People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 17

April 25, 2004



Time To Intensify Attack On Communal Lobby

Harkishan Singh Surjeet


NOW that the first phase of Lok Sabha polling is over, the BJP is trying to put up a brave face while the media too are busy misinterpreting the exit poll results to save their face and make people believe that the BJP is still ahead in the race. Yet, any careful reading of the reports so far would tell you which way the fortunes threaten to swing.



AS we know, these exit polls were conducted when voters were coming out of polling booths. But a curious thing is that at least three agencies finished their exercise by early afternoon while the polling closes at 5 p m. Secondly, while the polling took place in 140 constituencies spread over 13 states and 3 union territories and the total number of voters was about 17.8 crores, these exit polls were based on paltry, by no means representative samples. For example, the Indian Express-NDTV sample was just 23,096, spread over only 57 constituencies (less than half) in only 9 states. In fact, even if the overall voter turnout was 55 per cent (the Election Commission said the revised estimates could go up), the sample size in each exit poll was hardly 0.025 per cent of the actual votes polled. 

A second trick was that, aware of the unrepresentative character of their samples, these agencies pegged the exit poll results to those of their earlier opinion polls. As in only two states all the seats went to polls on April 20, the Indian Express-NDTV pollsters pegged the exit poll results to those of their first opinion poll that was conducted in mid-March in order to make projections for the whole states where all the seats did not go to polls in the first phase. As The Indian Express itself admits (April 21), “For the seven other states, it has been assumed that the same swing in this first phase will also apply to the rest of the state. To provide the national picture, it has been necessary to include those states where there has been no polling since the first opinion poll. For those states, the seat projections from the first poll have been used.”


The trick is this. While the agency’s first opinion poll gave the BJP and allies 97 seats out of 140 that went to polls on April 20, their second opinion poll had given them only 83 seats. Naturally, if the agency had pegged the exit poll to the second opinion poll results, its exit poll tally of 75 for the alliance would have been still lower.    


The most basic fallacy of these psephological exercises pertains to projection, in which the results drawn from a sample, necessarily small, are applied to a much bigger universe, and it is here that most of the motivated tricks are played. A French philosopher of the Renaissance, D’Alemberto, once said: Give me any proposition and I will turn it into its exact opposite by deleting a crucial datum here and a crucial assumption there. Most of our psephologists seem to be acting on the formula D’Alemberto had satirised against. But then, a psephologist can even show a Congress sweep across India by extrapolating the opinion or exit poll results from, say, Amethi alone.   


A Times of India report (April 20) thus sums up the fallacies of such exit polls: “(1) They could not predict the outcome in Rajasthan in December 2003. (2) Results have to be predicted before 5 p m, but samples are collected at 2-3 p m. (3) Samples may not be representative of all sections of voters. (4) There can always be over-sampling or under-sampling of a particular group.” It was therefore not surprising that all exit polls in 1999 went wrong by wide margins.


One may ask: if exit polls go wrong by such wide margins, why are they conducted after all? One answer is that such opinion and exit polls have themselves become a lucrative business and bring crores of rupees to the pollsters. But a more important reason is that they are less of a means to gauge the public opinion and more of a means to influence the voter psychology in favour of BJP. Not surprisingly, when a demand was raised a few days ago for banning the exit polls, the media raised a big hullabaloo in the name of freedom of expression.



BE that as it may, even the latest exit polls had to admit, even if obliquely, that the swing is in fact away from the BJP and allies. As we saw, the Indian Express-NDTV’s first opinion poll gave the BJP and allies 97 seats against their actual 1999 tally of 87, but their second opinion poll brought down the figure to 83 and their exit poll has now brought it to 75. In fact, out of the four major exit polls on April 20, three indicate a fall in the NDA tally; only one (by Aaj Tak) gave the alliance 93 seats against the existing 87. But the naked pro-BJP bias of this TV channel is no secret either.

Thus, the indication is that the NDA’s overall tally is likely to come down. More so because in the constituencies that will go to polls in the remaining three phases, the NDA is not as strong as it was in the first phase constituencies.

It was no wonder that BJP leaders were reported to have got desperate after the exit poll results were out. To quote the Hindustan Times (April 21): “Despite the variations in the predictions, the exit poll results appeared to both mirror and provoke anxiety in the BJP over its own assessments of election prospects…... The party had been hoping to better its 1999 performance in the first phase, and has identified two reasons why things may not be going quite that way.”   

And what are these reasons? One is the Lucknow stampede that claimed the lives of about two dozen women, and it “seems to have become a bigger issue countrywide than the BJP had anticipated.” And the second reason in the BJP’s view is that “the constant harping on Congress chief Mrs Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin has partially eclipsed the original, positive feelgood campaign.”




AS for the BJP’s “feelgood campaign,” the less said the better. It may be that under the BJP dispensation, a tiny section of the population is feeling as good as it never did since independence. But the question is: can this tiny section be taken to represent the whole Indian mass? 

The campaign lacked substance anyway, and the BJP and company have not been able to reply to the CPI(M)’s point by point rebuttal of their claims in its recent “Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics” series. The only thing the BJP and allies have done vis-ŕ-vis our rebuttals is to keep mum in the vain hope that the people at large will not take notice of these exposures of their misdeeds in the last 6 years. And here we offer an open challenge: if BJP stalwarts feel that their so-called feelgood campaign is really solid, let them refute our exposures, if they can!

