On a day when the Mahagathbandhan swept to power in Bihar Assembly polls, eminent journalist and Chairman of The Hindu Group of Newspapers N Ram castigated India’s mainstream news media which had predicted a comfortable win for BJP-led NDA.
“Historically, the Indian news media has had a mixed record of success in forecasting elections but never has the credibility of exit and opinion polls commissioned by the major news television channels taken such a body blow as it has done this time,” he said delivering the Pradyumna Bal Memorial Lecture here on Sunday in presence of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.
Ram said all the ‘supposedly scientific forecasts’, even those that predicted a victory for the Nitish-Lalu-led Mahagathbandhan, were ‘way off’ when it came to numbers.
He cited the prediction of one exit poll which had forecast that the Mahagathbandhan would score 169-183 seats followed by the BJP-led alliance at 58-70 seats. That prediction, he said, was suppressed by the channel that had commissioned the poll ‘for reasons we can only guess’.
Ram said there has been a sharp acceleration of negative trends on mainstream news media and attributed them to manipulation of news and analysis, comment to suit the owners’ financial or political interests and a systematic dumbing down driven by hyper-commercialisation. “If this is what it takes to have thriving newspapers and other news media, then there is something seriously wrong with this growth path,” he said.
Ram also lashed out at Sangh Parivar for growing intolerance in the country and slammed the mainstream news media for not rising to respond. “The Sangh Parivar’s fingerprints are there behind virtually every assault during the period the Narendra Modi Government has been in office,” he said.
The problem, however, Ram felt, goes beyond the speeches and acts of the Sangh Parivar because there are structural factors embedded in the constitutional-legal system that play on the side of the intolerants.
A clear picture has not emerged yet despite a plethora of exit polls as both the BJP and the Grand Alliance were shown running neck-and-neck with pollsters not too keen on risking their neck out on one with complete confidence. This uncertainty also reflected on the indices on Friday with the Sensex hitting a five-week low before recovering marginally.
To be sure, even if the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) manages a victory in Bihar, this wouldn’t make any significant change in its numbers in the Upper House. But, a victory will offer the much needed impetus to the NDA-government to carry on with critical reforms, as it strives to improve its position in Rajya Sabha at least in the next two years.
“Lack of majority in the former has stalled the reform process in recent parliamentary sittings. While a victory in this election alone will be insufficient to materially boost the government’s prospects (will take at least 2017-18 to gain a majority), but it is likely to provide sufficient momentum to jumpstart the reform process which has been moved to the back-burner since the unproductive monsoon parliamentary session in 3Q,” said Radhika Rao, economist, Group Research at Singapre-based DBS Bank.
The Narendra Modi-government, which managed a landslide victory in the May 2014 Lok Sabha elections, has indeed managed to put the economy back on the reform track after a prolonged period of so-called policy paralysis during the UPA-regime, but has failed make progress on large-ticket reforms such as land acquisition on account of lack of strength in the Upper House.
“Bihar polls are important politically as they are the first test of the ruling BJP in the Hindi heartland after the May 2014 general elections,” said economists at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in a report dated on 4 November. “While Bihar polls will not impact national politics as PM Modi commands a majority in the Lok Sabha, they will influence the market’s perception of reforms,” said the report.
Speaking on the occasion, Naveen said Pradyumna Bal belonged to the rare class of politicians and journalists who believed in value-based politics and ethical journalism. He gave away the Pradyumna Bal Memorial Award to social activist B Chittiama, president of Samudram.
Founder of KIIT Achyuta Samanta, Editor of ESPN-Cricinfo Sambit Bal and eminent academician Omkar Nath Mohanty were also present.
Modi is right. The economy looks in a much better shape than the UPA-days. While the NDA-government can certainly claim its due credit for pushing several development-oriented reforms, it should also thank the lower crude and commodity oil prices, which have helped to ease a significant part of the burden on India’s import bill and inflation worries. Also, the improvement in GDP growth is yet to reflect on corporate performance, bank credit growth and the stressed asset situation in the sector.
Going ahead, Modi’s challenge is to restore investor confidence by pursuing the reform path, especially crucial reforms in land, labour and tax fronts. With the reform-progress in recent Parliament sittings not making any major progress, some of the business leaders had expressed doubts about the government’s ability to pull off the reform agenda.
The BJP-leadership is left with little choice but to gain majority in the Upper House at least in the next two years if it needs to push large-ticket reform plans. The Bihar poll outcome will be keenly watched in this context. As DBS pointed out, if Modi-magic continues to work and BJP emerges victorious in Bihar that will offer more momentum to the government to make a stronger case for its pro-growth reform-agenda.