Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Fraud polls.....a sinister BJP strategy?

The Economic Times talks of a sting operation conducted by a TV channel called News Express which shows that "undercover reporters agreed to manipulate poll data". It adds "Clips from the sting operation aired by the channel showed many pollsters agreeing to produce favourable numbers by leveraging the so-called margin of error, a statistical concept meant to indicate the quality of sampling and the accuracy to be expected from survey results". The fact is that the manipulation goes way beyond playing with statistical errors. The methods, and intentions, are far more sinister.

But before that, lets look at who has been the beneficiary of these fraud polls. One single party, the BJP. The BJP has been showing rising with every poll, creating the illusion of a wave. The timing of the wave was always suspicious. It rose with the appointment of Narendra Modi first as the poll campaign chief of his party, and later, and at a much faster pace, after he was made the PM nominee. If someone is paying off the field researcher to show a favorable result, who could it be? I think we are smart enough to figure that out!

The methods, like I said earlier, are far more sinister than merely "leveraging" some "sample of error". That's just the talk of a guilty man trying to drown his crime in a lot of mumbo-jumbo. Of course, all researches have errors, but a research is designed in a way that keeps error at an acceptable level. And depending on the design and the sample size, certain data cuts are not permited because the error would be too high. Error is central to any sampling; there is no surprise, nor possibility of an excuse, in error rates.

But there are other more devious ways used to manipulate results. A field researcher may simply "fudge" the questionnaire, filling exactly what he wants to fill without so much as bothering to ask the respondent for his/her views. Or changing the respondent's answers even after recording them on the questionnaire. Or entering the wrong responses into the "system" so as to suit the sponsor. This is all too common because the field agency is under pressure to deliver "cheap". Well, respondents deliver real quick by filling the questionnaires all up at home, or resorting to the tricks mentioned before! In the process, they also make themselves richer by a fair bit. Don't believe this? Consider this. A 20,000 sample size research should cost up to Rs 2-3 crores at current rates. If the fieldwork involves extensive travel into remote villages, the costs could increase beyond this. Which news channel has so much budget? Many of these news channels do 3-5 polls before an election. How can they afford so many? I'll tell you how. They get it done cheap! (For the official records, they say that the research costs are shared with a newspaper, but in reality, that would only halve the cost....not make it so affordable).

The second sinister reason is even more sinister (perhaps). The researcher goes to a home, finds it to be a supporter of an "opposing" party, and simply skips the home! Simple and damned effective! He then goes to a home where he finds a supporter of his devious sponsor, and finishes the interview there. Clearly, the results will make the sponsor happy!

A 3rd devious design is when information of the "starting point" of the fieldwork gets known to the sponsor in advance. The starting point is where, typically, a researcher begins his survey, and to eliminate any sampling bias, he follows a "right hand rule" to cover the first few houses he encounters. If this starting point is known in advance, the sponsor plugs his messages into those homes in advance, thus influencing the minds of those respondents.

This is why polls results are so different from reality. In 2004 and 2009, the Congress was shown to be the loser, just like it is being shown today. In both times, the BJP was expected to "romp home". The reality couldnt have been farther from the truth. The BJP was trounced, the Congress emerged stronger in 2009. Take the recent assembly polls. All pollsters got AAP wrong. Why? Because maybe their sponsor was not AAP! Simple....In all examples, the BJP is the biggest beneficiary of these polls. Not surprising it is the only party that is opposing the Election Commission's own view that opinion polls should be banned.

In today's ET, BJP spokesperson Prakash Javdekar has given a silly statement "We haven’t yet demanded a ban because these are just opinion polls, and people vote on their own considerations". Really? And how do people form their "considerations"? ONLY and ONLY via media. Consider this. Most people think UPA2 is very corrupt. How do these people have this opinion? Did any of them personally read the CAG's report on 2G or coal? Did any of them do any "chai pe charcha" (that hyped-up smokescreen to justify the fraud poll results) to unearth nuggets of wisdom from scratch? No. They all read the papers and worse....watched the news (often called Horror Entertainment Channels!).

The BJP's game plan could be to influence the voters and make them vote for it. That is why they are creating this bogus fear of a "hung Parliament", and the need for a "decisive verdict". An otherwise moderate Hindu, worried about the country's economic problems but not supporting the BJP's polarizing politics, could be made to swing towards the BJP by creating the impression that it is "nearly there". A Muslim who would traditionally vote for the SP in UP would swing towards the BSP thinking "all" have shifted loyalties....helping divide the Muslim vote and the BJP.

Influencing public opinion is an attack on democracy. It is fooling the public. How can a party that does this be trusted? Already we've heard of noted journalists like Sagarika Ghose, Siddharth Varadarajan, Hartosh Singh Bal.....and dare I add the name of Tarun Tejpal to this list....being ousted from their jobs for political reasons (they are no Congress afficianados by the way). The party that influences public opinion and gets after journalists won't think twice before muting out every opposing voice when it comes to power. Don't believe it? See how Muslims in Gujarat hardly have any voice left. They dont dare to even carry out a street morcha! When Haren Pandya started to croak, he was silenced by someone (His family accuses Modi; not proven though).

