Reporting general elections brings thrills and frills to journalists.
In a country where the polls uplift the mood of the public, examining the pulse of the electorate is a daunting task. It is an occasion when multiple surveys give different versions, all claiming to be closest to reality. Discovering the intent of the voters in a constituency, where psephologists tend to fail, is no mean assignment.
Such a poll prediction made by me in a report in the national English daily I had been working with, had invited the ire of a prominent politician in Kerala. In fact, his son was contesting in the constituency. The politician, a veteran of many a poll, wanted to make sure of his son’s victory and had left no stone unturned.
I had toured the constituency extensively and gathered a lot of information as to which way the balance could tilt. Weighing the merits and demerits of the contestants under the prevailing social, economic and caste considerations involved addition, subtraction and multiplication of intuitive skills. It was interesting to absorb the nuances of the thought process of a number of people. The Keralite voter is expressive and clear in his thoughts. Drawing the voter into a friendly, political chat is the theory to read his mind.
Beyond the Ah, Ooh, Ouch of the educated elite, there are obliging chaiwallahs and enterprising ‘thattukada’sultans who get ready to exhibit their political punditry any time of the day. It’s often half cup of chai ‘with or without’, one piece of fried banana or ‘parippuvada’ and two doses of political prescription that you get at the roadside ‘chayakkada’. Colourful stories that go by word of mouth, rich in tasty regional jargons, are narrated abundantly till your tympanum says ‘enough’.
The more I got familiar with the rural voters who formed the majority in the constituency, it became evident that there were clear indications as to which way the political wind was blowing. I could make out that the odds were against the ‘son’.
I did mention my observations in the final report, released a few days before the poll. That despatch, published in the newspaper, known for its credibility, unnerved the father, perhaps more than the son. The man, a bit disappointed that the scribe did not push the pen as he might have fancied, immediately rang up the regional Editor-in-charge. The celebrated politician made an oral complaint that the journalist had presented a misleading report.
What concerned him most was that the main opponent was a detractor who deserved no pardon for defying him. He was trying out one of the weapons left in his political armoury, at the end of a vigorous, sustained campaign that pulled out all stops.
The Editor-in-charge who could see through the game, responded appropriately, reaffirming his faith in the report. And, that was probably the end of the move on his political chess board, trying to find out whether I could be replaced so that he could derive a victory of sorts. The story ended on a sour note for the father-son duo as the results coincided with my observations. Thanks to the nice ‘common man’ whoturns king-maker on the slippery electoral territory.