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The countdown to counting

Well,everybody’s doing it,so why don’t we? In the silly season of numerology,who has the numbers?

Well,everybody’s doing it,so why don’t we? In the silly season of numerology,who has the numbers? Delhi Daredevils,Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals are aiming to score the most points; Congress-UPA,BJP-NDA and Third Front challengers are hoping for the highest number of seats.

If we gaze into the liquid TV screen,what do we see happening this week? Much the same that happened last week and the week before that. In the absence of opinion polls,TV election coverage was fixated with personalities and what they said — Varun Gandhi,Rahul Gandhi,Priyanka Gandhi,L K Advani,Narendra Modi,etc — and last week,most famously with Amar Singh,who,India TV declared on Friday,will quit politics on May 13 (an in/auspicious date?)

We also saw a lot of shadow-boxing: TV channels and political parties have conducted opinion/exit polls but because of an official ban,could not share them with us. Result? Polls passed off as numerical ‘projections’ like the one on Times Now,Sunday; discussions between TV anchors and panelists often based on poll ‘projections’ they know about but we don’t. Surreal.

Wednesday is the final day of polling and from 5 pm onwards,news channels should begin to count the votes. Should see polls,opinion polls,combined polls for the five different phases of the election with each channel predicting an outcome that will differ from the others (otherwise,why have your own predictions?). Discussions led by the individual whose misfortune it has been to sit out the election thus far,or,appear on TV like the emperor without his clothes: the psephologist. That poor worthy has been forced into vague assessments deprived of the polls and numbers that previously gave him an insight and foresight none could match. They’ll be joined by leading editors,historians,and we believe,Shobaa De. They will carve up the country on the basis of caste,religion,politics,development and the ‘swing’ factor to explain the ‘people’s verdict’. Expect a little more coherence since the picture will be viewed in totality,with retrospective effect.

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Enter the politicians. If the predictions give their alliance the lead,they’ll either say,“This is a vindication of our policies over the last five years”,or “this is an indictment of the government over the last five years”. If their alliance is trailing,they’ll chorus in rare unanimity,“I am sure our party/alliance will form the next government”. When asked,as they inevitably will be,“Would you consider approaching xyz for support?” they will reply as they have all along,“Wait for the numbers” or,“We’ll have nothing to do with Congress,communalists or the communists”!

This poll khol will continue for 60-odd hours; it will be relentless,endless,very combative,even louder than normal (to justify the high ad rates they’ll be asking for?).

Saturday: counting day. Nothing much till 9 am but after that,the deluge. TV reporters,who have done little this election since the campaign has been fought mostly in TV studios,will feature prominently at party offices which will be either deserted or crowded depending on the count,or at politicians’ homes waiting to interview them. News channels will compete at the numbers game; so you’ll have wildly fluctuating figures which first give one party and then the other the leadings on the basis of which panelists will make pronouncements they’ll often have to contradict minutes later when the numbers change.

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There will be a merry-go-round of politicians by turn appearing on all channels,each time saying the same thing: “This is a vindication/indictment of the government’s performance in the last five years”,“Our party/alliance will form the next government.” Saturday evening,the final numbers will be in — or out. Then what? Then,over to IPL where the numbers are still playing out.

shailaja.bajpai@expressindia.com

First published on: 12-05-2009 at 23:58 IST
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