Exit polls made public on Wednesday evening for the five state assembly elections in India cannot be the basis for predicting the actual poll outcome on Sunday. Apart from the fact that there are too many variables and the sample size of the surveys is not satisfying enough, there is also the socio-cultural element that Indian voters are not yet in the habit of telling it as it is. They tend to be polite and will say what pollsters want to hear. So the margin of error will be more than the statistically acceptable 5 per cent. But within the parameters of unpredictability, the trend seems to be quite clear. BJP is winning in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Delhi. Mizoram is not being discussed because the Hindi heartland is still seen as the cockpit of Indian politics.
The highest and the lowest figures in the different exit polls show the BJP to be ahead of the Congress in these four states. Without then quibbling about the accuracy of the figures, the BJP is to be declared the victor.
The temptation to extrapolate the results of the exit polls of these four key states which form a large chunk of north India to predict the trend for the 2014 Lok Sabha is quite irresistible. There is, however, need for restraint. In 2003 and 2008, the BJP won the Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh polls but the party lost out in the 2004 and 2009 Lok Sabha polls. The Congress won in Rajasthan and Delhi in the assembly as well as in the parliamentary elections in these years. No reasonable inference, then, can be made on the basis of the outcome in these states. People have voted on the issues of the performance of the respective state governments and on the issues that face them in their own backyards in these assembly elections. People will vote differently in 2014 because the issues at the national level are of a different kind.
This could be seen in voter behaviour in Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat. The Congress won overwhelmingly in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls but this strong winning streak was not reflected in the assembly elections which were held at the same time. In Gujarat, the BJP had won the assembly polls in 2007 decisively but in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress and the BJP were close to each other. Voters’ preferences do not fall into a tidy pattern and, perhaps, that is the delight of the Indian political system.
The frenzied debate in the media, especially on television news channels, whether these state elections presage a BJP victory in 2014 and whether this is an endorsement of the party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, appears to be premature and hasty. Modi and the BJP have to fight a bigger battle next year though they can draw useful lessons from managing these state elections. An impressionistic inference of the Modi factor could be that he made a difference for the BJP in Rajasthan and in Delhi, but he did not manage to do so in Chhattisgarh and in Madhya Pradesh. Nothing substantial, then, can be said about how the Modi factor played out in these elections. It remains nebulous.