DJ Showcase: LiveMint (11 AUGUST 2014)

Were the Afghan elections rigged?

From the headline, it looks like yet another political story from Afghanistan. But take a closer look and you will find it it one of the finest examples of data journalism. The fact that it is in an Indian newspaper and that too, one that primarily covers business and economy, just adds to its charm.

There are several reasons why we like this one so much.

First of all, it sets the expectation straight away. The blurb says what it is: one popular method used to determine whether a data set is doctored is to look at the last digits of the values. The simple sentence does two things: it raises the interest level of those looking forward to a data story; at the same time, it turns away those who are uncomfortable with data but are looking for a spicy story on some new evidence of malpractice being caught on camera. In short, it sets an accurate expectation. That is good journalism.

Second, and that is primarily the reason why it is here is that it actually tests the limits of data journalism. While most data journalism stories are about analyzed results, it is about nature of data sets.  While most are about data analysis, itis about statistics and yes, probability.  It looks at elections data in India, Iran and Afghanistan to suggest that elections in Iran and Afghanistan were probably rigged at the counting stage.


In an election, for example, there is no reason that the distribution of the last digits of the vote counts of various candidates should not be uniform—given the large number of votes that each candidate gets, the last digit is essentially random, and there is no reason that the probability of a 1 in the units place is more than that of a 2 in the units place. Thus, in a free and fair election, it is likely that the last digit is distributed uniformly.

Third, and this aspect often ignored by new age data journalism champions, many of who understand data very well but are not familiar with the basic promises of good journalism. And that is: you have to be fair and balanced, even if that takes a little interest away from the story. You cannot sacrifice these basic journalism values to make a story more interesting. This story adds the ‘note of caution’ in a very clear and prominent way.

Finally, a note of caution. There are several ways in which an election can be rigged. Speaking broadly, it can be rigged at either the voting or the counting stages. This method of looking at the last digits only gives us an indication of the probability of rigging in the counting stages. Methods such as “ballot stuffing” (reportedly not uncommon in India) cannot be caught with such methods.

Great work.


Is Twitter the new official communication channel of the Modi government?

After Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked his ministers not to speak to media directly, there have been media reports that he may follow his Gujarat Model here too.  This is what wrote

These instructions may well be the first serious step to turn New Delhi into Gandhinagar, where during Modi’s three terms as chief minister, members of his cabinet would not speak to the press unless they had obtained permission from him. Even the customary press briefings after the state cabinet meetings – which in other states are addressed by ministers – are either not held at all in Gujarat or are addressed by spokesmen of the state government.

The opposition has, naturally, seen it as disempowering ministers. But the question is: is it really disempowering or is it trying to cut off media from the communications channel? other than, of course, the “official” policy communications, which ministry spokespersons will continue to do?

What the media has failed to notice is that Modi may be directly or indirectly influencing his ministers to “communicate directly” with people, as he himself has done, choosing to speak to media only when he wants and “in his terms”.

Twitter, his preferred channel, is largely one-sided communications; can be better managed than a press conference to show what you want to show; and once in a while, both genuine compliments/suggestions as well as planted ones can be responded to give that “interaction with common people” feeling.

Here is a list of ministers with Twitter accounts and their number of followers. While Modi himself leads the pack with Sushama Swaraj (a veeteran tweeple) as a distant No 2, others are way behind, though some of them are catching up fast. Arun Jaitley, for example, started this account only in November 2013 and has already close to 350,000 followers.

Union Ministers on Twitter (Click to enlarge)


The bar graph, of course, shows the number of followers (it is not exactly to scale but the mentioned numbers are actual), as of  9th June 2014.

But what is more interesting is how long they have been on Twitter, represented in the chart through use of different shades. Out of 32 cabinet ministers and ministers of state with independent charge, as many as 24 (that is 75%) are in Twitter. That is fairly high, as compared to the UPA government.

But what is interesting and supports the theory that they may be trying to impress their leader is the time of their joining. As many as 10 0f those have joined Twitter after Modi was officially anointed the chief of campaign committee in June 2013. As many as 14 have joined after he emerged as the No 1 prime ministerial candidate. And if you leave out genuine prolific users such as Modi himself, Sushma Swaraj, Nirmala Sitharaman and Smriti Irani, there are just a handful of them who have joined after 2011 but before Modi emerged as the No 1 leader; in other words, for natural reasons.  There is absolutely no one among the ministers who is between 2 -3 years old in Twitter.

In fact, those who are wondering what made Modi choose Smriti Irani as a cabinet minister with a plum portfolio (others are either veterans, come with a professional background like Gen VK Singh or who have proven themselves in party work such as Dharmendra Pradhan and Piyush Goyal), the Twitter stats may give a clue. In Modi’s “virtually real”  world, she has delivered the best performance, creating the largest follower base in Twitter after Modi and Sushma Swaraj, the later herself an aspirant for PM post before Modi’s emergence.

Here is a list of all the cabinet ministers and ministers of state with independent charge with their age and Twitter handle, just for your reference.

Minister Age Twitter Handle
Narendra Modi 63 @narendramodi
Rajnath Singh 62 @BJPRajnathSingh
Sushma Swaraj 62 @Sushmaswaraj
Arun Jaitley 61 @arunjaitley
Venkaiah Naidu 64 @MVENKAIAHNAIDU
Nitin Gadkari 58 @nitin_gadkari
D. V. Sadananda Gowda 61 @DVSBJP
Uma Bharti 55 @umasribharti
Najma Heptullah 74 NA
Ram Vilas Paswan 67 @iramvilaspaswan
Maneka Gandhi 57 @ManekaGandhi
Ananth Kumar 54 @AnanthKumar_BJP
Ravi Shankar Prasad 59 @rsprasad_bjp
Ashok Gajapati Raju 62 NA
Anant Geete 62 NA
Harsimrat Kaur 47 @harsimrat_badal
Narendra Singh Tomar 56 NA
Jual Oram 53 @jualoram
Thawar Chand Gehlot 66 NA
Kalraj Mishra 73 @Kalraj_Mishra
Radha Mohan Singh 64 @singhradhamohan
Harsh Vardhan 59 @drharshvardhan
Smriti Irani 38 @smritiirani
Vijay Kumar Singh 63 @Gen_VKSIngh
Inderjit Singh Rao 63 @Rao_InderjitS
Santosh Kumar Gangwar 66 NA
Shripad Yasso Naik 61 NA
Dharmendra Pradhan 44 @dpradhanbjp
Sarbananda Sonowal 51 NA
Prakash Javadekar 63 @PrakashJavdekar
Piyush Goyal 49 @PiyushGoyal
Dr. Jitendra Singh 42 NA
Nirmala Sitharaman 54 @nsitharaman