The real picture please!

I am not generally a fan of poll surveys. Yeah, they are a guilty pleasure for all of us. It’s like going to an astrologer. We’re looking for something sensational, seeking to indulge in a fantasy crafted with our own realities.

So as I sat watching the CNN-IBN post poll survey for the Bihar elections, I was riveted. In a way, it was as expected. But in way, it said that something extraordinary was on the cards in a few days time. The JDU-BJP alliance was predicted to win an overwhelming majority. Nearly 3/4ths.

That’s not the bit that really caught my attention, however. What really got me glued to my seat with the laptop on top of my lap was the discussion that followed. While some of the participants were thrilled with the potential numbers, others spoke about the change of governance in Bihar – from cycles for girls to suraksha (security), sadak (roads)and shiksha (education).

Amongst them, there was what usually happens on TV debates. People getting carried away and generously placing words in the mouths of the electorate.

‘People have voted because there has been real development in Bihar. Schools and hospitals have been made to function effectively.’ One participant went so far as to suggest that the mandate was such due to a fundamental shift that is occurring in the state. Bihar is moving from an agrarian, feudal system to a meritocratic 21st century economy and society, he argued.

Then came an even more grandiose claim, i.e., the one about this election, like many other recent state elections where incumbent CMs have been re-elected, being a presidential style referendum in favour of Nitish Kumar.

Obviously, it all seemed so sane. And no one can deny any of those arguments. In their own way, they all hold water. However, what they are, are just well crafted arguments; some with an empirical, factual basis, others merely broader and theoretical and then there are those that are mere conjecture.

However, all of them have little, if any, bearing to the situation on the ground. They are as devoid of reality as…well…as reality TV shows are.

That fact was made evident as Yogendra Yadav from CSDS brought the exaggerated celebrations to a grinding halt. He argued that: It’s not that education has improved manifold in Bihar, it’s just that at least now children get books. It’s not that PHCs are functioning efficiently and are plush with doctors in the state. It’s just that even if there isn’t a doctor, there are medicines that are now available. It’s not that there has been development and good governance; it’s just that the preconditions for development have been now put into place. What’s happened in Bihar in the last five years is not vikas (development), but rather it has created an aas (hope). {That’s not a direct quote; but more or less the gist of what he said.}

It’s such a dose of reality that is sorely needed in our public discourse, as opposed to the overused jargons and unbelievably transparent spin that gets shoved down our throats. Such an analysis is not fatalistic or self-deprecating. It’s an honest assessment of the situation as it exists.

It reminded me of a picture of a friend, taken when he was visiting his village in Bihar. Working from home, he sat miles away from Delhi fixing the glitches on our website. It was fantastic to know that he had a comfortable place and a fantastic internet connection in his village. That was until we saw the picture. He was perched atop a tree amidst an empty green pasture. Network problems apparently!

What I am trying to say is that no one says that Nitish hasn’t done well and doesn’t deserve to return. That’s for the people and politics to decide. It’s just that, as analysts, as commentators; guys let’s keep our wits about ourselves and not get overly melodramatic. The story of a nation is non-fiction; let’s at least be true to the genre.

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