Exit poll results put BJP on the defensive

A record 60 per cent of voters turned out on Thursday for the final phase of the Bihar assembly elections, the results for which are keenly awaited, and even more so since the exit polls released on the same day came up with mixed results.

The BJP, meanwhile, looks to have gone into defensive mode. Apparently miffed with the exit poll surveys that varied widely from BJP's claims of securing a two-thirds majority, the party's poll in-charge in Bihar, union minister Ananth Kumar, said the poll results will not be a referendum on the performance of the Narendra Modi government but on Lalu Prasad, Nitish Kumar and 'jungle raj'.

On the other hand, Tejashwi Yadav, son of Lalu Prasad Yadav, one of the most prominent leaders of the Grand Alliance, is confident the combine will sweep the elections and that the ''BJP will lose very badly'' and that the ''election is a direct referendum on the central government''.

''BJP fought this election in the name of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah - have you ever seen any Prime Minister campaigning in a state election and addressing 40 rallies?'' Yadav asked.

The way the market has performed and corrected in the last few days, perhaps the possibility of an NDA defeat is already priced in, at least to some extent.

Domestic institutional investors The Economic Times spoke to think that the race is still close, but they have started to factor in that BJP may not win. For foreign investors, the loss of BJP would still be a negative surprise.

Of the six exit polls, News 24-Chanakya gave the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies a tally of 155 in the 243-seat House and 83 for the Grand Alliance of Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal (United), Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress.

The News X-CNX predicted 130-140 seats for the Grand Alliance, while an ABP News survey gave it 130 seats. Two other polls said the combine led by chief minister Kumar had an edge - C-Voter (112-132) and NewsNation (120-124).

The ITG-Cicero poll, put out by India Today, predicted 113-127 seats for the NDA and 111-123 for the Grand Alliance.

The overall voter turnout in the state was 56.80 per cent, the highest-ever in Bihar assembly elections.

Interestingly, women voters outnumbered men in this election, even though women are only 46 per cent of the voting population in Bihar, and have struggled for equal footing in the state's largely feudal set-up. About 6 per cent more women voted than the men.

The share of women voters in Bihar has been increasing since the 2009 national election when the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), then including chief minister Nitish Kumar, won 32 out of 40 parliamentary seats.

However, a closer look at the previous pre-polls and exit polls of state assemblies and Lok Sabha elections conducted by various media houses throw up some interesting facts, including that they can often go wrong.

Professor Yogendra Yadav, who is considered the best in the business (he no longer does poll predictions) feels that poll surveys can go wrong for various reasons. Speaking at an India Today Conclave, he said, ''Very often, opinion polls try to cover up their unprofessionalism and lack of hard work by hiding behind the argument that India is different. But if your sample is truly random and if your questionnaire is worded properly and if you do field work and analyse it well with statistical techniques, Indians are more willing than others to be interviewed.''

In sum, Bihar's voters will not just decide which political alliance will rule the eastern state for the next five years; they are likely to influence the ideological direction India takes after the votes are counted on 8 November.