Statistics and politics

I always wondered how a government department, which always searches for information files, would come up with statistics. It would amaze me more when the same source would take days and months to give authentication, as per law. It is increasingly becoming clear that statistics do play a major role in pushing your argument. If you do not have statistics, generate them, seems to be the dictum. I have seen agriculture department, which does not know how many acres of agricultural land exists in India, would give you a authoritative figure of food grain production. When the marketing department does not have a definite figure of storage places, it would give you stocks position. Recently, Ministry of Agriculture has started pronouncing proudly that cotton production has leaped because of Bt cotton (as if it happened because of their efforts). However, at the district level, go to any agriculture officer, he/she would not have a clue of how many farmers have procured bt cotton seeds in a particular year. It is clear that Mr. Sharad Pawar is only endorsing companies which have patents on Bt cotton.

On a different plane, long back, I asked a friend of mine working as journalist in a ‘economic’ paper to write a story on handloom sector. She immediately asked do you have statistics. She said they would not write a story without statistics, that too authentic and sourced. I asked her where do the statistics provided by industry body such as CII come from. All ‘economic’ papers do publish industry statistics, not from a independent source, but from a ‘interested’ source. Industry bodies routinely provide statistics which suit their purposes, and no cross check is done. it is common knowledge on how companies to further their interests in the stock markets, tax returns, etc., would generate favourable or unfavourable statistics.

Long back, when Chandrababu Naidu was the Chief Minister, everyone including himself became adept at generating statistics. So much so, even IAS officers started using statistics highlighting the progress they achieved, to further their career interests. Caught in this spiral and web of dubious statistics, Mr. Naidu reportedly has lost touch with the ‘reality’ and had to pay a heavy price.

The latest to join this is the Srikrishna Committee. It had received a heavyload of information from various quarters, basing their arguments on statistics, as presented and interpreted by them. But the big question is whom to believe. I wondered whether the Committee would give weight to the argument, or the argument which has statistics. If it is latter, it has to cross check the authenticity of such statistics. This would mean a huge task. One does not know if the Committee had the time and resources to have that independent and transparent process. In any case, it arrived at its own conclusions, in a record time.

Obviously, the choice of the Committee in believing statistics is based on its purpose, than verifiable and authentic sources of information. Probably anticipating this, a well place source informs me that Dr. Y. S. Rajashekhar Reddy, took up a project of ‘generating’ statistics which counter the arguments of discrimination. It would be interesting to note that government has declared that they do not have any information prior to 1994. Do we see a discrimination in statistics as well?

With so much of technology, information, resources and media attention, even today, there is no authentic, believable information on how many died, grieving over the death of Dr. Y. S. Rajashekhara Reddy. The latest discussion is  the percentage of poverty reduction, human development index and how many poor have benefitted from reforms.

It is increasingly becoming evident that statistics are being used as tools in politics, business and everyday life, to further various arguments, careers and positions. Government itself is playing a dubious role. A common person is becoming a number, and is being played around. For media, government and political parties, this becomes easier when you are dealing with emotions and human values. If there are fewer suicides, it is easy for us to get over with it. If there are ‘more’, it can be explained away. However, one forgets that whether it is one or lakhs, in a democracy, life needs to be respected. And, we seem to be forgetting this over and over again.



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