Review: The Verdict by Prannoy Roy and Dorab R Sopariwala - Hindustan Times
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Review: The Verdict by Prannoy Roy and Dorab R Sopariwala

Hindustan Times | By
Mar 22, 2019 08:32 PM IST

Rich in data backed by lucid explanatory text, The Verdict by Prannoy Roy and Dorab R Sopariwala decodes India’s elections and provides some pointers on who could win the Lok Sabha polls in 2019

289pp, ₹599; Penguin
289pp, ₹599; Penguin

For the Liberalisation generation, the cohort that remembers a world without the internet or cellphones, and in whose minds grainy reels of Babri crumbling, Bombay burning, and students immolating themselves over Mandal play in an endless loop, Prannoy Roy, despite his later achievements with NDTV, remains the man who introduced us to the excitement of India’s elections. Back then, a psephologist interpreting cold statistics to show how the nation exercised its franchise was a practitioner of logical witchcraft. Decades later, on the eve of an election that could change India, Prannoy Roy and Dorab R Sopariwala, market research veteran and NDTV editorial adviser, present The Verdict; Decoding India’s Elections. Full of charts and tables on everything from anti-incumbency, bellwether constituencies, and landslide state assembly elections, to the falling representation of Muslims, and the success rate of opinion and exit polls, the book is rich in data backed by lucid explanatory text. While some of this confirms long-held suspicions (that elections are not truly representative) or might excite only numbers nerds, the section on the woman voter offers insights that could spur change.

Turns out the generally held notion that Indian women are submissive is false: “For those who believe that India is a male-dominated society, the responses we got in our pilot surveys would be an eye-opener. Whenever we questioned women on whether they voted for the party that their husbands told them to vote for, the women’s responses were predominantly to laugh at us, and to treat the question with derision… ‘He may think that I listen to him about whom to vote for, that’s in his dreams - I vote for exactly whom I want to vote for.’

Research shows that women are an independent vote bank, that they are less supportive of the BJP than men, that more rural women (6 percent more) than urban ones cast their vote, that this growing participation is now pushing political parties to address issues like farm distress, and that they tend to stay home and not vote if parties “generate an atmosphere of fear and violence”. The most shocking fact to emerge is that many Indian women do not have the vote: “21 million women who are entitled to vote will be denied the right to do so because their names are not on the voters list”. Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan lead this ignominious list with 6.8, 2.3 and 1.2 million missing women voters respectively. “These three states will account for over 10 million of the 21 million missing women voters in 2019”.

The authors suggest that since there isn’t enough time to rectify the rolls for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, “Any woman who comes to a polling station in the constituency where she resides and is over eighteen years old, be allowed to vote.”

Other notable sections include the one that details how it is easier for parties to win by dividing the opposition, and how the country has devised a version of the first-past-the-post system (Jugaad first-past-the-post or J-FPP!) that has led to the rise of regional parties: “The inequity of the first-past-the-post system – of punishing small parties - has been turned on its head in India. Soon began the rapid growth of parties with a geographically concentrated support base.”

Dorab R Sopariwala
Dorab R Sopariwala

While Roy and Sopariwala do not comment on which party will win the Lok Sabha elections, they are not reticent on subjects like the efficacy and trustworthiness of EVMs, the misuse of social media and online polls (“… the polling equivalent of ballot-box stuffing… they’re not even worthy of being called ‘polls’… We look forward to the day when social media or online polls are disregarded by all media, as they should be”), and the need for the Election Commission to rethink its ban on the publication of all polls in the run up to the elections. “With a ban on publishing polls, there is no information from honest polls to counter the rising menace of widespread fraudulent polls,” they state. “Fake polls thrive in the darkness of a ban.”

Prannoy Roy (Vipin Kumar/HT PHOTO)
Prannoy Roy (Vipin Kumar/HT PHOTO)

Which leads to the subject of propaganda in traditional media: “The smarter Indian voter can today separate ‘views from news on television channels and print… Media shrillness often has an inverse relationship with its impact.” Social media with its unknowable sources is different and the authors warn that there could be an intensification of the proliferation of fake news and the spread of rumours and hatred in the run up to the elections.

The reader also learns about the factors taken into account while forecasting elections and the occasional comedy that ensues during on-ground pilot polls: “Conducting a poll in the highly literate and politicized state of Kerala, for example, is both ‘educational’ and takes about ten times longer than in any other state… Similarly with voters in West Bengal – though here the advice is often a little more philosophical, often raising the bigger question on ‘Why do human beings conduct polls at all?’” Bihar is the most relaxed state to conduct an opinion poll with field workers being plied with endless cups of chai. And then there are regions where stronger beverages are offered: “We have learnt to try and finish a survey before dusk in Punjab”.

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These flashes of humour serve to highlight uncomfortable truths like the difficulties in polling among Muslims and Christians as a result of the ‘Play-safe Factor’ and undersampling among Dalits that leads to errors in opinion polls: “In one of our pilot surveys… A friendly group of about a dozen Dalit men and women… welcomed us to their homes for tea… We… asked them whom they were going to vote for. All of them said, ‘The BJP of course.’ Normally, we would have turned around and moved on to the next village. This time we… carried on our chat… After about twenty-five minutes, they seemed to be convinced that we were not fieldworkers of a political party and …all said, ‘Sorry, sorry, we didn’t tell you the truth… You all look like upper caste folks and all upper castes vote for the BJP. In fact… we will all vote for Mayawati or the BSP.’

The Verdict has your attention from its first line - “Democracy lies at the very core of every Indian’s DNA” - to its last: “It is not the VIP, not the individuals who temporarily occupy high office, not the careerists who man the administration, not the eloquent or high profile leaders who dominate the media today and perhaps the history books tomorrow but the anonymous voter from the four corners of our country who is the true guardian of our democratic state.”

Recommended reading as India marches into Election 2019.

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