The pitfalls of instant edits

BY Darius Nakhoonwala| IN Opinion | 13/05/2007
Everyone got the UP election wrong. But no one said sorry.

You don`t say!

Darius Nakhoonwala

Mayawati`s emphatic win confronted the leader writers with the problem of interpreting it for their readers. But because of the need for immediate comment, usually unsullied by editorial discussion and dependent largely on what the self-styled TV experts say, the main newspapers got the facts right but the meaning less right.  

Thus one of the oldest tricks in the book, when required to write an edit late in the evening is to recount the facts to fill up the space. This was on when there was no TV but now it makes no sense at all. Yet, most leader writers did just that. The haste and resulting meandering, too, were blindingly obvious.

The Telegraph`s edit was the worst when viewed in these terms but it did make a useful point right at the end. " The UP verdict is a signal for the national parties to either reinvent themselves along meaningful federal lines — as has happened in America — or fade into irrelevance."  This should have been the theme of its edit, because I wonder how national parties can "reinvent themselves along federal lines". What does that mean, pray, if anything?

The Hindu - it, too, filled space (700 out of 1100 words) with tedious statistics and descriptions of strategy etc -- went off on what I though was a Leftist howl of pleasure. "It was `subaltern` power on spectacular display…." Subaltern is a very specific term used in history writing, signifying the view from below. Any reader who had watched TV would have learnt absolutely nothing from the edit. But to its credit it was the only one to pat the Election Commission on its back. That, like the Telegraph`s point came at the end. "For the people of Uttar Pradesh, the ECI is as much a hero as their Chief Minister-in-waiting."

The Indian Express got its words right, though. "It would be hard to turn up a moment of greater radical symbolism in recent times in India, or perhaps the world..:" Yes, absolutely. Then it went off, inexplicable, into a discourse on Bihar and Nitish Kumar, ending with some silly homilies to homilies to Mayawati such as "There are two things that Mayawati must not do. One, she must not use her mandate to practice a politics of revenge…two, she must not immediately use UP as a springboard to the Centre." Why not, pray?


The Asian Age edit was superbly crafted, giving away who wrote it. "The Bahujan Samaj Party is perhaps the only one that is not surprised." Nice way to open but it soon went off into diatribe against media experts and opinion polls. "Its legislators had been predicting for several weeks now that the party would cross the 200-mark... But no one was listening, as the media was more sensitive to the electoral din created by the more vociferous parties in the fray… There are several lessons... One, the media does not necessarily matter in an election in one of the poorest and most backward states; two, exit polls cannot be taken as a substitute for the people`s verdict..."

The Hindustan Times made the useful point that "the reports of the death of one-party rule had been greatly exaggerated."   It also had a surprisingly smart line about the Congress. "If the BJP finds itself picking up pieces, the Congress finds itself looking for any pieces to pick up." Nice lines but analysis? Forget it.  

The Pioneer, whose BJP sympathies are never too far from the surface also took a swipe at the pundits and the experts. But its edit was important only for the analysis it offered in respect of the BJP.   Calling it a "stunning debacle for the party, this is what it had to say. "The reasons why the party has failed so spectacularly in holding on to its vote share and notching up a decent tally.. are that it failed to send out a clear message that would motivate voters, including its core constituents… what is required is leadership with a strategic vision and the ability to inspire collective effort…"  

Yes Sir. Neither the BJP nor the Congress has a leader with a vision. The consequences for both are all too visible.  



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