Satta bazaars seem to have a larger reach among the people than exit polls or journalists who haunt dhabas and tea stalls to feel the pulse of the voter. More than the exit polls which predicted a BJP lead in the UP polls, it was the satta bazaar, particularly in Mumbai and Delhi, which foresaw Narendra Modi topping 300 seats in the state. If the UP polls brought out anything spectacularly, it was the disconnect of not just the opposition which thought that it had Modi cornered but also of the media. The media almost unanimously reported that in this ‘waveless election’, there was discernible Jat anger, sharp demonetisation hostility against Modi and that the Mini Mahagatbandhan of the Samajwadi Party and the Congress would be a threat to Narendra Modi. It even made it a point to report Ahmed Patel as saying that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra intervened and sewed up a tie-up after talks between the SP and Congress had hit a rough patch over seat-sharing - so as to credit her with the possible victory over Modi in UP. The SP-Congress strategy was that as neither could be credibly seen as a victor over Modi, they should ally and the alliance should be projected as a winner from day one. The media virtually volunteered to be co-opted into the strategy.
Jat anger or Jat wave?
See how the media began its campaign against Modi in UP. ’Angry Jats have moved away from BJP’’- this was the unanimous report of all media, visual and print, weeks ahead of the poll. But what happened in the poll? In the first phase in Jatland, the BJP won 66 of the 73 seats -a strike rate of over 90 per cent. The BJP performed best in Jatland where the media reported that it would lose. In the second phase, it won 50 out of 67 seats; in the third, 55 out of 69; in the fourth, 40 out of 53; in the fifth, 44 out of 52; in the sixth, 32 out of 46; When the sixth phase closed, it is now known that the BJP had won 287 seats. It was at this point Narendra Modi said that the BJP had already won and he was a going through the motions of the seventh phase, in which, eventually, the BJP got 25 more out of 40 seats - making a final tally 312, not including its allies’ share of 13 more. When Modi campaigned for three days in the last phase, the media went to the extent of saying that he was perhaps uncertain about winning and so he was straining and risking himself so much. The SP-Congress alliance was bound to claim that Modi would be defeated. But it was silly to see the media almost trumpeting for them. Finally the report of Jat anger against Modi only concealed the fact that the 2014 Modi magic was still on, including the Jat wave in his favour.
Modi’s de-mon, Sastry’s fast
How wrong the media could get on Modi was self-evident even earlier, in its assessment of the impact of demonetisation. The media was overwhelmed by visuals of millions queuing up before banks shown by TV channels. When crores of people had stood in queues for days and hours, many had died while in the queue, even the Supreme Court talked of anarchy, and TV channels were showing the opposition crowding the well in Parliament and shutting down a whole session on the issue of mass suffering for cash, the media and opposition parties concluded that Modi had lost the demonetisation game and wrote his political obituary. But the point they missed was that unless the crores of people who stood in the queue and suffered hardship were convinced that Modi was doing the right thing, they wouldn’t have been as enduring and peaceful as shockingly they were. Despite the media, opposition and even the Supreme Court saying and warning - as if they were wanting - there could be riots, there were none. This ought to have given a deafening message to them that the people willingly suffered the hardship and supported demonetisation. It needed trans-political, sociological and psychological perspective to know that the people also can endure suffering for the good of the nation even in normal times, not just in war time. But they would suffer hardship only when they see the leader who asks them to suffer, also works hard and suffers selflessly, for them. But when they see, as they normally do, leaders looting the nation, the very same people would not want to undergo hardship for the nation. Today’s father and grandfathers of the present generation would recall why crores of people did happily forego one meal a week and fasted on Monday nights when Lal Bahadur Shastri asked them to do so in the larger national interest. Many continue to do so even now, five decades after the short little honest man departed. Only morally upright and confident leaders can ask the people to suffer for the nation. The current example of such leadership is Modi asking the people to undergo suffering which was much worse than the one weekly meal that Sastry asked them to forego - to suffer for want of cash for two months, and the people enduring the suffering as he wanted them to.
Hostility to de-mon or support?
But see how the media projected demonetisation. Take just a few anecdotes. A well-known journalist tweeted a day before the sixth phase (Feb. 7) on his behalf and on behalf of fellow journalists, “most jurnos travelling in UP say notebandi and its negative impact remains a big issue. Economic realities are dawning”. Another journo tweeted, “Travelling in UP and the anger with demonetisation is one thing that consistently stands out. Wonder how Delhi analysts missed that.” Another retweeted that and commented, “The mood seems to have evolved. From euphoria in Nov, to no euphoria, no hostility in Dec, to sharp hostility now”. This report of hostile anger was when the ground reality was entirely the other way. It was clear that the 2014 NaMo wave was turning into a tsunami in 2017. How did that escape the keen eyes of the journos and how, on the contrary, they discerned, “sharp hostility” to Modi’s demonetisation? Hostility to de-mon and wave for Modi cannot coexist. Now look at how a well-known writer wrote in a leading English newspaper that the SP-Congress alliance was bound to give BJP a run for its money. He listed the reasons why the BJP would lose. One, Congress vitality was bound to come to the fore if Priyanka took up the campaign in right earnest; two, the BJP was up against two major obstacles - rejuvenated Akhilesh and the political astuteness of the Congress to decide to play a secondary role; three, the main advantage of the “secular” SP-Congress combine was that the Muslims would see them as the only one who could defeat the BJP and block-vote for them; four, the BJP suffered the disadvantage of not having a leader of stature in UP and having to rely on only Modi; five, the failure of the economy to generate employment had dampened Modi’s chances; six, demonetisation had complicated Modi’s task and jury was still out whether the people have forgiven Modi for their inconveniences; seven, Modi would be pitted against Akhilesh, a young leader who had understood the value of economic growth and was not hamstrung by the BJP's communal tag or his own party's caste-based approach to politics. These are only a sample of the media promotion of the SP-Congress combine. The largest circulated English daily in Delhi headlined: “Congress fails in UP but Rahul Gandhi succeeds in Dalit mission”. What was the result? BJP won 76 of the 86 SC/ST reserved seats, and 325 of the total 403 seats. Now these journos are in purdah.
Now the very media that reported Modi was in distress in UP has U-turned, at least for the time being. It is now talking of a mysterious invisible Modi wave, expounding on the scale of the BJP’s victory in UP and Uttaranchal, on how it has shocked even its admirers, on how Narendra Modi’s stunning victories have silenced his adversaries, on how he did he achieve it, on the causes of his success, on the reasons of his adversaries’ failure, on whether Akhilesh Yadav was right in aligning with the Congress, or splitting with his father, to almost wailing about how the split in the opposition led to the BJP win, and about how the secular vote - read block Muslim votes - got divided and enabled the BJP win even in Muslim majority seats. The media analysis goes on endlessly. But what most media has missed - seemingly deliberately - are the news of visible Muslim, particularly Muslim women, support for Modi even in Muslim-dominated constituencies in UP. Otherwise the BJP could not have won most of them. Some media opine that the BJP won because the Muslim votes split between SP-Congress alliance and BSP. But the presumption of two way split is only partially true. There was a three way split with the BJP getting a significant stream of Muslim votes. This should have been welcomed instead of being suppressed by the media. But if they admit it how to call the Muslim votes secular votes, as they normally do? So much for the media reportage before and after the UP polls. Even now the media disconnect from the people seems too continue. Will they introspect?
S Gurumurthy is a political and economic analyst