Saturday, April 25, 2009

NDTV SEES CONGRESS STEAMING AHEAD AFTER PHASE 2

Voting for 265 seats to the Lok Sabha has been completed and everyone is trying to gauge the pulse of the people at this half-way mark. Most analysts are not sticking their necks out to predict as to which party/alliance is ahead. The general view is that it is too close to call, the UPA seems to have lost ground in the last couple of months and something unusual is brewing in Uttar Pradesh.

But if NDTV is to be believed, the Congress is actually steaming ahead to a remarkable victory. As against 145 seats that it won in 2004, Prannoy Roy and Dorab Sopariwala believe that the party is going to get as many as 20 seats more this time to hit 165. The BJP, on the other hand, is seen by them as slipping from 138 to 125 seats. Thus, the Congress, which beat the the BJP by seven seats in 2004 to emerge as the largest party, is charging ahead of it by as many as 40 seats after five years in power. If this is really what is happening on the ground, this election is already over and the Congress is without an iota of doubt set to head the next government in Delhi.

Now let us examine broadly how NDTV has conjured these figures.


Take Andhra Pradesh first. NDTV sees the Congress doing so well there that it will get 27 seats there as against 29 that it got last time when there was an anti-TDP wave and when it had the TRS and the Left as allies. Despite loosing all of them and having only the one-seat MIM in its fold this time, the Congress is down by only two seats. This, despite Chiranjeevi's PRP getting around 24% vote share in Telengana and about 13% in the rest of the state, as you can see Roy saying himself in this video. He also believes that the PRP has eaten only into the TDP's vote share, leaving the Congress almost completely unscathed. NDTV's opinion poll had earlier shown the Congress getting between 21-23 seats, plus one for the MIM. Now, it seems as if a wave has emerged suddenly in favour of the party. The Satyam scandal in which CM YSR Reddy is widely perceived to be fully involved has surprisingly made him more popular in the last few days.

In the other key state of Tamil Nadu where the DMK led UPA has been deserted by all allies, except the Congress, the UPA is seen as doing very well still with as many as 21 out of the 39 seats that the state has, with the DMK getting 15 and the Congress six, a loss of only four for the latter compared to the last time when the alliance had made an unprecedented clean sweep, bagging all 39 seats! The grand alliance forged by Jayalalitha is not working, if NDTV is to be believed.

In Maharashtra too, the Congress is doing extremely well. The unending bickering with Sharad Pawar is paradoxically working in its favour, taking its tally up from 13 in 2004 to 15 now. Similarly, in Rajasthan, the Congress is seen jumping from four to 16 seats while the BJP comes down sharply from 21 to 8. Gujjar leader Bainsla's joining the BJP and the decision of ex-servicemen to support the BJP in this state which has a significant population of both gujjars and military men is somehow working in favour of the Congress. In Orissa, the Congress jumps to the top spot with 10 seats, up eight, beating even Naveen Patnaik's BJD. Similar gems can be found in some other states too.

The strangest figures of all are for UP. Here, the Congress is losing just one seat against the nine that it got in 2004. But the BJP is mysteriously doing worse despite an alliance with the RLD. Last time it won 10 seats on its own. Now, it is getting only seven, despite that tie-up which all others see as helping it in Western UP, with the RLD getting three.

According to a number of analysts, there is clearly a real change in the air in UP which can turn in surprising results. The upper castes and non-dalits who had deserted the BJP to go with Mayawati in the assembly elections are apparently not with her this time. Then there is intense polarisation of votes in a number of constituencies due to the decision of the Ulema Council to field its own Muslim candidates in seven constituencies and Varun Gandhi's controversial speech. If anything, this should see an increase in BJP's tally, not a decrease, as NDTV is projecting. No one knows what the increase will be. If it is 20 or thereabout, the BJP will undoubtedly emerge as the single largest party at the national level.

A word here about West Bengal. Here, the Congress has committed what might turn out to be the biggest blunder of this election, if not all time. And not a single analyst has yet spoken about it. By aligning with Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress(TMC) against the Left, the Congress has potentially gifted a 20 seat advantage to the NDA. How important this will prove in sealing the fate of the Congress will depend on how many seats it can get on its own. If it has to depend on the support of the Left to form the government, as looks certain, the TMC will walk over to the opposite camp.

Last time the Congress had got six seats alone. This time it is not seen getting even one more. The TMC is the only one gaining from this alliance and that too by 10 seats or more. And it will get all of them from the Left. So, if the Congress has no choice but to go with the Left, the UPA's total tally will get reduced by at least 10 while the NDA will get an equivalent 10 seat bonus for free. A more dumb and potentially suicidal alliance has perhaps never been entered into by any party till now. It would have made sense only if the Congress was dead sure of doing so much better than last time that it could form a government without the Left. What were the Congress brains thinking when they went to Mamata?

With three phases of polling still to go, NDTV has declared Congress the winner, and doing much better than it did during the last elections. But, as will be evident from the above analysis, there is going to be substantial revisions in these manifestly cooked-up figures by the time voting for all seats is over.

Something similar had happened in the Gujarat Assembly elections, that too in the exit polls. After the first phase of polling for 86 seats, NDTV actually showed the Congress ahead of the BJP 43-40. But after the second phase was completed and it was no longer possible to hide the bitter truth, the Congress was shown getting between 27 and 52 seats in that phase, an unbelievable variation of 25 seats, with the total coming to between 72 and 95. How much did the Congress actually get? Just 59 seats.In the UP assembly elections too, NDTV had seen a sort of "wave" being generated by Rahul Gandhi, due to which the nation was told that the vote share of the Congress was going up and the party was certain to win between 35 and 45 seats. It won 22 and suffered a drop in vote percentage. Does all this tell you something about what to expect in these elections where NDTV has given 165 seats to the Congress?

This time also it seems that NDTV is trying hard, really hard, to project a Congress victory. Already, two programs have been aired about how the government will be formed based on the numbers of NDTV, as if these are actual results. Given past evidence, it is difficult to shake the feeling that perhaps the aim of the channel is to prevent potential Congress supporters from getting disheartened and not casting their vote for the party.

Past experience should have shown that such tactics do not pay any real dividend. What they certainly do is erode further the credibility of the media, sections of which already appear to be no more than PR wings of the Congress. But who cares as long as the moolah keeps coming in from entertainment channels, and the protection and help of the government remains on tap!

UPDATE: MAY 01

After phase 3, NDTV has projected that the Congress tally will go up to 171 seats,

UPDATE: MAY 07

After phase 4, the fizz has gone. NDTV has not made any projection!
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