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Opium polls, yes/no?

In an ideal world, only performances, issues and promises should make parties win or lose elections. Speeches and opinion polls made by various politicians across parties do indeed colour our judgement. Indrajit Hazra writes.

columns Updated: Nov 10, 2013 11:33 IST
Indrajit Hazra

It took me just under five minutes to fill up the survey form.

There were just four questions, but all of them had tricky multiple answers to choose from: a) Yes. b) No. c) Maybe. d) 1857. e) All of the above. f) I’m not telling out of a deep respect for the privacy of individual opinion. g) I’m not telling anyway.

The four questions in the questionnaire were only a bit more simple. 1) You are voting for the Congress, right? 2) Are you sure that by not voting for the Congress you’re not jeopardising the safety of your first-born? 3) Do you really need to vote? But it was above the fourth question that my pen hovered the longest: Don’t you want opinion polls and surveys to be banned?

The Congress, I am told, wants pre-election opinion polls banned. One, because most of these polls are unscientific and the party abhors anything that’s unscientific — excluding, that is, any knobbly statements from communications and information technology minister Kapil Sibal about Narendra Modi being personally responsible for Sachin Tendulkar being dismissed for 10 runs in the first innings of the Eden Test against West Indies.

The Congress’ second reason to oppose opinion polls is because these silly exercises, which make horoscopes look like ISRO calculations, allow television news anchors to look even more smug than they are.

This, as I&B minister Manish Tewari regularly informs us and broadcasts, is simply not acceptable. If anyone deserves to look smug, it is the prime minister, who, for noxious reasons, is not given the airtime that Narendra Modi, Rajdeep Sardesai or Ten Sports’ Joe Morrison gets on Indian telly.

But it’s the third reason that has me agreeing with the agreeable folks in the Congress. It’s because opinion polls manipulate people’s choices, cloud their minds, turn them into genocide-forgetters. The fact of the matter is that voters are a dumb specimen of humanity.

And it’s not just the Muslim or the caste-zombie voter, my friend, who looks at what her husband or neighbour or imam/khap leader is up to and then blindly does the same. It’s also sharp flicks like you and me who’s got the herd instinct hardwired into us (unless, of course, you’re James Dean, Rahul Gandhi, Albert Camus or Arvind Kejriwal).

Don’t you look at the best-seller list and then get suckered to pick up a god-awful book that you unwittingly lull yourself into enjoying? (If you read books, that is.) Aren’t you dying to go and watch Krrish 3 after you read about the film earning the highest single-day collection ever of `5.91 crore last week?

The same condition applies to prospective voters. They see opinion poll results, coupled by constant media blabbering, and wishing to be ‘on the winning team’, make an opium poll-haze choice in another survey they may be participating in thereby creating a domino effect right up to the time of actual voting.

Now, since actual voting usually happens inside a curtained space, the ultimate opinion poll — the elections — is deemed ‘safe’ from irrational, herd-mentality influence. Unless, that is, the world is full of community leaders who come with their ‘suggestions’ about whom their flock should vote for.

The Congress demand for a ban makes sense since almost all opinion polls aren’t being flattering to the Congress. Even if there was an opinion poll with a sample of a million people that disclosed its sampling methods, and the formula for converting vote shares into seats, the Congress would be understandably writing them off as bakwaas. Forget the Congress.

If an opinion poll ‘showed’ you to be an ugly, loud-mouthed, incompetent, navel-gazing dipstick, wouldn’t you find opinion polls dangerous and ridiculous?

In an ideal world, elections should be decided only by performances, issues, promises and by the size of one’s underarm sweat patches. Speeches made by various politicians from various parties over the last few weeks have indeed coloured my judgement.

Which is why I think all pre-poll speeches should also be banned along with opinion polls.

In fact, there should be a black-out on all forms of information (crores-earning adverts in the media included) coming from political parties and their cheerleaders and hecklers. Only a multiple box questionnaire can serve to list the promises made by each contesting party.

Opinion polls, like a toothpaste ad running down ‘the competition’, can be fudged to favour a party.

How many voters will care, or have the wherewithal, to check how a poll’s conducted? And even if it is fudged, so what? It’s time-pass — and big money — before the real thing, like horoscopes before the future arrives. In the pre-election opinion poll form I filled up earlier this week, the only true answer I provided was for the entry marked ‘Sex’. I didn’t tick either the ‘Male’ or the ‘Female’ box. Instead, I simply scribbled, ‘Yes’.

Because if opinion polls can lie, so can their participants.