With Prime Minister Modi back in power, the long-established ‘ecosystem’ that drove the narrative is in massive flux. With the ‘establishment’ having a meltdown after their campaign against PM Modi failed, several questions have been raised on the credibility of ‘thought-leaders’ who have driven the narrative thus far. From opinion pieces in national and international media to NGOs and media-persons, the collective credibility of the ‘cabal’, so to speak, took an irreparable hit. One of the areas that got spoken of rather threadbare, was that of psephology.
With the credibility of the field taking a drubbing the world over, people at large started questioning whether there was any merit to the surveys and predictions that psephologists made. Many even wondered whether the numbers were sometimes simply put out there to drive a certain narrative home in the hopes of influencing the elections.
One recalls how in 2014, most psephologists barring a few got BJP’s numbers vastly wrong. Perhaps this was in tune with the global trend of underestimating ‘right wing’ votes in general, as we saw in the Trump election, the UK referendum or even elections in Australia.
India saw its own share of controversies. For example, the Exit Poll put out by NewsX in collaboration with Neta was dubious since it depended largely on a mobile application and the responses received on it. The Neilson Director ended up admitting on National Television that they had selectively altered responses in favour of Prime Minister Modi.
Through it all, with dwindling credibility, India also saw the rise of a young psephologist, Pradeep Bhandari. Bhandari, all of 28-years-old, managed to infuse young blood, renewed energy and frankness of opinion that was missing from the psephology scene thus far.
From Daly college, Indore, Pradeep bought the same passion to his profession of psephology that he had while debating or playing cricket. He went on to do Engineering in Electronics and Communication from MIT Manipal and later Theatre and Economics and Public Policy. His interest in social issues stems from an aware set of parents. His mother runs the largest NGO on Thalassemia, and his father was a President Awardee police officer.
A staunch nationalist, Pradeep prides himself for being honest about his political ideology and preferences while being completely transparent and unbiased in his psephology.
Pradeep recalls, “Post 2013 I came back to Indore where I wanted to contribute to the system so I thought of preparing for civil services. But during my preparation, rather than studying, I used to spend my time watching Narendra Modi speeches, reading 15 editorials a day, and watching news day in and out, especially Arnab Goswami debates. I was never a status quoist. In my free time, I used to volunteer in a non-institutional way and I had this craze to be a contributor in Narendra Modi victory. I was a youth could see hope”.
Following his passion, Pradeep also briefly worked with the Haryana Government, especially in designing a new skill development policy, but since being away from people wasn’t his forte, it didn’t quite get his creative juices flowing.
It was after his stint with the Haryana government that one afternoon, bored and in Indore, Pradeep recorded an episode of ‘Jan ki Baat’ and uploaded it on Facebook. After the one episode went viral, he started asking people for their opinions on various subjects, armed with a selfie stick and a phone. When these short Facebook clips started going viral, Pradeep instituted his company, Jan Ki Baat, with a few lacs borrowed from his family and his professor Mukul Asher, who he thanks wholeheartedly for whatever success he has seen. He also credits his teammate, Akriti, who he says stood by him through the entire process of instituting his company. She was his first teammate, apart from others.
Just before the Uttar Pradesh elections, Pradeep decided to start touring the state and getting opinions from the ground. He had developed massive goodwill by now and had several citizen journalists who were willing to feed him information from ground zero. He sensed an absolute majority for BJP, something no psephologist had managed to do at that time.
Pradeep says, “Siddharth Zarabi, Executive Editor BTVi knew me through a common link and was following me continuously and he happened to give me space to put the survey. The results matched with the survey trend and my performance on the tv debate was appreciated”.
He adds, “A leap forward happened when I went to Gujarat. I hired a core team of field investigators and we built a huge network of citizen reporters. My team reported in Gujarati. By then we had built our own indigenous model of prediction, which I call probability map of the outcome, and had the ability to gauge lakhs of sample size and come out with opinion poll. One of my mentors Shubhranshu introduced me to Republic TV CEO. This was when my poll was launched on Republic. I would not have been where I am without the support of Arnab Goswami. The opinion poll made big headlines, as when Yogendra Yadav who was considered a big voice was preaching a BJP loss in Gujarat, I was saying a BJP win in Gujarat. I remember that in order to check if we are correct I visited Mehsana (the birth of Patidar movement) 11 times and predicted that Nitin Patel will win it. I was called all sorts of names and abused but later I stood vindicated on that seat too. On exit day also Republic gave me some space, and News24 also published my survey in the poll of polls. Gujarat was my 2nd success”.
Pradeep then went on to tour the Northeast. He used to spend months on the road, even in Tripura, something no psephologist does.
One of these success stories is that of the Karnataka polls. Karnataka was historic because it was a direct face-off between Jan Ki Baat and the rest. Most opinion polls were giving Congress the edge. It was only Pradeep giving INC 77 seats and BJP 104 seat. In partnership with Republic TV, Pradeep stood vindicated by the end of it all.
For 2019, Pradeep travelled for months in over 400 constituencies and had a unique connection with the people. He rode auto-rickshaws, worked with the farmers and basically, became one with the people he wanted to understand. His show Lalkar on Republic TV saw him in the most colourful manner, trying to get people to talk to him so as to accurately predict the 2019 elections.
After coming from nothing in a closed field that resists change, Pradeep has managed to make his mark in a field that was fast losing credibility. Unafraid to voice his opinions and stick his neck out when most psephologists shy away, Pradeep stands out as the young beacon in an ageing profession.