People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
April 29, 2001
THE CAPITALIST CLASS, THE MEDIA,
& EXIT POLLS
THERE is an old story of a villager and four thieves. A villager wanted to sell off his lamb and was taking it to the weekly bazaar, on his shoulders. Four thieves devised a plan to hypnotise the villager and deprive him of his lamb. Accordingly, they approached the villager one after another and commented that what the villager carrying on his shoulders was a dog, not a lamb. Finally the villager believed the words of the thieves and abandoned his lamb, which was then taken away gleefully by the thieves.
The Public Opinion or Exit Polls dished out by the national English newspapers like The Times of India, The Statesman, The Hindustan Times, The Indian Express etc., along with the regional language newspapers and the TV channels including Doordarshan, are like the thieves in the above story. Public Opinion and Exit Polls are aimed at misleading, or influencing the people to vote for the political party or parties whom the owners and operators of these media and their collaborators want, though not always successfully the Public Opinion and Exit Polls published by the media for the assembly elections in 1998 for Madhya Pradesh, in 1999 for Maharashtra and Karnataka; and in 2000 for Bihar - all proved to be wrong - the villager had become wiser.
The mass media described as the Mind-Management Industry comprises two powerful arms - the electronic media and print media. Both viz., the television channels as well as big newspapers at the national and regional level are in the hands of private monopoly capitalists, or Indian MNCs like Tatas, Birlas, Goenkas, Jains, etc. Because of the very large investment in the range of Rs 50 to 250 crore that is required in starting and running a daily newspaper or a TV channel, monopoly conditions, vested interests and cartelisation have developed in the media.
Ideologically these interests are opposed to any progressive and particularly communist ideology which advocates control or nationalisation of all assets and resources of the nation to sub-serve the common good and welfare of the people. Contrarily, capital, foreign or indigenous run the media in order to expand and safeguard their private empires. Hence it is pro-capitalist political parties such as the Congress (I) and BJP, which are profusely financially and politically supported by the media owned by them. In turn these MNCs and big businessmen reap very high economic benefits from the governance of the capitalist political parties. As an example the Indian and foreign big business has borrowed more than Rs 58,000 crore from public financial institutions which remain unrecovered, and shown as Non-Performing Assets. Both the Congres (I) and BJP governments have shown no willingness to recover these huge loans. Similarly more than Rs 62,000 crore of income tax, excise and customs duty arrears remain to be recovered. An estimated Rs 3,00,000 crore of (unaccounted) black money exists in the country which the Congress(I) and BJP governments refuse to unearth.
The 2001-2002 budget, proposes reducing dividend tax benefitting the top 50 companies to the tune of Rs 971 crore. Further in the privatisation programme (economic reforms package) the BJP-Congress (I) nexus is handing over huge national assets, national resources and public funds to Indian and foreign MNCs at throwaway prices.
Thus, it can be seen that both the Congress (I) and BJP governments in their respective turns of governance, continued to bestow huge benefits to the corporate houses and in turn these corporate house continue to fund and finance both Congress (I) and BJP.
In May 1999, the president of the CII, Rahul Bajaj, stated that, industry was looking forward to a stable government, led either by the Congress (I) or the BJP in the coming elections.
Bajaj also admitted that he "funds the election campaigns of the Congress party". In 2001, BJP-led government awarded the Padma Bhushan to this industrialist, even while the trade unions were alleging that he had defaulted public financial institutions to the tune of Rs 500 crore in the Non-Performing Assets.
EVOLUTION OF TWO-PARTY SYSTEM
Over the years, the theoreticians in capitalist countries found that rule by a single capitalist political party was possible only up to a certain point. If capitalist rule was to continue, an alternative capitalist politial party had to be developed to absorb the discontent of the people. In the absence of a strong capitalist alternative, communists tended gain in elections.
Thus in USA, the two capitalist political alternatives - the Republican Party and the Democratic Party; in UK, the Conservative Party and the Labour party. When one party gets discredited with the people, the capitalist media cleverly pushes the other party in to the vision of the people, and the people dutifully vote for the alternative.
