Politics

The Politics of Exit Polls and Cows

JD(U) supporters celebrate the Mahagathbandhan's (Grand Alliance) victory in the Bihar assembly elections at the party office in Patna on Sunday. Credit: PTI

JD(U) supporters celebrate the Mahagathbandhan’s (Grand Alliance) victory in the Bihar assembly elections at the party office in Patna on Sunday. Credit: PTI

For an hour or more, the (English) news channels were getting the results of the Bihar election wrong by a long margin. The initial trends were wrong, followed by hasty conlcusions about the verdict in Bihar. One anchor even declared who was forming the government within 40 minutes.

The analysis of the so-called victory of the BJP alliance was quick in concluding that the caste equations had crumbled in Bihar and the lower castes – including the OBCs, the Dalits and the Mahadalits – had apparently shifted allegiance to the “development” agenda of the BJP. When all this turned out to be incorrect there followed a hasty attempt to put things in fresh perspective.

It is clearly not just a question of an exit poll and its method going wrong. Since the 2007 victory of Mayawati in UP, all corporate run TV news channels have been consistently trying to play down, lampoon and disregard the politics of caste and caste equations. They saw caste as an impediment to the kind of politics they wanted in the country: political centralism and neo-liberal reforms. In fact, Mayawati’s win was also beyond the exit poll findings and one anchor wondered if the future of Indian elections were going to become the graveyard of sophisticated psephology. That fear has come true, because psephology clearly doesn’t dictate the outcome of elections, the electorate does. That point has once again been reiterated by the Bihar election results. The exit polls lost. But the people’s verdict in Bihar has made the TV channels learn the lesson yet again – a lesson they are refusing to acknowledge publicly. That in India, as long as there is upper caste hegemony, the politics of caste will refuse to be usurped all the time by the chimera of ‘development’. The Bihar verdict has shown yet again, it is the resistance of a socially inclusive agenda that can successfully thwart majoritarian politics.

The state which provides India with the largest and cheapest labour force, and where the assertion of the underprivileged castes has had a huge bearing in its politics, has proved to be the Waterloo of communal politics. The rhetoric and sentiments around the cow, of who is and is not an anti-national, if anything, has had a negative impact on the fate of the BJP. The huge economic packages promised to Bihar were either not enough or part of a larger logic: Development hides another face, the face of a vicious majoritarianism.

The increasing brazenness of communalist forces, encouraged by a silent government at the Centre, had gained nationwide attention and outcry. The incidents that resulted in the unprecedented spree of resignations and award returns by writers, artists and scientists across regions as much as ideologies, seemed to have had some bearing on the conscience (and consciousness) of politics in Bihar. It is significant that Sharad Yadav said on television after the verdict was clear that the mandate is a vindication of the protest by writers and artists against the barbaric assault on freedom. Certainly then, the threat to freedom of expression was more urgent and important than the question of cow protection. In a poor country, the question of beef cannot be more important than the question of food.

In many ways, the Bihar elections will be seen as a huge hole in the rising politics of intolerance. It will also temper the politics of economic package deals. The promise of money is not always a promise that ensures the elevation of livelihood and basic amenities. Bihar is too grounded in the knowledge of its deprivations to fall for gift packages. Trust isn’t built in a day. Nitish Kumar clearly has the trust of his voters, and the wily but earthy Laloo Prasad seems to gain credibility in such moments of secular crisis that demands a politics of regeneration. The response of the people of Bihar to that crisis is simple: There cannot be any communal takeover in the name of development.

Elections cannot be won either by any corporate or jingoistic fraudulence. Campaigns cannot be undermined by propaganda. The news coming from Bihar in the last couple of months from independent researchers, journalists and others was of a huge mandate in favour of the grand alliance. One wonders whether television reporters, anchors and its avowed ‘experts’ got it wrong or were too blind to see the writing on the wall. The writing on the wall shall now have the last laugh.

Manash Bhattacharjee is a poet, writer and political science scholar. His first collection of poetry, Ghalib’s Tomb and Other Poems (2013), was published by The London Magazine. He is currently Adjunct Professor in the School of Culture and Creative Expressions at Ambedkar University, New Delhi.