Moreover, if anyone was in illusion about the BJP’s feelgood claims, the Lucknow stampede has exposed the naked reality of their rule. How would one believe that India under BJP is shining as never before if two dozen poor women are crushed to death for sarees worth only Rs 40 each! The Lucknow stampede, in the prime minister’s own constituency, has exposed the BJP’s ugly face, and it is not surprising if these votaries of feelgood are feeling bad as never before.

The Lucknow stampede also exposed how BJP stalwarts, who never tire of preaching about probity, were nakedly violating the code of conduct and trying to influence voters by offering them largesse when the poll process was on. The Election Commission has got an FIR registered against Lalji Tandon, who was Vajpayee’s Man Friday in Lucknow, and has also asked the party to appear before it on April 23 to state its version about the breach of the model code of conduct. Meanwhile, the Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court has also issued a notice to Tandon in the case, and directed the UP government to raise the compensation to the victims to Rs 2 lakh each. It has also told the state government to complete the inquiry into the case in three weeks. 

Truly, the feelgood’s votaries are today feeling bad as never before!

One thing must be noted, however. The day the stampede occurred, Vajpayee was not yet a candidate; he filed his nomination papers only two days later. Therefore, technically, the Election Commission or High Court could not initiate any action against him and he remained clear of law. Yet, the whole world knows that he intended to contest from Lucknow and that Tandon was distributing sarees on his behalf, in order to influence voters in his favour. So one expected that Vajpayee would at least own up moral responsibility for the unfortunate episode. But nothing of the sort happened; this paragon of morality maintained a stoic silence on this score.



THERE are other indications too to show the BJP’s desperation. Only recently, Vajpayee went on record saying he could talk to some non-NDA parties after the elections. Thus, his feeling was that, now that 11 parties have deserted the NDA bandwagon, the rump NDA may not get anywhere near a majority. One will recall that the NDA did not get a majority in 1999 and formed a government only with the TDP’s outside support --- for which Naidu extracted a heavy price in form of a highly disproportionate share of developmental funds. But now that exit polls have indicated that both the TDP and BJP may lose in Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh, the BJP’s anxiety grown manifold.

In fact, Vajpayee’s said statement was an unmistakable indication that his party may go to any extent to opportunistically cling to power.  

As for his own constituency, a desperate Vajpayee meekly beseeched Ram Jethmalani to retire from contest.  

And of late, while in Nagpur, Vajpayee asked the voters to give the BJP a majority on its own, as according to him it is very difficult to manage a coalition. And that too despite the fact that other NDA parties have only been playing second fiddle to the BJP. The BJP incorporated the temple issue in NDA manifesto and the allies did not make even a faint murmur. Moreover, the manifesto, drawn by the BJP, was shown only to Fernandes; other allies came to know about its contents only after it was released to press. But, again, they did not utter a single word against such treatment. But if the BJP is not at ease with such a rubber stamp alliance, the reason is not what Vajpayee has stated. The fact is that the BJP wants a majority for the sake of pushing its Hindutva agenda unhindered.

Yet, after preaching for years about the “coalition dharma,” what Vajpayee has of late said was correct by half. The fact is that if one is not honest about a coalition, if one seeks to ride roughshod over allies, managing a coalition is really difficult. Otherwise, a 9-party coalition is successfully working in West Bengal for 27 years, as is a 5-party coalition in Tripura for 26 years. The basic difference is that the Left Fronts of West Bengal and Tripura are products of struggle on people’s issues, unlike the NDA that is an out and out opportunistic coalition.




IN sum, the writing on the wall is unmistakable. Despite the support the BJP gets from the corporates and their media, the exit polls show it is losing ground. But this is also an invitation to the Left, secular and democratic forces to intensify their anti-communal, anti-fascistic campaign manifold so that the BJP and allies are bundled out of power --- in order to save our very existence as a civilised nation. 

Today, despite some differences among non-NDA parties, the basic divide is between the communal and fascistic forces on the one hand and the secular and democratic forces on the other. For, these polls are going to decide the very fate of our secular and federal polity, our syncretic ethos and composite culture, our national unity. What the BJP regime has done to harm our people’s living standard, our national unity and communal harmony, and our standing in the comity of nations needs no reiteration. It is time to act, and act in such a way that the nation’s enemies get routed and are not in a position to raise their ugly heads again.  


If the media are fond of highlighting the differences in the secular camp, let them do so by all means. The fact is policy differences are bound to remain between any two parties. But the thing is that these differences may be sorted out if the nation remains; if the nation is lost, everything is lost. That is why the anti-NDA forces have to launch a more concerted attack on the BJP and its hangers-on, and rout them thoroughly. And the latest indications are that this goal is well within reach.



IN 1999, the last phase of polling ended on October 6 and the very next day, even without waiting for the results, the Vajpayee government hiked the prices of petro products. A similar thing may happen again as, in view of elections, the government has been sitting tight on a proposal to hike the petro prices. Let the people decide whether they would allow such a combine another term.