In India, the Congress Party which represents feudal-capitalist forces, had enjoyed a monopoly over power in India till 1967, with the unstinted support given by the national newspapers like The Hindustan Times, The Times of India, The Indian Express, The Statesman etc., and the regional language newspapers. The media used to highlight the contradictions in the Opposition parties in order to prevent unity against the Congress party. However, the Congress Party lost power for the first time in eight States in 1967 because of its pro-rich and anti-poor policies. The communists gained in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura.
From 1980, the capitalist class adoted the BJP as the alternative capitalist political party to Congress(I), and the media worked over time to bring the BJP to the centre-stage of public notice. As a result of this "two-party" system evolved in Indian politics, the BJP or Congress, was alternatively elected, as in USA and UK, in a number of states like Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Maharashtra.
Together these two parties oppose the Third Front, are naturally the Communist Parties and the CPI(M) in particular. They collaborate with each other discretely or openly, if there is a possibility of an advantage to the latter. There are a number of instances: a Congress MLA from Hydergarh in Uttar Pradesh vacated his seat to enable BJP chief minister Rajnath Singh to become a member of the Assembly. Similarly, the Congress candidate withdrew from the contest to enable BJP chief minister Babulal Marandi to win from Ramgarh (Jharkhand).
While the capitalist media distort, censor or black out news and views favourable to the Left, at the time of elections the Public Opinion and Exit Polls are the instrument used to influence the people instantly to opt the Congress (I) or BJP and their respective allies like Telugu Desam Party (TDP), Samata Party, Trinamul Congress, DMK, Akali Dal, or even parties like the BSP which become useful for "divide and rule" politics.
USE OF PUBLIC OPINION EXIT POLLS
In 1991, when the prime capitalist party Congress (I) was not in a position to secure the majority at the centre, the staggered election schedule set by the then Chief Election Commissioner, T N Seshan and the exit polls were taken advantage of by the capitalist forces.
Numerous news items, opinion polls, reports, analyses and other items appeared in the various newspapers, magazines and bulletins. For examples:
The Statesman May 1991:
Congress(I), BJP To Profit In Hindi Belt.
The Times of India May 5,1991:
Congress(I), BJP lead in UP, Bihar"
In the Hindi belt the capitalist media, especially the Hindi media, with all its straddling network, was giving full encouragement to the communal hate campaign of the BJP in order to create a Hindu-Muslim divide, and thus help the BJP to create a Hindu vote bank for itself. Communalism was preached rather openly by Hindi newspapers like Dainik Jagran, Aaj, Swatnatra Bharat, Swatantra Chetna, Veer Arjun, Amar Ujala, Amrit Prabhat, Nav Jeevan, Jansatta, Navbharat Times, Dainik Hindustan, in particular.
The Indian Express campaigning for the BJP proclaimed of May 17,1991: Advani places two options before UP voters: Ram Rajya Or Imam Rajya".
The Hindu May 16, 1991: Ram Raj Or Imam Raj is the choice : Advani".
The Statesman May 18,1991: "It Is Hindus vs Muslims In Bhopal".
At the same time, the media published innumerable news items in favour of the prime capitalist party, the Congress(I), wherever the BJP was not a strong contender.
The Times of India April 30, 1991 that "Haryana Women All For Rajiv". On May 4, 1991 that "Congress Is Top Contender In AP".
The aim in publishing such reports was to polarise the voters between the Congress (I) and BJP, particularly where there was a strong Third Front candidate also. Wherever the BJP was not strong as in the case of Andhra Pradesh, the Congress (I) was projected as the only alternative; and vice versa. In this exercise, the media to a very large extent blacked out or censored the immense response the National Front - Left Front alliance received from the people in the 1991 Lok Sabha election campaign at various public meetings. And the real problems facing the people such as unemployment, price rise, water, electricity etc., were never touched upon and wherever they were serious contenders totally negative coverage was given to the communist parties in particular.
For example: in Varanasi and Kanpur where the CPI(M) candidates were contesting, The Statesman campaigned on May 10, 1991 "Varanasi An Arena Of Hindu Stalwarts".
The Hindu May 4, 1991 "Communal Passions Hold The Key In Kanpur".
