Last year before the May 12th election I was stationed at Varanasi with team 5Forty3 to cover the last leg of a fascinating general election. The whole city was swarming with journalists and TV reporters of all hues and shapes and our hotel was no exception. During the morning breakfast we would invariably encounter these journo types and would be unwitting eavesdroppers to their unintelligent conversations.
“Imagine, Arvind Kejriwal defeating Modi in Varanasi” one of the light eyed, Bollywoodish fair skinned TV reporter of a news channel that was later acquired by a top business house would cue with an almost girlish peel of laughter and then go on to add, “even if NDA comes to power, HE won’t be the PM of India, mark my words”. This conversation, mind you, was happening on the last day of elections even as 90% of India had already exercised its democratic choice.
An evening prior to the 12th May election of Varanasi, on the ghats of Ganga, I was one of the fortunate Hindus to witness the ethereal last Ganga Aarti before the dawn of a new sunrise. There was something magical about that evening. Even as the flames rose from those Aartis one could almost sense the rising tide of hopes of a civilization. Somewhere in that milieu, a small group of youngsters started chanting spontaneously “Modi, Modi” and there was a brief cheer from all around. If we had conducted a snap poll of that gathering on the Ganga ghat that evening, I suspect 90%+ respondents would have chosen Modi as their choice.
The next day, on the 12th of May, as the numbers from different polling stations started coming in, it was becoming clear that it would indeed be a Modi landslide in Kashi. By evening we had reported that Modi was headed for a huge victory margin and that India would witness the beginning of the Modi era. But the hotel lobby at late evening belonged to another universe of its own kind even as a group of journalists were animatedly discussing about how Kejriwal is the future of Indian politics!
Later that night on the telly, that fair skinned light eyed reporter was giving her ground gyaan to her anchor in Dilli, “this is a fight to the finish here in Varanasi and the Aam Aadmi Party has put up a very spirited fight”.
The contrast between real India and Dilli media could not have been starker. While India had chosen her leader, Dilli media had also made a choice – Arvind Kejriwal. From that day onwards, I have always had a sense at the back of my mind that the MSM brigade is too deeply invested in the Kejriwal phenomenon and would try to reinvent him at some point of time. The present Delhi election became a God-sent opportunity for almost the entire media universe. It was indeed a carefully orchestrated media campaign that altered the Delhi election for us into such a tight run race.
The media narrative began quite early in the Delhi campaign. When Narendra Modi addressed a campaign rally in Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan on January 10th, the media played deliberate mischief by almost unanimously reporting falsehoods. Newspapers and TV channels went into overdrive by creating stories about how there was “unenthusiastic clapping” from the crowd and how there were a few “empty chairs” and even insinuating through (dubious) source-based reporting that Modi-Shah duo were unhappy with crowd management.
At every step since then the media escalated this style of its reportage. Kiran Bedi’s induction was converted into a story of BJP’s weakness, Obama’s visit was converted into 10 lakh suit of the PM v/s the simplicity of the mufflerman (does anybody in India ever remember what any PM has ever worn while meeting an international leader? But almost everybody has now been made aware of our PM’s suit), Obama’s remarks on religious tolerance were converted into a “snub to Modi” and even Imam Bhukhari’s open support to AAP was converted into a BJP’s effort to communalize Delhi elections.
TV studios were virtually converted into AAP campaign offices for the last one month wherein 2-3 supposedly “neutral” commentators of the likes of Aarti Jeraths, Dibangs and Manini Chatterjees would sit and pontificate on the virtues of AAP even while deriding the ruling party. In the meanwhile, some half-a-dozen dubious pollsters conducted almost daily poll surveys in Delhi and came up with such fantastic numbers as 50% vote-share for AAP.
It was as if that parallel universe in Varanasi’s hotel lobby on May 12th 2014 had been transported into the reality of February 2015 Delhi. Unlike Varanasi, news media could influence Delhi through the noise they created. BJP began its fight back a little late in the day, for it was a party that was too self-assured about its own status among the voters. In the last week the battle for Delhi really twisted and turned with such vigor that it became something akin to a dead heat race. The way Delhi was shaping up, pre-poll surveys were at best in a position to understand a trend rather than project actual reality in numbers. The trend was clear that AAP was ahead and that BJP was fighting a rear guard battle.
Now that exit poll numbers are out from varied number of pollsters, it is becoming clear that AAP has maintained its lead despite BJP’s late fight back. We conducted a small exit poll in partnership with a third party outfit and with a sample size of 1500 (due to lack of adequate capital, we did not conduct a third poll on our own). The findings of this exit-poll come with the standard error margin of 3%, but what is fascinating is that it almost mirrors our own final pre-poll survey.
Unlike other exit polls, this one suggests that BJP came a close second to AAP and with 3% error margin it may yet be able to reverse the lead with even a minor sampling error. The way AAP was surging ahead in late January, this is a creditable performance by BJP indeed. Yes, the party may end up losing Delhi but the fact that BJP did put up a fight despite all the handicaps of a staggering media campaign against it suggests that BJP under Shah’s guidance is ready for bigger battles ahead. There are three possible scenarios that may unfold on Tuesday;
A. AAP may emerge with an outright majority and form a government in Delhi easily
B. AAP may emerge as the single largest party with BJP being a distant second
C. Both AAP and BJP may win almost identical number of seats and an impossibly hung assembly in Delhi
In the case of scenario 3, Amit Shah would emerge as the big winner of Delhi on Tuesday despite BJP not winning a majority because by then the media would have scored so many self goals by projecting AAP as the clear winner. The possibility of this 3rd scenario cannot be ruled out because although AAP was ahead, BJP and RSS did make a herculean effort to bring out voters on Saturday and it may have made some impact.
What is more likely though is that the first two scenarios would play out on Tuesday. Either AAP would emerge as a big winner or clearly as the single largest party. In both the cases, media and the intellectual class will make a huge hullabaloo over the coming week and start analyzing how BJP is now losing India!
Yes, for an opportunity starved Dilli media, AAP’s victory will come as a huge morale booster. There will be scores of Op-eds and editorials celebrating Modi’s faltering as a leader and Amit Shah’s weaknesses as an organizer and so and so forth. The hard reality is that the Delhi election should hardly make any dent on the BJP government at the centre and, if anything, it will have provided a great opportunity for BJP as a party to build alternate media-intellectual ecosystems to create sustainable Right governance models for the next few decades.
Once the hoopla dies down, reality will strike on both AAP as well as its sponsors in the media. For a party with little structured organization, AAP has mostly grown inorganically in the last one year and many of these erstwhile BSP, Congress imports will begin to demand their pound of flesh. In fact, it wouldn’t be a surprise if AAP goes on a similar trajectory as it did in 2013-14 with constant dharnas and continuous internal strife. Day-to-day governance is beyond the realm of AAP’s core political existence. This defeat for the BJP may not be as bad as it looks right now. Whatever the eventual outcome, Dilli media has found a breather in its otherwise precarious life of the last year or so.