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Bihar Polls: When talking heads jumped the gun

At 8.15 am, BJP president Amit Shah was proclaimed a strategic genius. Two hours later, he had to be cast on the dust-heap of history as a peddler of divisive claptrap.

Written by Pratik Kanjilal | New Delhi |
Updated: November 9, 2015 12:00:50 am
bihar election results, bihar 2015 election results, bihar polls results, bihar election, bihar polls, bihar polls results, nitish kumar, lalu prasad yadav, grand alliance, mahagathbandan, bihar, bihar news, india news, latest news BJP president Amit Shah was proclaimed a strategic genius.

If time had stopped in Bihar Sunday morning, Narendra Modi would have ruled the state, by proxy.

And though the arrow of time is known to be insistently persistent, our television psephologists and studio pundits put up a spirited fight to award the election to the BJP. But battles against the laws of physics are fought on a slippery slope, and rollbacks are inevitable.

At 8.15 am, BJP president Amit Shah was proclaimed a strategic genius. Two hours later, he had to be cast on the dust-heap of history as a peddler of divisive claptrap. And NDTV had to return in ignominy to reality from the brink of declaring a 140-seat margin for the NDA, muttering about being diddled by bad data.

WATCH VIDEO: Bihar Election Results: Editors’ Take

This election exposed the risks of regarding psephology an an exact science, of exclusively playing the numbers game rather than putting feet on the street and, most particularly, the risk run by TV pundits in a hurry to trend on Twitter. Especially before 8.30 am, when the leads reflected only postal ballots.

They could, at least, have sniffed the air as a matter of caution when BJP spokesman Sambit Patra called for humility and abjured arrogance and aggression. His most memorable quote about the BJP sweep in the 2014 general election had been: “Our lion is roaring everywhere!” When the same man urged calm, his party and its advocates on TV should have reached for their life preservers.

But in Patna, the BJP was already celebrating, distributing sweets to all and sundry outside the party office — hours later, even Lalu Prasad mentioned this while taking a swipe at the BJP euphoria over the early trends.

WATCH VIDEO: Parties React To Bihar Results: Rahul Gandhi, Kailash Vijayvargiya & Javed Raza Speak

In Delhi’s television studios, the battle for Bihar turned into a media contest between Times Now’s Arnab Goswami and Bhupendra Chaubey of CNN-IBN. As Patra left his studio, Goswami asked him to “demand accountability from those TV channels who fudge data and distort facts.

Indeed, all channels, across languages, disagreed on the numbers right through the period of counting, but Goswami’s target was clearly CNN-IBN, which had promised to deliver the statistics faster than the competition. Acknowledging the complexity of the poll, he said, “This is the worst day to do guesswork.” He declared his channel would use only bulletproof data from the EC and all other channels were using untrustworthy data.


Which wasn’t quite the case: CNN-IBN relied on inputs from the ground sent in by 243 reporters, mostly from the ETV network, who sourced the numbers from counting centres before the EC released them. And the channel was reliably and credibly ahead in the game, calling the election in favour of the Mahagathbandhan at 10.03 am, when the experts in Goswami’s studio were marvelling at being fairly bamboozled, and NDTV was declaring that they had never seen a poll like this.

Rather, we have never seen alacrity quite like this: an election being called before breakfast on the slender strength of less than 20 trends out of 243 constituencies — less than 10 per cent of seats, and in 15 per cent of the minimum time it took for a credible call. Surprisingly, this was driven by the urgency of anchors and talking heads who are believed to be independent.

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