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It is time to Ban Pundits in India
SUTANU GURU
 
Issue Date - 30/08/2013
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I have become a very big fan of two Americans in recent times. Simply because they hold established pundits in utter contempt. One of them is statistician and number cruncher Nate Silver who is chucking his ‘prestigious’ job with the venerable New York Times to join the ‘oh so downmarket’ ESPN. In 2012, President Barack Obama “lost” the first debate to Republican challenger Mitt Romney so badly that most pundits – and opinion polls – started predicting an Obama loss. So pervasive was this “Obama will lose” aura created by myths that many Obama fans became disconsolate. Nate Silver- who claims no expertise on political matters and issues- was perhaps the only one who kept insisting that Obama will win, and win convincingly. Most pundits laughed at his so called stupidity; many accused him of bias and prejudice. In the end, Obama won, and won convincingly. This is what Silver has to say about political pundits in America: “I would argue that MOST political pundits are completely useless; the outliers are the few who are worth reading. Plus the political pundits take themselves very seriously...”

I couldn’t help recalling these lines when I was forced (by a fractured hip bone) to watch hours of television where pundits were analysing latest opinion polls on the Indian political scene. The glittering cast of pundits adorning the TV channels was so formidable that it would be heresy to question their unquestionable wisdom. But Nate Silver kept coming back at me. And it dawned on me that MOST pundits were talking nonsense. The opinion polls indicate that the Congress is going to get battered in the coming elections because of rising prices, poor governance and corruption. You don’t need opinion polls to arrive at that conclusion; just talk to non-pundits in the form of attendants and nurses in hospitals, taxi drivers, maid servants, dhobis, street hawkers, newspaper vendors...and you can figure out. The opinion polls also seem to indicate that the BJP will not benefit and the elections will result in a fractured mandate and a hung Parliament. India’s best pundits then gave their expert opinions on issues ranging from caste to Muslim votes to either the unsuitability or improbability of Narendra Modi becoming Prime Minister.

Ever since this magazine was launched in 2005, there has not been a single electoral verdict in India that has delivered a fractured mandate. And of course, there has not been a single verdict that has not exposed the pundits as no better than astrologers and tarot card readers.

 

In 2011, venerable media outfits and even more venerable pundits – backed by opinion polls – kept saying that Jayalalithaa Jayaram and AIADMK will win the Tamil Nadu assembly elections but won’t find it easy because of the ‘formidable’ alliance between the DMK and the Congress and the populist schemes announced by them. In the event, Jayalalithaa simply decimated her opponents. Then there were quite a few morons who suggested in early 2012 that no one could form a government in Uttar Pradesh without the support of the Congress. As hysterical reporters marvelled at the crowds gathered to hear the crown prince Rahul Gandhi, opinion polls and pundits pontificated on a fractured mandate, a hung UP assembly and the possible reemergence of the Congress. The UP voter, like Nate Silver, was laughing all along. In Punjab, the pundits were discussing the cabinet formation by Congress leader Amarinder Singh hours before the results were announced. The venerable pundits were discussing how the revolt by Manpreet Badal, the nephew of Akali Dal leader and chief minister Prakash Singh Badal, who formed his own party would badly damage the ruling alliance of BJP and Akali Dal. When the results were announced, some pundits blamed the voters for their lack of wisdom; just as many pundits have branded the whole state of Gujarat as “communal” because the damned voters there keep voting for Narendra Modi!

I simply did not hear one simple thing: that the Indian voter is repeatedly delivering decisive mandates and it will be either the UPA or the NDA in 2014. I am sure pundits on TV channels will have fancy explanations when the electoral verdict of 2014 throws egg on their faces. Just in case you think my words, in the tradition of Digvijaya Singh, reveal that I am a product of an RSS conspiracy, please recall what our pundits were saying before the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. Almost everyone predicted that the Left parties and the “Third Front” would be the winners. Within hours of the results being announced, when the Congress and the UPA won a clear mandate, the same pundits started discussing how good a Prime Minister Rahul Gandhi could be!

I was forced to watch another “Made for Pundits” carnival on television; this one about Amartya Sen versus Jagdish Bhagwati and the Kerala versus Gujarat models of development. Added to this was the debate about poverty – with some Congress leaders claiming you could eat a full meal for Rs.12 or even Rs.5. The pundits are very clear: it is a ‘global, neo-imperialist, corporate’ conspiracy to claim that poverty has declined in India. Then again, people like Modi who tout the Gujarat model of development are false messiahs and frauds because it is Kerala with its superior human development results that is the true road map for India. (You can add Bihar and the Nitish Kumar model to this now. And don’t forget the Bangladesh model because pundits make Indians like me ashamed by showing better human development results in Bangladesh!!!).


 
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