Statistics are like swimwear; they tease with a lot of show-n-tell, but hide the real stuff.
Remember that fateful evening of 8 November (imagine if Lehman’s financial crash and Osama’s strike on the twin towers had happened on the same day!), when Prime Minister Modi gummed up citizens’ cash and India’s economy, and Donald Trump became the richest, oldest in the first term, most married and expletive-loving POTUS? We are yet to recover from the tsunami of those twelve hours.
Besides disbelief and misery over the last fortnight, Indians have also been taking a fusillade of numbers aimed at creating a particular kind of narrative.
Prime Minister Modi has created “Ram Rajya” for India’s poor. He has snatched this windfall from “bad people”, who are petrified of his 56-inch-chest. He will now use this money to build more schools, rural roads, hospitals and give what-not to India’s poor.
This is very bad news. Because it means that this Rs 5 lakh crore is not tainted. And if demonetised cash continues to gush in at this rate – 40 percent of the total hoard in just 10 days – and reaches anywhere near Rs 14 lakh crore by 31 December, the whole demonetisation manoeuvre would become a colossal flop. Why? Because scamsters would have managed to convert all their black money into white, routing the government at its own game!
But what about the fact that banks would be flushed with cash and government would go on a development over-drive? Zilch.
People who “legitimately” deposited Rs 14 lakh crore will equally legitimately withdraw it, for good and bad deeds, and the situation would come back to what it was on 8 November, except that twice as much black money would now be carried in the same satchel, since the Rs 2,000 note packs in double the punch of the demonetised Rs 1,000 note.
Now you get it? How statistics are like swimwear? You can twist and spin and obfuscate the real thing.
People are nationalists; they are willing to live with extreme distress for the sake of doing something noble for the country. They understand that there is no pain without gain. They have given the BJP handsome victories in Shahdol and Lakhimpur. The BJP also gave a stiff fight to demonetisation’s most strident critic, Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal.
Let’s rip off some swimwear. Both Shahdol and Lakhimpur were constituencies that the BJP won with a 55 percent vote share in 2014. Given that the BJP’s national vote share was 31 percent, you can safely assert that these two constituencies were among the strongest bastions of the ruling party. Now look what happened in the bypolls:
In Shahdol, the BJP’s vote share came down from 54 percent to 44 percent, an astonishing diminution of 10 percentage points. The Congress gained almost all of it. The BJP’s victory margin shrank from 2.4 lakh votes to 60 thousand. Another 10 days of spiralling rural distress, and who knows?
In Lakhimpur, while the BJP held onto its vote share, the Congress garnered all the discontent to increase its kitty by eight percentage points versus 2014.
In Tamluk, Mamata spanked all her opponents by increasing the TMC’s vote share from 53.57 percent to nearly 60 percent. And in Cooch Behar from 40 percent to 59 percent! Even as the BJP came second there, it was a pyrrhic achievement. While it may not have caused her spectacular victory, Mamta’s shrill opposition to demonetisation did not harm her either. Whichever way you look at it, demonetisation could not have carried the day.
In a one-on-one contest in the strongest citadels of the BJP, the Congress gained a positive swing of eight percentage points. And Mamata gained well over 10 percentage points.
Is that a ringing endorsement of demonetisation?
See, people are willing to undertake any amount of pain. They utterly, totally and completely support Prime Minister Modi’s demonetisation “brahmastra”, even if they have to suffer grievous injury themselves.
It’s a bit of a black hole. To judge the efficacy, accuracy – and most important, honesty – of an opinion poll, you need to be transparent about its methodology, size, spread, demographics, field survey dates and several other vital parameters. None of these facts were disclosed in the news report. Even C-Voter’s website did not have any detail (at least we failed to find it).
Was it conducted over the phone? On the Internet? In one-on-one field interviews? How large was the sample? On which dates was the poll conducted? Right after 8 November, or on 20 November? How was the question framed? Was it “do you support demonetisation?” Obviously anybody would say “yes”. Or was it phrased as “will you continue to support demonetisation if the current distress were to sustain over 50 more days?” Clearly, the latter question may extract a somewhat different answer than a black/white outcome.
Finally, after much digging around, we learnt that it was a telephone survey with a mere 1,200 respondents spread over 200 Lok Sabha constituencies, that is, an average of 6 respondents per seat!
As for the 98 percent saying “aye-aye-PM” on the app, I don’t believe that’s a scientific poll.
So I now rest my case. The same set of facts can be spun and twisted to reach entirely different conclusions:
80 percent of people are delighted that a successful demonetisation will collect Rs 14 lakh crore, which will be used for their welfare. They have overwhelmingly voted for the BJP.
If Rs 14 lakh crore are deposited in banks, the demonetisation manoeuvre would have failed, and a highly distressed electorate may give the BJP jitters, the early portents of which were evident in the Lok Sabha bypolls.
Feel like a swim, anybody?