The Statesman April 24, 1991, "Tripura CPI(M) Lacks Confidence".
The Statesman May 20, 1991, made the victory of Mrs Rita Verma a foregone conclusion in order to discourage the communist candidate by declaring: "BJP Likely To Win Dhanbad".
In Faizabad where the CPI was holding the seat, The Economic Times propagated May 19, 1991 "CPI Is Forgotten In Faizabad".
Similar news were published in plenty by local Hindi and regional language newspapers, which are also under the control of local capitalists.
In addition to the above biased coverage for the 1991 elections, the capitalist media sponsored and planted public opinion polls which predicted only 80 to 115 seats to the National Front - Left Front alliance. The exit poll for the first phase of elections, for 199 seats held on May 20, 1991, actually predicted 77 seats for the NF-LF alliance, 49 seats for Congress(I) and 66 seats for BJP, but there results were not published. This after the censorship imposed by the media on the prospects for NF-LF alliance, the negative reporting, enormous money power commanded by the BJP and Congress(I), the sponsored communal riots, and preventing minorities and weaker sections from voting, especially in Uttar Pradesh.
As will be recalled, the final outcome of the 1991 Lok Sabha elections, was greater influenced in the Second phase by the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi May 21, 1991 at 10.20 PM at Sriperambudur (near Chennai). It is very instructions to note that the then cheif election commissioner T N Seshan claimed that he came to know about Rajiv Gandhis assassination by phone, by about 10.40 pm (i.e. within 20 minutes) from one of his friends in the USA, even while utter confusion prevailed at Sriperambudur. Within another few minutes on the same night, and without consulting important constitutional authorities, T N Seshan postponed the elections scheduled to start in another 7-8 hours at 7.00 am on the 22nd morning.
Without questioning the circumstances, timing and the reasons for the postponement, the capitalist media immediately set about creating a sympathy wave in favour of Congress (I):
The Hindustan Times May 23, 1991 "Sympathy Wave In UP" for the Congress (I). Further "the undercurrent of sympathy cuts across the castes and communities as the common people mourn the death of Rajiv Gandhi with anger and anguish".
The Times of India May 23, 1991 "Sympathy May Help Congress In Bihar, MP", following this up with "In Bihar, the mourners have singled out the Janata Dal for venting their anger and have set fire to JD arches and banners. Brickbats were also exchanged when JD and Congress workers confronted each other in Patna this morning. Reports suggest that the prime factor for making the JD its target of wrath is the presumption that its ally, the DMK, could have been involved in the assassination."
Times-Marg Opinion Poll June 12, 1991: Congress Rides A Sympathy Wave
- A nationwide opinon poll conducted by MARG for The Times of India, following the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, indicates a sympathy wave in favour of the Congress, which will help the party improve upon the previously projected seat position of 233 in the India Today-MARG Opinion Poll.
These comments it may be noted, are made within a day of the assassination, while the mortal remians of Rajiv Gandhi were still lying on state.
The bluff of the capitalist media was called when final results came out where the Congress (I) could get only 5 and 1 seats out of 85 and 53 seats from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, respectively in 1991. It could also be seen how the media projected more seats (233 seats) for Congress (I) before the assassination, whereas even after assassination, the Congress (I) could get only 220 seats. These Opinion Polls favouring the Congress (I) were published by the media on May 19, 1991 and again on 12.6.1991 i.e. just before or on the election days. The effort was obviously to influence the voters instantly and help the Congress (I).
The staggered election schedule, the Exit Polls of first phase of elections and the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, conclusively altered the final results of the elections in 1991. Whereas the Congress (I) won only 50 out of 196 seats before the assassination, the party won 170 out of 294 seats after the assassination, in the final count.
