Shailesh Kapoor: A Poll Here, A Poll There

06 Nov,2020

By Shailesh Kapoor


It’s an elections week after long, and one that offers a double bill too. Polling in the Bihar elections ends this Saturday, and Tuesday is the big counting day, even though exit polls will be out Saturday evening itself. But the election that has kept many of us engaged this week is the Presidential election in the US, where three days after polling, the counting is still on, and though Joe Biden is almost certain to be the next US President, the election has still not been officially called by any major news network at the time of writing this column.


The contrast between Indian and US elections and elections coverage cannot be more striking. On the process itself, the paper ballot counting method in the US makes you realise once again how India has evolved so much in this area over the last two-three decades. Watching the US elections results reminded me of the 1984 Lok Sabha election results, where it took three days for all the leads and results to come in. On Tuesday in Bihar, it will take less than three hours.


But an important reason for the long wait in the US is Covid-specific. Voters were given the option to post in their ballots, than physically queue up on the election day. This evidently sensible option was used by a massive number of urban voters, leading to the counting process being more cumbersome than usual. Implementing an equivalent in India is unthinkable for about a dozen reasons.


The other contrast is the coverage on television itself. India elections coverage on TV is hyperbolic, even when the outcome is a foregone conclusion. Watching some of the American news channels over the last three days, I was impressed by the calm demeanour maintained by most anchors and reporters, despite the close contest in a highly-polarised political environment.


One Indian news network, though, is ignoring the US elections, and may even ignore the Bihar elections. Republic Network’s promoter and star anchor Arnab Goswami was arrested by Maharashtra police on Wednesday, and the two channels run by the network are running that as the singular news story since then. Even over the last two-three weeks, after the controversy around some Peoplemeters being allegedly compromised in the favour of their channel broke out, the network has been incessantly doing stories on itself.


Goswami’s arrest is evidently a politically timed move, much like demolition of Kangana Ranaut’s office earlier this year. He will eventually be out on bail, and you know he will be ready to play martyr on primetime television for at least a few weeks after that.


As an aside, Tuesday, the day of Bihar election results, is also the day of the IPL final. For the first time in IPL’s 13-year history, the final is not being held on a weekend. This unusual scheduling choice notwithstanding, it has been an immensely successful IPL, especially given all the challenges involved. The next edition, planned within five months, will do very well to just match up.


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