By Salman Faheem:
The Election Commission of India declared the election dates for Bihar on 14th September, an election which Chief Election Commissioner Naseem Zaidi has termed as the “mother of all elections“. It is to be conducted in five phases, starting from 12th October, and the results are to be announced on 8th November. Every tea-stall, canteen, office and home in Bihar as well as India will be echoing with the same tune, which was being played during the Lok Sabha elections of 2014 – ‘Modi Magic’, Sushasan, Grand Alliance, etc.
While all the politicians would be vying to prove to the common man that their respective party is winning, there would be another similar contest between all the news channels to flaunt opinion polls, surveys, etc, asserting that their respective surveys are 100 percent correct. Now, there is very little understanding and a great deal of ambiguity about whether these news channels and their respective opinion polls are biased or unbiased, correct or incorrect.
The Lok Sabha elections of 2014 proved how much impact media has on the outcome of an election. In the 2014 elections, Times Now-CVoter predicted 200+ seats for the BJP and less than a hundred for the Congress party. It also predicted that no single party would be able to form the government. While the former claim turned out to be true when BJP came out victorious and Congress was reduced to 44 seats, the latter appeared contradictory as BJP with 282 seats easily formed the government. Opinion polls are a very fine tool to analyse the support base of a political party and the chances of it winning or losing the election. With polls being influenced so heavily by political opinion, the question arises whether these opinion polls are free from political interference, ulterior motives, and biases. The question is whether such polls are used by politicians to create a wave of support or opposition. The question altogether is on the credibility of opinion polls.
It is often observed that some news channels forecast a sure win for a party in their opinion polls while others predict a certain defeat for the same party in theirs. This in general displays the hypocrisy of today’s media, which I believe is the result of intimate relationships shared between media houses, corporates, and politicians. Now these opinion polls don’t bother people who have already made up their mind to vote for their respective parties, but it has a very notable and enormous effect on people who tend to go by the ‘wave’, often termed as ‘Lahar‘. These people don’t have any criteria for voting and blindly vote for the candidate who is successful in creating his/her ‘wave’. Media is responsible for the image of a person and they can in no time portray someone as a hero or a villain. It plays a very crucial role in changing and influencing the thought process of these people and they very much do as seen in the 2014 Lok Sabha Elections.
The Wave factor is nothing but an amalgam of media image, activity on social media, combined with a positive opinion poll and various other factors which have nothing to do with development or agendas of the common public. The ‘NaMo Wave’ is a perfect example of this phenomenon where people didn’t vote for a party or its agendas and were more or less swept and deluged by the NaMo Wave. In the 2014 general elections people didn’t vote for BJP, they voted for Narendra Modi who was portrayed as the epitome of development and growth. All opinion polls, in general, showcased him as the most liked candidate for the post of the Prime Minister although he had no prior experience of national politics and hadn’t held a central ministry earlier. For Bihar, the media would certainly play an important role in deciding the share of votes for a candidate, their party, and indirectly the outcome of the election.
Visuals can be deceptive, and our ability to infer a particular image differs from person to person. We Indians have an uncanny ability to form an opinion on what we see, without being aware of the facts. It is, therefore, the responsibility of media to not misuse its position. Media should clearly ascertain the facts behind an opinion poll, the sample size of people surveyed, the way the responses were recorded and framed into a percentage. There should be a clear mention of how many people were surveyed and what the extent of the opinion poll in terms of area, population, and other parameters is. It should abide by their oath of transparency and telecast opinion polls only after their credibility has been assured.
The ethics of journalism clearly state that media should be free from bias and should have no inclination towards any group, party, ideology, etc. The Bihar election in some aspects would be a test for the media too. In my opinion, it is on the broad shoulders of media to assess and present the true picture of a party and its candidates. Instead of focussing too much on opinion polls, they should throw some light on the candidates, their qualification, their track record, criminal cases, etc. Politicians visit their respective constituency only at the time of elections and so do reporters, sadly. It is the responsibility of the media to visit these very constituencies after the elections too and present a ground report annually or biannually so that people are aware of the real situations. That way opinion polls will be required less because then people would know beforehand who has done work for them and who is entitled to their precious votes. I have no qualms with opinion polls, but for a country like India where media is regarded as the fourth pillar of democracy, it is imperative for them to go beyond such polls and raise valid points and arguments that would help the common man in choosing a good and able government.