The so called mainstream media is at it again – making a fool of itself and displaying unending contempt for the native intelligence of the Indian voter. Once again, we are being told by pundits and sycophantic and servile courtiers masquerading as columnists that the Congress and the UPA have got their mojo back and look set to win the Lok Sabha elections due in 2014. The reasons offered are many. For one, the BJP is in a mess and has failed to capitalize on the serial scams haunting the Congress since 2010. Then again, the voter is wary of a rag tag Third or Fourth Front government propped up by outside support and will reluctantly vote again for the Congress. The most servile are writing about how Rahul Gandhi and his computer baba log are drawing up a “fool” proof strategy to woo voters. The pink papers have been screaming hoarse about the return of P. Chidambaram as the Finance Minister and how he will get the economy back on a high growth path. A related part of this delusional narrative is hailing the decision to allow FDI in retail and capping the use of subsidized LPG cylinders at six a year as proof that the UPA government is determined to push for “reforms”. Of course, the game changer is supposed to be what Jairam Ramesh so cutely described as “Aapka paisa, Aapke Haath”. Yes, I am talking about the decision to resort to cash transfer of subsidies to beneficiaries using the Aadhar scheme. So powerful is the alleged impact of this game changing decision that even mainstream media professionals who are critical of the Congress and the Gandhi dynasty are complaining that the ruling party is resorting to bribing the voters to win another election. In all of this, there seems to be a near unanimity that the Congress will pull off yet another stunning victory. They draw parallels with 2009 when the NREGA scheme was used as a bribe to the Indian voters to win elections. Of course, there are many who are still saying that the Indian voter is still so angry, so outraged and so pissed off with the corruption, hubris and arrogance of this government that they are determined to vote against the Congress. But such voices have been drowned in the cacophony of predicting yet another Congress victory.
I can only marvel and laugh at such malarkey and nonsense. For ages, the New Delhi-based mainstream media has utterly failed to read the intentions of the Indian voter. It has a habit of getting it wrong almost every time. And yet, it persists in such hogwash. Allow me to quote columnist Tavleen Singh who was a young reporter in 1977 when Indira Gandhi lifted the Emergency and called for elections. She writes:
“It became clear that Mrs.Gandhi wanted to restore her image as a democratic leader and this could only happen if the coming elections were seen to be fair. Within days of the elections being announced, most of the opposition leaders who were still in jail were released. They were no longer worth keeping in jail since nobody, not even the opposition leaders themselves, thought in January 1977 that Mrs.Gandhi had the slightest chance of losing this election. Every report, even from her own intelligence agencies, indicated that she might lose a few seats; but that there was no chance of a total defeat.”
That was 35 years ago. Since then, in election after election, the mainstream media has almost always forecasted it wrong – the only notable exception being 1984, when Rajiv Gandhi won a historic mandate after the assassination of Indira Gandhi.
It would be easy to conclude that most of the mainstream media is blindly and abjectly supportive of the Congress and the Gandhi dynasty when it comes to forecasting election results. A hell of a lot of our mainstream media is guilty of that. But the bigger crime is its failure to read voter intentions. Just go back to the spring of 2004 and you will realize what I am talking about. Let me give you just
one example. The much talked about research agency AC Nielsen was commissioned by NDTV and The Indian Express to conduct an opinion poll and make a forecast for the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. In a largest of its kind survey, around 40,000 respondents were asked about their voting intentions. The forecast was that the then ruling NDA would win between 287 to 307 seats and rule India for another five years. The BJP was projected to win around 200 seats while the Congress was projected to win around 100 seats. Let me give you one more example from the same year when assembly elections were held along with Lok Sabha elections in Andhra Pradesh. A prestigious survey that featured in the Outlook magazine had the following forecast for the state. The then ruling Telugu Desam was given around 165 seats while the Congress and its allies were given around 125 seats. So NDTV said in 2004 that the NDA would rule India for another five years and Outlook said in 2004 that Chandrababu Naidu and his party would rule Andhra Pradesh for another five years. We all know what the actual results were.
Now, even a moron would not dare to suggest that the two prestigious mainstream media outlets are hostile to the Congress. In fact, many would suggest that their sympathies clearly lie with the Congress and that they have no love lost for the BJP. And yet, for all their sympathies and leanings, they failed to read or gauge the mood of the electorate in 2004. And I am not singling out NDTV and Outlook. Virtually the entire Delhi-based mainstream media had the same opinion.
Why did this happen and why does the mainstream media still fail to get it? The answer is two fold. The first, it is deeply rooted in the Durbar politics of Delhi and has no clue about what really is happening in the rest of India. Second, it is susceptible to smart spin masters and courtiers of the day who have their own axe to grind. This was sickeningly revealed during the coverage of the 2012 assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh. Just pause for a moment and think about the manner in which the mainstream media covered the election campaign conducted by heir apparent Rahul Gandhi. There was unbelievable talk about how the UP voter could actually give more than 150 seats to the Congress and possibly make it the largest party in the state assembly. The less hysterical and shameless parts of the mainstream media talked about how the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party would emerge as the largest party, but would need the support of a vastly improved and powerful Congress to be able to rule UP. I read some of the newspaper articles of that time and saw some TV stories on You- Tube. I tell you, it was embarrassing, downright embarrassing. For good measure, I read up many articles penned during the run up to the Tamil Nadu assembly elections in 2011. They were even more embarrassing, because many actually said that the ruling DMK-Congress alliance would actually negate voter anger against scams by bribing the voters with goodies and gifts. And we all know what happened when the results of the assembly elections in Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh were announced.
And yet, the Delhi-centric mainstream media is back to its old tricks again by showing utter disregard for the voter, for contemporary history and for facts. Angry voters in India have always thrown out governments. When they are really angry, they don’t conduct stupid debates and ponder philosophically about the viability of alternatives. They just want to teach a lesson to the ruling party, the consequences be dammed. They did that in 1977, in 1980 when they were betrayed by the Janata Party, in 1989 and in 1996. It is both presumptuous and foolish of the mainstream media to think that the Indian voter was not aware of the possibility of unstable governments when she voted in anger.
Allow me to point out another silly thread in this drumbeat about revived Congress prospects. The pundits say that NREGA was a huge factor in the 2009 election victory of the Congress. They are plain wrong. It was the urban middle class aspirational vote that gave the Congress a mandate in 2009. The fact is – the Congress did poorly in rural areas and overwhelmingly well in cities and urban areas. Can we at least see the 2009 vote in perspective? Could it be that when a genuine crisis looms, voters across the world tend to vote for incumbents? Could it be that Kargil helped the NDA in 1999 and 26/11 helped UPA in 2009?
But sadly, there is no attempt to do any serious analysis. But I am quite clear of one thing. The Indian voter is about as angry as she was in 1977 and 1989. And this time, the manner in which inflation has derailed household budgets and dreams has further fueled the anger. I am also clear about another thing. The mainstream media will keep projecting Rahul Gandhi as the Prime Minister in waiting. Till the voter delivers her stinging slap in 2014.
Well, some things never change.