Reality and forecasts

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Reality and forecasts

Monday, 10 June 2019 | Vinayshil Gautam

Forecasting is a flourishing business that keeps thousands of people occupied. But it does not worry any one too much that it often goes wrong

Everyone likes to know the future. The trouble with forecast is that often one does not know how much it will go wrong and in which direction. Nevertheless, forecasting is a flourishing business that keeps thousands and thousands of people occupied. People forecast by looking at the palm, at the stars, at the forehead, at the horoscope, through planchets, through numerology, the list is endless. Of course, one should not forget the columnists, who rake in money by sounding wise and profound through forecasts, by reading trends and extrapolating selective data. It does not worry any one too much that very often, these forecasts go wrong.

Certain times are more propitious for forecasts. One such case is at the beginning of the year. It is interesting to note how by a simple calendar change of date, a ‘New Year’ has been converted into such a ritual of consuming, dining, wining, buying and celebrating. It is possible to argue that there is really no difference between December 31 of any given year and January 1 of the next year any more than there is between one date and another. Sun rises in the same way and time passes the same way. Even the number of hours is the same. Changing dates is a simple tool of measurement. It has been mystified to point a global festival.

Incidentally, like the Gregorian calendar, which has a December 31 and January 1, there are a number of other calendars in the world. So also, there are a number of other New Years. There is a Chinese new year. There is a Vikram new year. The list would include Vishu, Baisakhi, Bihu, Chetichand, Gudipadwa and this only from India. Other cultures have other new years. Some of these relate to agricultural harvest and people get into celebratory mode. December 31 and January 1 of the Gregorian calendar has no such agricultural connotation because it has spread to many climatic zones.

Like all rituals, it feeds upon itself and brings in celebrations and forecasts. For example, January 1 of a new year is used as an occasion to forecast yearly trends in politics, economics, city growth, science and technology and agriculture among others. It is made attractive with graphs, charts, photographs, cartoons and whatever else can catch attention. The process keeps feeding upon itself and multiplying. Aspiration is to rake more revenue. If one looks at the forecast of the beginning of the year and reviews them a little later, sometimes the forecasts come across as hilarious.

Consider a forecast of January 1, 2019 of a national daily with humongous circulation about ‘politics’ under the head ‘the year that will be’. The write up there on page 10 of this daily read: “With the Lok Sabha elections looking truly open, amid intense efforts by various parties to set up alternative fronts and alliances, Delhi’s political circle appears to have arrived at a consensus – era of coalitions will be back this year.” (These words would be ash in the mouth of the author today).

The write up then reasons why, across the columns and then goes on to predict that three scenarios could play out. The BJP could remain the single largest party. It will then turn to its existing NDA allies and reach out to other potential partners for a wider coalition. This will mean compromise on its ideological agenda, on power distribution and cabinet berths, and, perhaps, even leadership... The Congress could substantially improve its performance. It if exceeds the 130-150 range, the party could even throw its hat in the game for leadership... On the other hand, the BJP may substantially shrink — say, losing over a 100 seats from its current tally… the Congress may improve to over 100-120 seats, but not gain enough to claim leadership. In this scenario, leadership could move to a non-Congress, non-BJP party, but the government would rest on the support of the Congress.”

Now everyone knows how true this turned out to be! In economic terms, “fastest GDP growth status was not seen as benefitting India as in China’s case today”. China and the US (were to be locked) in a massive clasp of palms in a feasibly demonstrable show of strength. And, of course, nobody had any time to forecast about tribals, even while everything from continental drift in European Union to tariff warpath was being discussed. An author even declared that 100-year life was firmly within (each) grasp. Today, welfare of the weaker communities has clinched the day. The economically weaker sections of the society are playing a determining role. The tribals are determining not just welfare but fashions. Human life is shakier than ever because of a threatened epidemic of cancer, climate change and distributed ecosystems. While some are trying to re-write the social scripts, there is really nothing unique in it because each generation tries to do the same. So much for forecasts and so much for reality!

(The writer is a well-known management consultant)

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