Forty plus days of hard and fast and furious talk; rousing rallies and exciting street corner meetings; the BJP, the Congress, AAP and SP and BSP, Jayalalithaa down south, Jagan and Chandrababu Naidu in the middle, Mamata in the east and Sena on the west, Omar Abdullah far, far up there, in the foothills of the Himalayas; and lots and lots of voting, with the ninth lot to come! Before that, early on, the opinion polls and, now, in a matter of hours, the telecast of exit polls.
Everybody is waiting for these sneak previews. Which party will be ahead of the other, and where? The Congress is nervous. The BJP is upbeat. Will Narendra Modi become PM? The BJP says, yes of course. The Congress admits in private that it's never been worse, but never in public. Which party will, for that matter? If it's losing.
But is the BJP really winning? The exit polls will tell.
Exit polls are the other polls, the polls after polls. Monday evening, after the last vote is cast in the ninth and last phase of these elections, TV channels will telecast exit polls. The results will give you an idea of what sort of government India will get.
The Election Commission has set 6.30pm as the cut-off time between polls and exit polls. Most TV channels in association with pollsters and research organisations will telecast exit polls. Which one of them gets it right will be known only on May 16.
Exit polls in 2004 and 2005 were way off the mark though those held in 2009 did salvage the credibility of a couple of them that went wrong in 2004. Earlier, last week, the EC had said that exit polls would not be allowed to out with results on May 12. Then, in a volte face, CEC VS Sampath over-ruled his colleague HS Brahma and said that exit polls can be telecast from 6.30pm on Monday.
There is the matter of re-polling that the EC has ordered in Telangana and Seemandhara regions of un-divided Andhra Pradesh, where re-polling can be influenced by the outcomes of the exit polls. But that seems not to have affected the EC's decision.
Exit polls are taken to be far more accurate than opinion polls, which usually are based on surveys carried out before polls. It has been seen that opinion polls could go awry because most voters make a preference closer to election day than in advance, Some last minute swings in the preference of a large chunk of voters could change the final outcome altogether. For example, in a high-profile constituency like Varanasi, where Muslims are bent on seeing the back of BJP's PM candidate Narendra Modi, the Muslims will may wait till the eleventh hour to take a final call.
Exit polls are much awaited by markets. The unprecedented surge in trading on Friday was based on expectations that exit polls will throw up an emphatic Modi win. The sensex touched a record high of 23,048. The Nifty hit an all time high of 6,871 ahead of Monday's exit polls.
Going into the last phase of these elections, the BJP and the NDA are seen to be ahead of the UPA. Opinion polls that preceded the elections also predicted a swing in favour of the BJP. The last opinion poll, conducted by NTDV-Hansa predicted 275 seats for NDA.
Will the exit polls put a stamp on that? Or, will they point to another direction/outcome? Wait till 6.30pm, Monday.