RISE OF THE BJP
After the introduction of pro-capitalist privatisation programme in 1991, the influence of the Congress party over people has further weakened, even though the media campaigned that "a majority of urban Indian electorate is firmly behind Narasimha Rao government in its handling of the economy...." and "Overwhelming support for Narasimha Rao government : another capitalist alternative against the Congress (I) in order to absorb the discontentment of the people and also to ensure that the communist parties did not occupy the oppposition space appeared expedient. The result was that the BJP which had won only two seats in 1984, began to be projected as an alternative to the Congress party. The demolition of the Babri Masjid by the RSS-BJP-Shiv Sena combine in order to create a Hindu vote-bank and the worst type of communal propaganda in favour of BJP carried on by the media helped by the BJP to slowly emerge as the capitalist alternative to the Congress (I) in several states, and at the centre.
In the 1993 Assembly elections, the media pundits thought that the BJP would gain as a result of demolition of Babri Masjid andconsequent dismissal of BJP governments in four states. The pollsters presumed that these developments would generate sympathy for the BJP. Accordingly, the media published several news items in favour of BJP.
The Week-Mode Opinion Poll predicted a BJP win with 200-240 seats out of 320 seats for the BJP in Madhya Pradesh, but the BJP lost the elections. Similarly, The Indian Express-CMS and India Today-Marg Exit Poll predicted between 185 to 270 seats and Week-Mode predicted 240-270 seats for BJP in Uttar Pradesh out of 425 seats, but the party ended up with only 176 seats.
At the time of 1996 Lok Sabha elections, it became clear that the monopoly rule of a single capitalist party at the centre, was over. Therefore, the capitalist lobby adopted new strategies and tactics to strengthen the capitalist political parties and weaken the communist parties and Third Front.
The 1996 Lok Sabha elections were fixed in too hot summer of May which made it difficult for the parties to contact the voters directly. Wall writings and posters were banned on the pretext that they would give a dirty look along with several other restrictions on elections meetings, timings etc., aimed at creating a "two-party capitalist democracy" and discouraging the communist parties in particular. Such restrictions on posters etc., are only prevalent in other capitalist countries like Phillippines. The above restrictions gave a direct advantage to the Congress (I) and BJP who enjoyed publicity through the media owned by the capitalist class. In several states and constituencies, the media propagated that apart from Congress(I) and BJP, no others were in contest. So the dirty and corrupt practices of leaders of MNC-backed parties like Congress (I) and BJP could not be explained by the Leftt Parties to the people even during an election.
The media helped the process of one-sided propaganda by projecting the Congress (I) and BJP as "alternatives" to each other without again raising issues like corruption, price- rise, unemployment, adulteration, etc. The people did not even know which parties other than Congress (I) and BJP were contesting and who were their candidates. Thus Seshans manipulations in the 1996 Lok Sabha elections gave a distinct advantage to the BJP and Congress (I), the well established parties representing the MNCs and the feudal-capitalist forces. The restrictions imposed by Seshan in 1996 continued in subsequent elections also.
Even then, neither the BJP nor Congress (I) could get anywhere near the required majority in the Lok Sabha in 1996 Lok Sabha elections, inspite of all out support by the media. The BJP won 161 seats and the Congress (I) only 147 seats, the National Front-Left Front (NF/LF) alliance won 179 seats, contrary to the capitalist medias predictions of only 100 to 145 seats. The subsequent Vajpayee government lasted only 13 days, and the Congress (I)-supported United Front Government sworn in 1996, was not expected to last long and was out by 1997.
By 1997, it became clear to the capitalist theoreticians that with the days of one party capitalist rule at the centre more or less over, if there was a chance at central power, it could only be through BJP. The BJP hereafter abandoned its dream of single party alternative at the Centre and started making "allies" for the 1998 Lok Sabha elections. The capitalist media used all its energies to project the BJP and its allies.
On December 25, 1997, many industrial houses in the country came together to bring out an eight-page special colour supplement on Atal Behari Vajpayee, on the occasion of his birth day and projected him as "The Man India Awaits". The special supplment reportedly cost Rs 2,00,00,000 for the corporate houses. The media was also forthcoming with a lot of logistic suport to the BJP for the 1998 Lok Sabha elections. While the Jain Commission Report on the conspiracy aspect of Rajiv Gandhis assassination was selectively leaked out by the media in order to create anti-DMK feelings, the Sri Krishna Commission Report, which blamed the BJP-Shiv Sena leaders for the 1993 Bombay riots, was totally blacked out by the media.
