How Twitter polls can actually hurt the true spirit of enquiry

A few days ago, a writer the New York Times called “the biggest selling English language novelist in India’s history” wrote a blog titled, “How blind bhakts can actually hurt India’s democracy.”

If you’re not familiar with Mr. Chetan Bhagat and his writings, this is where you close the page and take your attention to more fruitful things. But if you are familiar with him, do read his blog before you continue reading this piece further.

I checked out his actual Twitter poll and looked at the replies on that thread.

One of the questions asks “If u had a choice of keeping Modi as our leader but with less democracy, would u be ok with it?”

As one smart tweeter pointed out, “less democracy” is like “less vacuum.” But then, it is not accurate to assume that all people taking the poll would be engineers to appreciate the irony here – wait, not the irony of democracy vis-à-vis vacuum. I’m talking of the other irony – of an engineer himself not being able to appreciate this fact.

But let me not get sidetracked. I was talking of how most people may think “less democracy” is like “less cash” which incidentally is justified because of demonetization. No, it’s not relevant here but what the heck, no writer worth his salt would dare leave out the D-word into any piece he’s writing post 8/11. And believe me, if people can believe someone who’s telling them that “less cash” is a temporary situation, what makes you think that they won’t believe him if he says they’ll have to do with a little “less democracy” for a while?

Besides, these poll participants may not really be sure what to make of “less democracy” and “emergency.” Because, ever since May 2014, the media and libero-seculars have been yelling that we’re in an emergency and that democracy is decreasing and yet, our everyday lives have not really been endangered in any way. So these poll participants have heard the “Wolf! Wolf!” false alarm so often that they probably think it’s just a tiny kitten that must not be fretted over. So Mr. Bhagat’s big E-word has not had the desired impact that would be necessary for the real truth to emerge out. No, real truth is not a redundant term – it’s very much necessary because of the existence of post truth which, incidentally, is exactly what Mr. Bhagat’s poll is.

Mr Bhagat, in his article, says he asked, “If Modi wanted to declare an emergency to completely eliminate corruption, would you support it?”

I checked his actual question on the Twitter poll. He asked, “If Modi wanted to declare emergency for a while to totally eradicate corruption and punish corrupt, will you support him?”

If you see the wording of the question on the poll, and do not realize the impact of nuances such as “for a while” and “punish corrupt,” on an Indian populace that’s frustrated by the corrupt forever getting away with their sins, you’re probably not fit to be either an investment banker or a writer, let alone a pollster or a political commentator. You don’t need to be a Modi-bhakt to want that the corrupt be punished. Sort of like you don’t need to be an English professor to be a reader of Mr. Bhagat’s literature.

Mr. Bhagat further pontificates, “It is a big mistake to think a messiah will fix India, when in fact it is the system and societal values that need to be slowly fixed.” It would be interesting to know Mr. Bhagat’s road map for this slow fixing of system and societal values vis-à-vis the one that’s been set rolling by the one he’s branding “messiah.” I, for one, hope this system-and-societal-value-changing is not meant to evolve the way the plots of some of his books with numerical titles do.

A little further, Mr. Bhagat says, “Blind fans, who don’t even mind an emergency and are ready to abuse and bully anyone who mentions anything remotely critical of Modi, are frankly quite useless — to Modi as well as to nation-building.” I did not see evidence of any other poll by Mr. Bhagat where he asked for information if the respondents to his previous poll questions have abused or bullied those critical of Modi. So, to conclude that all those who showed support for “Modi as leader with less democracy,” “eliminate corruption” and “punish corrupt” are all blind fans, abusers and bullies reeks of a sweeping generalization that could very well be factually inaccurate. But I forget, we’re talking post truth here and not truth, so Mr. Bhagat is allowed his patronizing lines.

Mr. Bhagat then tries some balancing, and quite unsuccessfully at that. He says, “I have little sympathy for elitists, fake liberals and blind Modi haters. They are harmless for the most part. However, blind supporters are worrisome.” To me, in saying this, he sounds suspiciously like those same elitists he claims to have little sympathy for. Renowned members of the liberal, secular brigade and the media who try very hard to create a false impression of a real “Emergency” are, to Mr. Bhagat, harmless for the most part. While anonymous Twitter poll respondents, who responded to hypothetical scenarios of an “Emergency” in a poll with leading questions that would be the bane of any solid researcher, are worrisome.

Mr. Bhagat ends with this salvo: “If you are a true nationalist, the nation should come before any individual, even if that individual is your favourite leader.” Aha !! This, indeed, is the crux of the matter. Much of the popularity that the said “leader” enjoys – the very reason why he is the adoring junta’s favourite leader, is because they see him as a nationalist, who puts the nation before himself. I wish Mr. Bhagat would run another poll for bhakts of the other leaders and regional satraps so we can actually evaluate this “nationalist-leader-evokes-nationalist-spirit-in-followers” hypothesis.

In conclusion, it seems quite obvious that had someone wanted really to research this entire issue of Modi-bhakti, they would have devised a rigorous questionnaire that asked probing and yet, not leading, questions. The researcher then would have drawn his conclusions based on the answers he got. Deciding your outcome and then devising straw polls designed to lend credence to your proposed hypothesis is just not science – it’s an art. One that Mr. Bhagat has apparently aced with his latest Twitter poll that can actually hurt the true spirit of enquiry.

Anusuya Suresh