit Shah grandiloquently announced the exact time when the BJP would start leading in the vote counting, leading up to the moment when Nitish Kumar would get into his car to go and tender his resignation to the Governor. It was a fantastic look into the future, Isaac Asimov-style, but that future did not exist.
So compelling was the BJP’s assertion that the NDA was winning that some respected news channels that work hard on their credibility lost ground on counting day. Barely had the postal ballots been counted – with 14 rounds of counting still to take place – that channels like NDTV began to call the results in favour of the BJP. Bizarrely, they announced that the BJP would get a majority in the Assembly with 149-odd seats. Why did eminent anchors and poll specialists like Dr. Prannoy Roy or seasoned editors like Shekhar Gupta jump the gun? Doordarshan and one of the Parliament channels did not go so far as to announce the final victor, but they kept the NDA far ahead of the GA whereas just the opposite was being reported from the constituencies by the local Election Commission officials. Mysteriously, the Chief Election Commission’s website was not updated for well over two hours, creating an impression of an NDA win.
There has been no credible explanation as to why the channels were disseminating an NDA win in the first few hours of the counting. What was being attempted? It would be defamatory to make any suggestion without any evidence but the manner in which every opinion poll was rigged, including the highly rated Chanakya and NDTV, tells a dark story meriting a serious media investigation. The only exit poll that was bang on target (commissioned by CNN-IBN), giving the GA 180 seats, was not aired and the editors gave no reasons for the decision. Media gossip suggests the channel shared the poll findings with senior ministers in the government who told them about the disastrous implications of letting out negative (to the BJP) numbers in the public domain.
What needs to be urgently reiterated is: What did the poll managers of the NDA expect by creating this phantasmagoria of a BJP win on the day of counting? It boggles the mind, especially when it is practically impossible to alter the choice exercised by the voters. This issue revives the dark forebodings about Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) manipulation – so eloquently brought out by BJP Vice-President Subramanian Swamy. With high stakes involved in the Bihar elections, did anyone attempt a hare-brained heist?
Truth prevailed and the Bihar results drew a sigh of relief from those opposed to the Hindutva juggernaut. The minorities, the OBCs and the Dalits reposed faith in Nitish Kumar and his promise to provide them safety and look after their interests. The BJP may have had a chance at victory if it had found a credible alternative to him. Simply, the logic of Delhi played out in Bihar, too. They voted for the best person for the job: Modi for Delhi and Nitish for Patna. They did not believe, again like the people of Delhi, in the flawed logic of aligning their voting choice for both centre and state for better coordination. They voted for the weighty argument that stated their interests were best served by the Nitish-Lalu-Congress alliance. It was due to this reason that the minorities who are living in fear ever since the Hindutva gangs began to use the beef ban to terrorise them, decided to back the GA over the seductive appeal of Asauddin Owaisi. So convinced were the minorities that they did not allow even a single win to Owaisi’s candidates despite the over-the-top hype in Delhi’s TV studios.
The Bihar results are a watershed moment after the BJP swept to power in 2014. At that time, it seemed as if the BJP, led by the dynamic Modi, had managed to accomplish the social engineering of a caste-based society in the name of development and a subliminal message of creating a Hindu Rashtra. The Bihar outcome represents a return to the politics of social justice that brought the OBCs greater space in Indian politics. This victory of Nitish would not have been possible without the support base of Lalu Prasad Yadav and the aggressive defence of the country’s secular ethos. He challenged the BJP leaders to deny the quotes from RSS founder MS Golwalkar’s book, Bunch of Thoughts, which showed their ideological leader’s Brahminical world view that had little space for the lower castes and the Muslims. Nitish and Lalu are unlikely to be confined to Patna. The latter has said that he will chase Modi in Delhi. Nitish, too, has been talking about coordinating strategy in Parliament to put the BJP government in the dock on issues of Goods and Services Tax (GST), Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in defence and so on. Some political observers have even suggested that Nitish should be declared the opposition’s Prime Ministerial candidate to help build a coherent challenge against Modi and the BJP.
In other words, the Bihar results have already shifted focus to the 2019 parliamentary elections.