Mysteriously, during the 1998 Lok Sabha elections, bomb blasts occurred in Coimbatore just two days before the second round of polling, followed by communal riots. The Times of India proclaimed the next day, i.e. on February 15, 1998 that "a sympathy wave for BJP is in sight". Mysterious bomb blasts also occurred in Mumbai just on the day of electon, promptly followed by communal riots. Added to this favourable Public Opinion and Exit Polls
Then in the thick of the elections, the UP Governor, Romesh Bhandari, arbitrarily dismissed the BJP-led state government in Uttar Pradesh without the approval of the then Home Minister Inderjit Gupta (CPI). The pro-BJP media picked up the issue to generate sympathy for the BJP. In addition astrologers were also pressed into service. All of them predicted a BJP victory.
Aided by the above factors, the media predicted a "big vote swing" in favour of the BJP. Whoever was opposed to the BJP, and Congress (I), invariably received censor or black-out by the media. The huge public meetings held by the United Front at Bhubaneshwar, Calcutta, Hyderabad, Thiruvananthapuram and other places were never reported. The Times of India proclaimed that "Laloo Faces Rout in Bihar" and predicted only 9 seats for the RJD. In the event, the RJD won 17 seats. Mulayam Singhs Samajwadi Party was to win only 12 seats according to media, but the SP could won 20 seats. Further, the medias Public Opinion/Exit Poll predictions went totally wrong in the case of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and other states.
Thus, inspite of all the media support and enormous money and muscle power, the BJP could not become the alternative to Congress (I). The BJPs own tally increasing only marginally from 161 to 182 seats in the 1998 Lok Sabha along with its allies it could manage a majority in Lok Sabha only as a result of the defection of the TDP from the United Front.
ASSEMBLY ELECTIONS, NOVEMBER, 1998
Then came the State assembly elections in November 1998. As usual the armchair psephologists and the media guestimated that the anti-incumbency factor would work against the Congress (I) in Madhya Pradesh and predicted BJPs victory.
The Times of India November 15, 1998 "the BJP could recapture the State, probably with Mr. Sunder Lal Patwa at the helm, with 46 per cent of votes and between 211 and 221 seats in the 320-member assembly". The BJP got only 119 seats, and was defeated in Madhya Pradesh.
Despite the BJP "biting the dust" in the Assembly elections in MP, Rajasthan and Delhi, The Times of India Opinion Poll, December 6, 1998 that 52 per cent of the people were not satisfied with the performance of Vajpayee government at the centre and only 40 per cent are satisfied. As the 1999 Lok Sabha elections approached, this figure changed to 50 per cent satisfied with the overall performance of the Vajpayee government and only 34 per cent dissatisfied; 10 per cent changed their mind in favour of the BJP wthin a period of five months.
As the 1999 Lok Sabha elections approached, the Election Commission decided to ban publication of public opinion and exit polls 48 hours before the actual dates of an election and issued guidelines in this regard. The Press Council of India also thought that such polls influence the voters and violated the essence and concept of a free and fair elections.
LOK SABHA ELECTION, 1999
Capitalist politics demanded fullest possible support to the BJP and its allies, and therefore an urgent need to influence the voters. Accordingly the Election Commission guidelines were violated with impunity. The Press Council of India was also defied by the media and the Chairman of Press Council was vilified.
The media also did not accept that campaigning must ends one day before the actual date of an election. The so-called small sample surveys continued and were passed off as "public opinion" and "exit polls" and projected as all India trends. Even though these opinion and exit polls turned out to be factually false on a number of occasions earlier, yet they have been published or telecast at the time of elections in order to influence the voters. These polls violate the very basic principle of an election where each voter is supposed to exercise his or her franchise without any outside influences. Planting opinion polls and exit polls in favour of theCongress(I) or BJP, surpasses the other methods of rigging, muscle power, money power and liquor. The capitalist media is able to influence large sections of voters who were within their reach.
Almost the entire media in general and The Times of India in particular worked as the mouthpiece of BJP and its allies.
