Fortune tellers flopped in their quest to predict the outcome of this year's election.
Now that the votes are in, astrologers are the losers
KOLKATA // Fortune tellers flopped in their quest to predict the outcome of this year's election, with groups dedicated to their demise saying the results prove they are frauds. Two rationalist groups, which preach against irrational blind faith and superstition, organised competitions for astrologists and other fortune tellers, offering millions of rupees if anyone could accurately forecast who would dominate Indian politics for the next five years.
The first competition, organised by Kolkata's Science and Rationalists Association of India (SRAI), offered 2.5 million rupees (Dh194,000), and the second, held by the Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations (FIRA), offered one million rupees. The two groups received a total of 450 responses - including a few from amateur psephologists, who use statistical analysis to predict elections - with all of them failing to come even close to picking the winners.
Prabir Ghosh, the SRAI secretary, said "yet again it was proved that astrologers or fortune tellers were fraudsters". Those who accepted the FIRA challenge were asked to answer 25 questions such as predicting the number of seats to be won by specific mainstream parties, and the number of votes polled by some high-profile candidates. FIRA guidelines said any participant answering at least 80 per cent of the questions correctly would be eligible for the prize.
To the two questions of which party or alliance would get the majority and who would be India's next prime minister, which were supposed to be the easiest questions, 175 predicted that Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance would get majority and Lal Krishna Advani, its leader, would become the new prime minister. Only 99 predicted correctly that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance would form the government and that Manmohan Singh would continue as prime minister.
Some chose Rahul Gandhi, a Congress MP, or his mother, Sonia Gandhi, as the next prime minister. Some others said the Third Front, a Left-leaning coalition, would come to power. "This miserable performance by the astrologers and also those who try to predict things by supernatural powers should be an eye opener for the gullible people who tend to take decisions based on the advice from such people," said the FIRA president, Narendra Nayak, who in the past two decades has challenged astrologers ahead of several parliamentary and state elections.
Mr Nayak said the respondent who was most successful in the competition was not an astrologer, but an amateur psephologist who got six out of his 25 answers correct. Mr Ghosh, who is well-known for his campaign against fortune tellers, said there were 6,000 of them operating in West Bengal, the highest in any Indian state. "This time we also pledged to close down our organisation and stop all activities against them if we were proved wrong. But as I had guessed, most of the full-time astrologers and fortune tellers did not accept my challenge because they knew their predictions would go wrong and they would face embarrassment again."
But some fortune tellers say they do have a place in society. Amritlal, one of Kolkata's most well-known astrologers, said the practice was a mix of "science, arts and commerce" and experienced astrologers had the power to predict and guide people. "If astrology was fraud it could have never survived for five or six thousands years. "We cannot predict how many seats a political party will win or how many votes a candidate will poll, but in such a situation we can correctly predict the future of the candidate or the party in some other rough terms like 'good', 'very good', 'bad' or 'very bad', if we are handed the exact moment of birth of the candidate or the party," said Amritlal, who runs Fortune Bangla, a local TV channel dedicated to astrology.
However, Mr Ghosh maintains the astrologers are frauds, pointing to Amritlal's May 18 1991 prediction that the future of Rajiv Gandhi, the former prime minister, "was bright and he would 'surely' become the prime minister after the election". Three days later he was assassinated. Amritlal had also predicted the Congress would win by a landslide. "Even Congress got less than 200 seats that time, proving that Kolkata's so-called famous astrologer was utterly wrong on his prediction," Mr Ghosh said.