Saturday, May 9, 2009

POLL PREDICTION AFTER PHASE 4: TREND IS NDA'S FRIEND

The trend is evidently NDA's friend. That is about the only thing that can be surmised after completion of polling for Phase 4. This was the 85 seat phase which was supposed to be the big one for the UPA, the one in which it was expected to make substantial gains in Rajasthan and Punjab and elsewhere while holding on to its tally in Delhi and Haryana. Did that happen? Is the Congress hitting the 171 mark that NDTV had predicted it would as soon as polling was completed for the third phase? Or is the BJP doing much better that most pollsters and analysts had been leading the nation to believe for the last two months or so?

Consider the following "unscientific" straws in the wind:
  • After the first phase, Laloo Prasad Yadav, the ever effervescent and arrogant leader, complained in a defeated voice that there was rigging in Madhepura. In phase 4, he not only lost his cool at a press photographer in a polling booth but refused to speak to media at all. For a man who can easily bluff his way with bluster through any difficult situation to behave in this unprecedented manner shows, at least to me, that not only is he likely to be routed personally in both the seats he is contesting but is going to see his party face its most disastrous defeat in Bihar. With the Congress non-existent there, there is only one logical conclusion: it just might be a near clean sweep for the NDA there.
  • Rahul Gandhi's famous press conference where he naively, to say the least, asked for the help of almost all parties except the BJP, including those who are fighting against the UPA, even before polling took place for phase 4, showed that the Congress knew deep down even then that it was going to fare worse than it did in 2004. In addition, it also shows that it knew that its "allies" like the RJD, LJP, DMK etc were going to be virtually mauled.
  • The decision of the government to revoke the Red Corner notice against Quattrochi of Bofors fame showed that there was real fear that the UPA might not come back to power: the ghost of Bofors had to be buried so that the next government could not use it to haunt the Gandhis.
  • The intense Congress and media effort to win over Nitish Kumar to the UPA is abnormal, to put it mildly, and shows that the Congress is faring very badly overall. If the Congress is actually likely to get 26 seats more than last time, as the nation was being told till a few days back, with a lead of 40 plus seats over the BJP, then the game is already over for the BJP; parties will run to the Congress and the latter will also successfully split a couple of them, like it always has, to ensure that the UPA crosses the half-way mark.
  • The sacking by the Congress of two of its spokespersons, Verappa Moily and Ashwini Kumar following Rahul Gandhi's press conference shows the extent of panic that has gripped the party. Moily has been shown the door for speaking against Nitish Kumar who seems now to be the last hope of the party, while Ashwini Kumar has bought it for saying that the Congress was stronger than the TDP and did not need an alliance with it.
  • The announcement by Mulayam Yadav that he will support any party at the centre that dismisses Mayawati's government, coupled with the open infighting in the party between Amar Singh and Azam Khan and the Kalyan Singh factor, shows that he has already realised that the great alliance that he was forging with Laloo Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan is a non-starter and that his party will do badly in UP. That is why he has already reduced his demands and is ready to sleep with any one if that can save him from sinking into the kind of oblivion that Laloo Yadav is going to face.
  • The revoking of the NSA against Varun Gandhi by Mayawati, albeit through the Advisory Board, suggests that Mayawati has also had a reality check: she is not going to emerge with 40 plus seats in UP as some pollsters were projecting. In fact her tally might be so much more humbling that she will need a supportive government at the Centre to look the other way about corruption charges against her, and also not dismiss it on one pretext on another. And she see most of the losses that Mulayam Yadav will suffer, and more, going to the BJP. It could also very well mean that she believes that the NDA is going to be strong enough to be not critically dependent on her for support.
  • As I had written earlier, the real IPL T20 tournament is being played in UP; any party that gets around 20 seats more than it had got last time here will probably get to power in Delhi. The Congress is too weak to translate the additional Muslim votes that it has been dying to get into seats. If both Mulayam and Mayawati feel that they are vulnerable, then who is the one emerging stronger? The only question now is: by how many seats?
  • The decision of the TRS today to attend the NDA rally in Ludhiana tomorrow is as clear an indication as any that the Congress is in serious trouble in Andhra Pradesh and, thereby, behind the BJP in the race to emerge as the single largest party
  • After phase 4, in a major departure from it earlier practice, NDTV made no projection at all, either for the states that went to the polls in this phase or overall to confirm or modify its earlier projection. I am no expert face reader, but one had to be blind to miss that there was absolutely no excitement in Prannoy Roy's voice or a smile on his face, the kind that the very mention of Rahul Gandhi brings out magically.
  • A significant gem that Prannoy Roy let out was that a one percent swing translates into a gain or loss of 20 seats. A swing of such a small magnitude is impossible to predict. That is probably was why after phase 4, NDTV suddenly could not put its finger on extent and direction of the swing for the Congress. If so, how did it spot a 1.3% swing earlier with the Congress hitting the 171 mark, a gain of 26 seats?
  • CNN-IBN expert Yogendra Yadav also similarly refused to make any projection on the ground that it was impossible to predict a small five to seven seat gap between the two parties.
  • MJ Akbar is one of the the few journalists who has been saying for some time that successive polls opinion polls have shown that there is a trend that is in favour of the NDA. After phase 4, he went to the extent of saying on Headlines Today that the NDA would not just be marginally ahead of the UPA by a few seats; the gap would be bigger.
  • After phase 4, the coverage of the elections in the newspapers as well as on television has undergone a change. No one, repeat no one, is making the claim that the Congress is going to be ahead of the BJP by 40 seats. In fact, the voices talking of even a lead have all but vanished. After the initial flurry where TV anchors and guests tried their utmost to cobble up allies for the Congress to enable it to form a government, the coverage has lost the fizz that it had earlier completely. The sense that I get is that a lot of disappointed people are reorganising themselves to better face the bitter truth that can scarcely be hidden any longer.
On February 16, 2009, one of the first polls on the elections was telecast on CNN-IBN. At the end of the program it was clear that nothing was clear. "The mood of the nation is something of a mystery. No body knows what people are thinking at the moment. No body knows how they are going to vote." This is how Vinod Mehta had summed up the results thrown up in the survey after making valiant efforts to beat the Congress drum during the debate.