Further, in order to polarise the votes between the Congress (I) and BJP, the media published many news items aimed at Third Front voters. For example,
Based on this wrong report, the Indian Express went on to write an editorial.
However, the poll results showed the BJP winning exactly 182 seats, i.e. not even a one seat nearer.
On the other hand, the Samajwadi Party increased its tally from 20 to 26 seats; the CPI(M) did not lose 15 seats as projected, but retained its 32 seats. The pollsters predictions went in the reverse or off the mark in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Projected to win the Assembly elections in Maharashtra and Karnataka, the BJP and its allies lost in both states.
In February 2000, elections were held to four States viz., Bihar, Haryana, Orissa and Manipur. All eyes of BJP and its allies were on Bihar and Laloo Yadav. Before the elections, a sense of insecurity was sought to be created in Bihar. Instances of violence were created. Innocent people were killed as had happened earlier in Tripura in 1988.
India Today-DRS forecast that BJP and its allies would bag 175 to 180 of the total 324 seats in Bihar. The phase-wise publication/telecast of predictions that the BJP plus allies winning 65 ot of 108; and 118 out of 216 seats, by Doordarshan added to the pro-BJP propaganda. Finally the DRS-Doordarshan Exit Poll gave 195 out of the 324 seats to BJP-led alliance.
The final results exposed the bluff of the entire capitalist media. The RJD+CPM alliance got 125 seats while the BJP+allies got 123 seats (BJPs own tally 67). Even then the Vajpayee government was not willing to respect the peoples verdict in Bihar. Though Nitish Kumar did not command a majority, yet the Governor Vinod Pandey installed him as Chief Minister. The Times of India described this undemocratic event as "Nitish graduates from Chanakya to Chandragupta" (5.3.2000). In order to create a rift between the CPI(M) and RJD, The Times of India published a bogus news item on March 7, 2000 which stated that: "Basu against backing Laloo".
That Public Opinion and Exit Polls are influencing the voters - especially the urban voters and middle classes - who are within the reach of the media - is beyond doubt and well established. The Times of Indias own Opinion Poll published on August 23, 1999 said that 61 per cent people think that publication of opinion polls do influence voters. It can be seen that nearly all the 182 seats of BJP and their allies like Trinamool Congress, Shiv Sena etc., in the Lok Sabha are from urban areas where the media has tremendous reach.
The politically motivated and biased public opinion polls, news items, reports, analyses etc., by the media as illustrated above are the tools of authorised rigging of elections by the capitalist media. They are intended to hypnotise the voters. Unfortunately the Supreme Court allowed this fraud of supplying politically motivated and biased information to the people, in the name of "freedom".
For the ensuing Assembly elections in West Bengal and Kerala in particular, the capitalist forces are making all out efforts to defeat the CPI(M) and other Left Parties.
The Zee TV and The Times of India predict that in Kerala the Congress-led UDF will get 47 per cent vote to bag 90-100 seats and the CPM-led LDF would get only 45-55 seats with 42 per cent votes. In Keralas electoral history ifs any combination gets 47 per cent votes with 5 per cent margin as projected by the media, sweeps at least 120 out of 140 seats. Therefore, the forecast is obviously unrealistic.
Similarly, for West Bengal, the Zee TV and other media predict that the Congress-Mamata Banerjee combine will get 49 per cent vote and the CPM-led Left Front may get 48 per cent vote. How can there be a gain of 10 per cent votes in favour of Congress-Mamata combine from 1999 elections? And where have the votes of the BJP gone?
A study of the capitalist media reveals that is has been playing a major role in laying traps to divide the people on caste, communal and other lines; in creating controversies out of non-isues to confuse the people; in diverting the attention of the people from burning problems of the capitalist system and capitalist society; in withholding the secrets of capitalist-imperialist network from the general public; in developing superstitions and obscurantism; in building up proxy parties; and in depicting the communist parties as weak and irrelevant - in order to protect their private capitalist empires at the cost of welfare of the people. The capitalist media has been serving the interests of world capitalism in terms of socio-economic-political complexities, and functioning as the mouthpiece of multinational corporations, the Congress(I) and BJP, and Anglo-American interests.