The real truth is that I have always said that opinion polls were fraudulent. It's now been proven by this sting operation. Fortunately, Times Now has said it wont use C-Voter again. But will they use someone else who might be as fraudulent? The problem is not with C-Voter. The problem is with the party that funds these pollsters....the party that is shown as the beneficiary?

Friday, February 14, 2014

Delhi must vote Congress back to power....

Arvind Kejriwal is gone. And my impression is that he's gone for good. If elections were to be held again in Delhi, it is unlikely the people of Delhi will vote for him. Why would they? Their proud city, which boasts the best infrastructure in the country and the fastest growing economy, has suddenly been put on a steep downslide; a slippery slope from which recovery will be difficult if it continues for even a little longer.

If Delhiites were to introspect, they would realize that they really had nothing to complain about from their state government. Sure, they may have had complaints with the Central government, but their own local government had done fabulous work. After 15 years of continous and rapid progress, Delhi had finally overtaken Mumbai as the place where the most corporate action happened. It sported the best airport, the best metro, smooth-as-Hema-Malini's-cheeks-roads (!), the best education system, and importantly, the biggest jobs market. Delhi's economy grew at an average of 10% per annum - a China-like rate, and higher even than the much tomtommed Gujarat rate of growth - and brought enormous prosperity to its people. Not surprisingly, Delhi's per-capita income was the highest in the country, crossing the Rs 2 lacs/annum mark.

Sure, Delhi had its problems, many of them monumental. As happens in all developing countries, the economic growth created a huge influx of migrants from the relatively backward parts of the country. Sharing borders with UP meant that that influx was particularly easy from that state. The migrants created a block of 60 lac slum dwellers, and a whole lot of illegal JJ (jhuggi jhopri) clusters. It also led to an increase in crime, especially against women. Delhi picked up the reputation of being the rape capital of the country, making its people seethe with anger. What do angry people do? Lose their sanity, and attack the first object that comes in front of them - usually the government of the day.

That's when Kejriwal got into the act. The timing was perfect. When he railed against Sheila Dixit, he looked like a messiah, a contrast much like the one people are seeing betwen an uncouth, dictatorial Modi and a too-decent, democratic Manmohan Singh. Kejriwal used the language of the gutters, and attracted that lot to his fold. But surprisingly, he also attracted the educated, the well-off, the same ones who had benefited the most in the previous 15 years, perhaps as a result of anger against the Central government. Kejriwal's success was thus one of timing; his exit from the scene will also be one of the same. 49 days of Kejriwal must surely have made Delhiites bitter. A yearning for the "good old days" must surely have returned.

Does the BJP offer a progressive alternative to Sheila Dixit? No it doesn't. For remember, that much as the BJP today abuses Kejriwal for his 50% cuts in power prices, it too had promised an almost-similar 30% cut in tariffs. And much as it abuses Kejriwal that he doesn't know that the regulator sets the tariffs, not the government, it too made exactly the same promise. How can people demand that power tariffs come down on the one hand, and at the same time, also demand that every resource (coal, land, water) be auctioned to the highest bidder? People may not understand economics, but the BJP should. Yet, it made the same offer that AAP did.

Again, like AAP, the regressive BJP also opposed FDI in retail. Imagine a day when a Delhiite would have to go to Gurgaon to shop at Walmart or Tesco, while a Mumbai resident would just hop across to one close by. The BJP's opposition is purely opportunistic. For I cannot imagine Gujarat not allowing Walmart, when lacs of Gujjus in the US do most of their value-shopping there. If BJP has its way, then young Delhiites with a dream to move up the social ladder should not work in smart  retail outlets, but in "baniya" kirana shops. This is the vision of this party. It protects the baniyas....the same guys who have caused much of the price inflation in food and vegetables. If Delhiites want relief from inflation, they must throw out the baniya-supporting BJP.

Apart from all this, Delhi has always enjoyed a certain liberal culture. People from all parts of the country live here. All cultures find acceptance. There are the ultra-chic fashion shows, as well as the ultra-ethnic Dilli-hart option. The republic-day parade, with its pan-India look and feel is one thing; the everyday parade of culturally diverse people is another. How can such a throbbing and vibrant population vote for a party that believes in 17th century bigotry (Section 377, remember) and the monopoly of one-religion (Hindutva is nothing but Hindu domination) and caste (brahmins)?

The BJP is wrong for Delhi. It is wrong for India. But in a moment of heat, Delhiites made a big mistake in November last year. It's time to undo that mistake. For Delhi to remain modern and liberal, it needs a modern and liberal government, and the only one that fits the bill is a Congress government. The Congress has its own problems, but it's the still the best of the lot.

The real truth is that Delhiites got taken in by the political rhetoric of Kejriwal and made the blunder of voting for him. I hope they don't now swing towards the other evil - the BJP - and make another blunder. Delhiites must push the "pause" button, even rewind if necessary, and think of what brought their city glory in the last 15 years. It's still not to late to make amends....

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Why 1984 cannot be compared with 2002….

