Bihar Has a Habit of Proving Exit Polls Wrong. It May Do So Again

Exit polls have predicted a landslide for the Bharatiya Janata Party-led alliance in Bihar. The saffron alliance is projected to win most of the 40 seats on offer, with India Today-Axis My India estimating total rout of the Lalu Prasad-led coalition that includes the Congress also.

Landslide it may well be.

But we have had a history of exit polls going horribly wrong in Bihar. Take the case of the 2015 Assembly elections.

Of the seven exit polls, as many as four projected a win for the BJP in the state. One of them, in fact, gave as many as 155 out of the total of 243 seats to the BJP and its allies.

The actual verdict turned out to be totally opposite of what was projected, with Lalu-led Mahagathbandhan bagging nearly 180 seats. Lalu’s Rashtriya Janata Dal alone won 80 seats and had a vote share of 44 percent in the seats it contested.

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The Mahagathbandhan then included the RJD, Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) and the Congress.

Nitish Kumar subsequently switched sides and is now part of the NDA. The Mahagathbandhan, however, has new allies like Upendra Kushwaha’s RLSP, Jitanram Manjhi’s HAM and Mukesh Sahani’s VIP.

They are seen to be representing sections of, what is known as, extreme backward classes and mahadalits.

“I don’t know the magic of exit polls. The feedback I get from local BJP and JD (U) leaders is that the saffron alliance is losing at least 12 seats. And there are a number of reasons for that. Large urban centres like Patna and Bhagalpur town have witnessed muted voter turnout and that is going to hurt the NDA. BJP and JD (U) complain of lack of enthusiasm among privileged caste voters. My own assessment is that the National Democratic Alliance will be very lucky if it manages anything more than 25,” Patna-based correspondent of a leading national daily told The Quint.

The seats where Mahagathbandhan is seen to have advantage include Kishanganj, Katihar, Purnia, Araria, Bhagalpur, Banka, Buxar, Sitamarhi, Patliputra, Siwan and Nawada.

Incidentally, many of these seats bucked the trend even in the wave elections of 2014. Kishanganj is a Muslim-majority seat and in seats like Araria, Purnia, Katihar and Bhagalpur, the combined population of Yadavs and Muslims, two groups seen to be loyal to Lalu, is in excess of 50 percent.

Also Read: Exit Polls: Despite Gains in State Elections, Why Is Cong Losing?

M-Y Combination Strong in at Least 12 Seats

“Let us not forget that in most of these seats, Yadav-Muslim combination constitutes 40 percent and more of the total voting population. And during my field trips across the state, I have noticed that the support of Muslims and Yadavs in favour of Mahagathbandhan has been rock solid. While Nitish Kumar and Narendra Modi are immensely popular in the state, people tell me that ye Lalu ji ka chunav hai. Is chunav mein unko bachana hai. (This is Lalu’s election. We need to save him),” the correspondent said.

Not just Yadavs and Muslims, the RJD-led alliance is widely expected to get votes from other sections.

Analysing the political scene in Bihar, JNU professor Manidra Thakur writes in the Economic and Political Weekly that “knowing that the M-Y factor may not give enough seats, the party (RJD) has attempted to expand the base by sharing seats with Congress (nine), HAM) (three) of Jitanram Manjhi, RLSP (five) of Upendra Kushwaha and newly emerged party called the VIP (three) of Mukesh Sahani. The party thinks that this seat sharing would draw a section of the upper castes, Dalits and the lower OBCs in addition to the Muslims and the Yadavs. There is no doubt that the RJD votes could be transferred to the alliance partners easily, but only time will tell the similar possibility in the case of other partners.”

Also Read: Why Some Exit Polls May Get Uttar Pradesh Completely Wrong

Caste Arithmetic of the Two Coalitions Evenly Balanced

“There is no denying that Modi is very popular in Bihar and so is Nitish. But the sense I get from the ground is that caste has been the most dominant theme in this election. If that is the case, the two coalitions are evenly matched in terms of caste arithmetic, with slight advantage to the NDA. All seats going the NDA way is very unlikely to happen,” a Patna-based political analyst told The Quint.

“In different regions of the state, different caste configurations are dominant, and this election will mostly depend on that as there is neither massive anti-­incumbency nor any other overarching issue which can move the voters beyond the caste or community affinities while voting,” Manindra Thakur writes.

Given the way things are, will the actual verdict in Bihar prove all pollsters wrong yet again?

Also Read: In Bihar CM Nitish’s Constituency, Dalit Weavers Upset With Modi

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