Over the weekend, I saw Arnab Goswami single handedly run a marathon election special with multiple panelists and yet not lose focus. Though he had his Political Editor, Navika Kumar, by his side, he had to constantly nudge and wink to get her to say something meaningful from the participants. Several of the panelists were merely giving ‘uber gyaan’, but the most lucid without a doubt was political analyst Mahesh Rangarajan. Commentator and BJP ideologue Swapan Dasgupta was surprisingly quiet and subdued, while Nalini Singh did make a valid point or two, namely throwing into stark relief the Sikkim Syndrome, of how small regional parties in far flung areas always go with the ruling dispensation at the Centre. Most of the panelists sadly were out of touch with real politik and were unable to say anything substantative.
Otherwise it was an Arnab show. The poor man must be stressed out after these lengthy shows where the panelists indulge in endless filibustering. But he keeps at it, to his credit, making him one of the best anchors on telly these days. If one were to look at brand ambassadors for news telly channels, then Arnab would tower over everyone else. Every night ‘Newshour’ is his show and he brings credible faces together to stoke a feisty debate. All he needs is a bit between his teeth and then he asks the right questions at the right time. Several people, including me, have said that he is bit too aggressive at times, but then that is because he takes a position. You might not agree with his position all the time, but the fact of the matter is that he stands his ground while doing so. Maybe that is why he is watched. Can’t say the same for some of the political analysts and scientists that he gathers in the studio, but that will take a separate discourse. I don’t see any other telly anchor performing consistently like Arnab does.
Against that, the buddy teams of Dr Prannoy Roy/ Dorab Sopariwala and Yogendra Yadav/ Rajdeep Sardesai is also doing analysis, but that is akin to reading out a laundry list. Cut and dried. Cold numbers. No frills. Boring. The level of debate on both these channels is a travesty. While with Arnab on Times Now, the role that he plays as a ‘sutradhar’ is more or less perfect, He dictates the agenda. He is provocative and purposeful, even as he plays referee to an animated panel. Controlling so many at the same time is fraught with danger.
The specific show that I am referring to dealt with The Times of India’s latest projections for the general elections. The May 6 edition of TOI had announced a dead heat, saying just eight seats separated the UPA and NDA. While many of the panelists disagreed with the projections, everyone was chary to give his own assessment in terms of numbers. Pollsters, analysts, pundits and what have you are playing their part as talking heads on news telly channels, but nobody has a clue as to what the final outcome will be on Saturday. If the 2004 elections was complex, this one, too, has foxed one and all. The TOI projections on May 6 gave the Congress 152 and the BJP 145, a difference of seven.
Over the last couple of days, I too have been looking at projections from different think tanks and agencies – both private and government – and the broad consensus is that it is too close a call. The NDA show of strength on Sunday notwithstanding, 272 sounds like the mountain that Sisyphus was trying the roll the stone up on. The number of seats that the two big parties get in a fragmented poll doesn’t mean anything till such time as they cobble up the numbers around the big number. And I guess that is where the Left and Mayawati will come into play. I am not discounting Nitish Kumar or Mulayam Singh or Jayalalitha or Chandrababu Naidu just yet, but the blocks available with the Left and Behenji Maya Wati (BMW) will play a deciding role. The Left with the Congress and BMW with the BJP. But then what will Mamata Banerjee do if the Left supports the UPA? These are the issues that will decide the final formation. Cards open on the afternoon of May 16. Till then all bets are off.
Of the two most credible projections that I have seen, one gives the Congress standalone 155 and the BJP 124, while the other gives the Congress 158 and the BJP 146. But there was another critical insight offered by Mahesh Rangarajan on the same election special on Times Now. Which is that while UP elected the Prime Minister of India in the past, it is now the combine of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, which determines who will capture the throne in the Rajdhani. Between AP and TN, there are 81 seats, while UP, after the creation of Uttarakhand, now returns only 80 MPs.
Of the two credible projections that I have been looking at, the Congress will get 21 seats in AP and TN – 16 and five, respectively. TDP is likely to bag 14 in AP, while DMK will get eight in AP. Jayalalitha’s AIADMK is likely to get 13 in TN. Yes, believe it or not, the South votes the party to power. The 158-146 mandate, which has the Congress only marginally ahead, seems the more plausible. Here again, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu hold the key. But the projections given are more or less the completely opposite of projection 1. In AP, the Congress is seen garnering 26 seats, which will be a big surprise, the TDP-TRS combine 14 and Chiranjeev’s PRP three. In Tamil Nadu, it shows the AIADMK in a commanding position with 26 likely seats, the Congress two and the DMK is not routed as it manages 11.
That is why I reckon projection 2 is more plausible than projection 1. It presents a more accurate understanding of ground zero not just nationwide, but in the critical swing states AP and TN. Interestingly, projection 2 is also closer to the TOI projection of 152 Congress and 145 BJP. On Saturday afternoon, we will have some idea of who participates in the swearing in ceremony. But not necessarily the whole picture. For it is only starting Monday that the great game begins. For the markets and economists, it will only then emerge as to will cede policy influence to whom.
Confused, wait for Monday, May 18, uncannily the same dreaded day for the markets as in circa 2004.
(Sandeep Bamzai is a well-known journalist, who started his career as a stringer with The Statesman in Kolkata in 1984. He has held senior editorial positions in some of the biggest media houses in three different cities - Kolkata, Mumbai and New Delhi. In late 2008, he joined three old friends to launch a start-up – Sportzpower Network – which combines his two passions of business and sport. Familiar with all four media – print, television, Internet and radio, Bamzai is the author of three different books on cricket and Kashmir. The views expressed here are of the writer’s and not necessarily those of the editors and publisher of exchange4media.com.)