There was, however, one statistic which did not appear significant then but looks so now. In 2004, 48% of those who took part in a similar poll wanted to give the NDA government another chance. In the survey of 2009, 45% wanted the UPA to continue. This means that in January this year, there was a 3% swing away from the UPA compared to the NDA. In 2004, the NDA lost with a 48% backing. According to Prannoy Roy, a 1% swing in voting translates into 20 seats. If that is right then this swing is not as insignificant as it looks. More significantly, this figure was before the Satyam scandal in Andhra Pradesh, the Varun Gandhi episode, the Quattrochi pardon, the BJP manifesto wooing the military including veterans, the utter confusion about the UPA's Prime Ministerial candidate and the sordid drama of Laloo Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan that marked the disintegration of the UPA.

Nobody who has commonsense will believe that even today, 45% of Indians want to give the UPA another chance. The percentage has dropped but no one knows by how much. If the past is any indicator, the magnitude of such trends is rarely caught accurately by anyone in advance. It is, however, evident that there has been a serious decline in the popularity of the UPA in the last few months. To see that change, no longer hideable after phase 4, one has to just pick up a few English language papers to see their headlines and watch a couple of English TV channels to see the expressions on the faces of their leading lights.

The trend suggests that the NDA is now in a much better position than the UPA to come to power. Will it be able to win enough seats that will enable to form a stable and viable government? Or will it be a narrow victory that will lead to the formation of another unstable, paralysed government? There are as many estimates as there estimators. So many surveys and polls and reports later, no one still knows what the strength and extent of the trend is. Looks like we will have to wait for another seven days to find out exactly how badly the people of the country want a change, if at all.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Readers may also read:
1. After phase3, Congress up to 171!
2. The real IPL T20 is on in UP!
3. Opinions, not opinion polls
4. The real IPL T20 is on in UP - 2
5. NDTV makes a mockery of exit polls
6. Celebrities and the elections