It’s become the commonest defence the BJP puts up when Narendra Modi is attacked on the 2002 Godhra riots; that the  Congress is guilty of a similar carnage during the anti-Sikh riots in 1984. No Congress spokesperson has been able to hold his head up and point out the differences between the two. However there is a big difference. The difference is in the way the two parties have responded politically post the events.

Post the reprehensible incidents, both political parties have responded very differently. The Congress has tried to make amends; as a result, the Sikhs have largely forgiven the Congress. But the BJP has made no amends at all. In fact, it has gone the opposite way and made Godhra the centerpiece of its political strategy in Gujarat and now, in a sublte way by making Amit Shah in charge of UP, nationally. Modi’s innings as Gujarat CM began with Godhra. There is no question of him abandoning the Godhra strategy. Or apologizing for the carnage. He is happy to enjoy the love and affection his fellow Gujaratis have showered over him….by voting for him again and again.

How has the response to the two parties been different? The Congress apologized to the Sikhs. In public and in action. Sonia Gandhi made Manmohan Singh the PM even though no one would have given him that chance. The Sikhs felt assuaged. It was the Congress’s way of apologizing; by handing over the most powerful position in the country to a Sikh. Of course, there were political reasons that Sonia had for doing so; but she grabbed the chance. Of course, Manmohan Singh’s brilliant record as a bureaucrat; his courageous reforms under Narasimha Rao; his intellectual prowess; and his apolitical nature all made him the “natural” choice. In making Manmohan Singh the PM, Sonia hit two birds with one stone. Not only did she give the nation an able PM, she also offered an olive branch to the Sikh community.

The Sikhs forgave the Congress, though they never forgot the carnage itself. Since 1984, the Sikhs in Punjab voted the Congress to power twice for a total of 10 years; the SAD – the party of the Sikhs – managed only slightly better at thrice for 12 years (before the current tenure started). The loss of the Congress in the latest polls in the state was considered an unexpected shock; and was attributed to factors not related to the 1984 events.

In contrast, the BJP made no amends. The party retained it’s hardline Hindutva imagery. Neither the party nor Modi has ever apologized to the Muslim community. The BJP abused its power over the Gujarat police while probing the Godhra riots (after having severely abused it during the riots); as well as over the state judiciary which had become completely saffronized. Things became so bad that investigative functions had to be handed over to an SIT; and Godhra hearings moved outside the state. The state continued its perseculation of Muslims. One after another, fake encounters took place in the state. The state government refused to pony up monies for the restoration of mosques destroyed during the riots. When the BJP’s Minister of Home during the riots Haren Pandya was murdered, the state made attempts (and succeeded initially) to put the blame on innocent muslims from Hyderabad. All this indicates that the BJP is not contrite. If anything, it wears Godhra on its sleeve – preserving its image of being as much anti-Muslim as it is pro-Hindu. That stance has polarized the country completely. It has helped it win power repeatedly in Gujarat (and MP). But it has caused it to lose power everywhere else in the country.

In the Center, the BJP was booted out in 2004 immediatley after Godhra. In UP – where it all started with the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 – the party has never wielded power since the Babri days; Godhra couldn’t help it revive the Babri frenzy. In Maharashtra, where the equally saffron Shiv Sena is its ally, the alliance has ruled only once for 4 years since 1995; and never after Godhra. In Bihar, its ally of 17 years broke relations recently.

The BJP of course says it is has been fair to the Muslims. It uses the fact that it made APJ Abdul Kalam the President to prove this. That was a good thing to do; but it looks like an exception that has never been repeated. Can we ever imagine the BJP making a Muslim its party President, forget the PM of the country? Never. In fact, the BJP projects Modi as its future PM candidate. And Modi hasn’t even given a single seat in the state elections to Muslim candidates. He hasn’t done it ever and he is not going to do it in the future. At the national level, how many Muslim faces does one see in the BJP? Except for a few “show pieces”, none. Forget the Muslims. How many Christian faces are there in the party? None. The BJP is proud of its staunch Hindu character. Even in that domain, it remains exclusivist and strongly Brahminical. The BJP’s inherent nature is to polarize. It polarized the country on the Hindu-Muslim axis. It polarized the Hindus on the Brahmin-others axis.

In the end, the Congress apologized to the Sikhs, gave power to them, made a Sikh the PM, and has included Sikhs in the party’s power structure. The BJP has never apologized to the Muslims and Christians (remember how Dara Singh – a Bajrang Dal member – murdered Christian missionary Graham Staines in Orissa in 1999?); never given them power; obviously never made a Muslim or Christian the PM or even party President; and rather than including them in its party, has intentionally alienated them further. This is the difference that must be remembered. There may be similarities in the mistake committed initially; but the corrective actions taken thereafter are totally divergent.

The real truth is that the Congress remains culturally, religiously and socially heterogeneous; the BJP a Brahminical monolith, with Modi a convenient “adjustment” for now. The Congress’s heterogeneity forced it to apologize to the Sikhs; the BJP’s homogeneity compels it not to do so to the Muslims. The two parties are incomparable; the two incidents likewise.
(Note: This post was uploaded first in Dec 2012….this is a slightly updated one)