I must confess I did not sleep the night of May 15-16. Having stuck my neck out to say Chandrababu Naidu has the edge over Jaganmohan Reddy, I knew my neck will be on the line if it turned out otherwise. To fellow journalists and friends, including those in the bureaucracy, I had predicted a TDP-BJP tally in the 95-110 MLA range (95 sure seats and another 15 that were tight contests) and an MP strength of 16-19. Am glad that on both counts I proved right.
I remember in 2004, when I predicted that Andhra Pradesh is set to log out Naidu, it was met with sniggers, scepticism and ridicule. On a live broadcast in Vijayawada on the evening of April 26, I said “the bicycle is getting deflated.”
In the interim period between voting day and counting day on May 11, I found a heap of abuse coming my way. My personal calculation seat-by-seat showed TDP will not win more than 77 assembly seats. Naidu told me he will prove me wrong. My then senior, Rajdeep Sardesai advised me to return to Delhi if Naidu returned to power. Finally, when the TDP folded up at 48, TDP leader K Rammohan Rao told me jocularly, “Sudhir, even you were off the mark. You predicted 77 but we got only 48.” I must admit I did not expect TDP to be washed out of an urban centre like Hyderabad, a city Naidu had developed.
In fact, in 1999, travelling with Naidu on the election campaign, I had told him the TDP-BJP alliance will win 33 Lok Sabha seats. Naidu let me glance through TDP’s own internal calculation that had predicted 29 seats. The alliance finally won 36 and Naidu on the afternoon of the victory gave me the first post-win interview.
In the age of social media, with every party having their very biased, vocal and often abusive supporters, making a prediction is a huge risk. Because not only are you subjected to a lot of name calling, with your professional and personal integrity torn to pieces, one could pay a huge price for going wrong. It was all the more difficult this time because most exit pollsters predicted a close finish in Seemandhra.
But for me, the six days I travelled through Seemandhra and talking to people on the day of polling made up my mind. As I wrote, I sensed a Naidu wave in the urban centres in particular. When I was in Vijayawada, a journalist friend who is a passionate YSRC supporter messaged me saying “Sudhir, you are in the wrong place.” I replied saying there is no wrong place for a right journalist. When I do my job – and political journalism to me is a passion especially at election time – no one is a friend or a foe.
And I am thankful to Aashish of India TV and Uma Sudhir of NDTV, two of the finest journalists I have known, for their insights from the areas they travelled in. Both of them like me, felt Jagan will be on the losing side. In contrast, I am disappointed by a very senior journalist who predicted a landslide win for G Vivek of Congress in Pedapalli, an area I did not travel to. He lost by over 2 lakh votes.
At the end of the day, staying neutral and keeping your ears to the ground, is all what matters. Get your own sampling right by talking to different kinds of people and most often, you will get results better than the best of exit pollsters.
P.S. While I got AP, Karnataka and Kerala right, I did not expect Jayalalithaa to sweept Tamilnadu with such fury. During my travel, while I did not feel any Modi wave in the state, I did not expect DMK to fare so poorly. This state continues to surprise. Perhaps, I did not speak to the right people there.