Monday, July 29, 2013

Even with Congress trumped, BJP cannot form government….

Two poll forecasts have been unveiled in the last week. One presented yesterday on Times Now, and the other a few days back on CNN-IBN. There is a huge amount of data generated, but the take-outs are few and simple. The most important one is that while the Congress is shown to be down and facing a certain defeat, the BJP is miles away from forming a government. I wonder which party these results are more depressing for, the Congress which has known these tidings for a while or the BJP which has started to count its chickens already!

One word of caution before going any further. These sorts of polls are completely meaningless. The poor financial condition of these news channels makes these polls sketchy at best. Most have sample size of barely 20,000 odd, which number is indicative of poverty far worse than Rs 32 a day! This is why poll forecasts in India usually fare so poorly. I demonstrated this in my piece on 26th August, 2012 (Last 3 poll forecasts all wrong…..India Today now forecasts an NDA win…. that almost all polls held a few months before the actual polling were wrong. But let’s leave that bitter reality aside for a moment!

The Congress cannot go down any further from here. The only way is up. This much comes out in the Times Now poll which indicates that the Congress’s seats now (in July) are about 6 more than the forecast made in April 2013. In contrast, the BJP’s seats are down by about 10 in the same period of time. If this is true, then the augury for the BJP is even worse. It also makes us think about what happened in these last three months that the fortunes of both major formations started to change? I can think of two. One is the usual fading memory of the voters, which is bound to favor the Congress (remember, most voter memory is about unsavoury things about the Congress). The second, and I mean this seriously, is Narendra Modi’s ascension to the top of the BJP.

Don’t believe this? Well, consider this from the Times Now poll. The BJP’s gain since 2009 is merely 15 odd seats. And 11 of these are coming from Rajasthan, which in any case is a “flip-flop” state (for the last 20 years, the state has booted out a ruling government). Besides, it’s the one state that Modi hasn’t even visited! Now its for each one to decide on Modi’s magic for himself. As usual, those who support him will claim that he hasn’t even started his campaigning, and his results will start to show once he starts. And those who cannot stand him will say that he’s been all over in the last three months.

But just look at how ridiculously different these polls can be from each other. The CNN-IBN poll gave the BJP the pole position in UP with some 30 odd seats. The Times Now poll is far more realistic with some 10 odd seats for the party. Just imagine. In the biggest state, the two polls are diametrically off from each other. In Rajasthan again, the two polls are both dramatically different with Times Now predicting a rout for the Congress while the CNN-IBN poll shows it to be very finely balanced. Take even popularity of leaders. Times Now shows Modi leading Rahul Gandhi by 2:1, but the CNN-IBN poll shows the gap to be very small (of course, leader popularity is the least important of all findings; remember in 2004, Vajpayee was shown to be the most popular leader and yet he lost!). It’s the same with Bihar, with one showing the BJP romping home and the other showing it facing the brunt of the split. If this is not proof of poor poll designs and pathetic samples sizes, what is?

The Congress will recover from here. In Andhra, after today’s expected Telangana announcement, it will go beyond the 7 the Times Now poll shows it to get. In the rural areas, it will do better once the Food Security programme is rolled out. In the urban areas, it will do better once policy paralysis of the last two years transforms into policy activism (we’re already seeing signs of this). The Congress is also expected to do much better with its allies (it will tie up with either RJD or JD(U) in Bihar; its tie-up with JMM in Jharkhand is already secure) and outside supporters (SP, BSP). All its allies are in place with the DMK also likely to formally join hands before the elections.

In contrast, the BJP cannot expect to do well. It has no role to play in the South and the East. It’s a fringe player in UP and now possibly, in Bihar. It’s strength lies only in the West, and once-in-five-years in Rajasthan. With such a low spread, its impossible that the party can do any better. And then there’s the Modi factor. No one wants to ally with the BJP if Modi is heading it. In spite of all of Arnab’s best efforts to build consensus around Modi, none of the journalists could agree that Maya, Mamata and Jayalalitha will all back Modi! Of course, like I said earlier, many things can change in the next 8 months. But if I were to put my money on any one grouping, it would not be the NDA.

The real truth is that what the two polls bring out clearly is what is already very well known. This is perhaps the strongest era for coalition politics. Who wants to rule Delhi has to be able to get the support of Mulayam and Mayawati and Laloo and Nitish and many many more. Now who’s better prepared for this era, the Congress or the BJP? We don’t need a poll for that!

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