The bulk of the exit polls have given a slim majority to the Nitish-Lalu alliance – the mahagathbandhan – in the Bihar assembly election. Among the polls that give an advantage to the mahagathbandan, the CSDS Lokniti post-poll survey stands out for the massive lead in vote share (of four percentage points) that it gives to the Nitish-Lalu combine. A four percentage point lead in vote share could possibly translate to over 150 seats in a two-way contest.
The NDTV exit poll, on the other hand, gives a slim majority to the NDA alliance.The only exit poll which gives the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance a big majority of 155 seats (+/- 11) is Today’s Chanakya, which does not reveal its methodology or sample size but has been proven right on many occasions in the past. However, it must be noted that Today’s Chanakya had overestimated the BJP’s tally significantly in the Haryana, Jharkhand and Maharashtra assembly polls. It has a tendency to overestimate the BJP tally, going by recent history.
Another exit poll conducted by an established news channel showed the Nitish-led grand alliance at 170 to 183 seats and the BJP alliance at 58 to 70 seats. But the results were not aired because the “organisation developed self doubt over the outcome”, even though the exit poll pretty much reinforced its pre-poll survey which gave the Janata Dal (U) and its allies over 170 seats. If this poll had been published, it would have neutralised Today’s Chanakya in the averaging exercise. The remaining exit polls show an average of 110 to the NDA and 125 to the mahagathbandhan. In a way, the trend – at least as suggested by the exits polls – shows that “arithmetic” has trumped “chemistry” in Bihar.
In the run up to the Bihar elections, the BJP had asserted the primacy of Narendra Modi’s continued sway over the people as a prime minister committed to the development agenda. Indeed, the BJP had built a narrative that Modi’s ‘chemistry’ would be able to overcome the sheer force of arithmetics which clearly favoured the JD(U)-RJD-Congress alliance whose combined vote share in the 2014 lok Sabha poll was more than 45%.
The results of most of the exit polls indicate that the new “chemistry” promised by Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah may not have worked. Shah, the chief alchemist of electoral politics in the party, had hoped that the NDA would not only retain its peak vote share – 38% in the 2014 Bihar Lok Sabha elections – but do even better through the new chemistry that Narendra Modi was building with the voters and, of course, the defection of mahadalit leader Jitan Ram Manjhi to its its side.
In an essentially two-way contest, at least 45% of the total votes would be needed to get a significant majority. Both the BJP and JD(U)-RJD leaders have claimed they would get over 150 out of 243 seats in the Bihar assembly.
Based on the vote share pattern in the 2014 election in Bihar, the BJP alliance needs to add another 6 to 7 percentage point votes over and above its 2014 base of 38% to become totally secure about getting a robust majority – 150 plus seats. Amit Shah had spoken of “chemistry” in the context of getting this extra 7 percentage points over and above NDA’s Lok Sabha performance.
Senior BJP member and leader of the opposition in the Bihar assembly, Nand Kishore Yadav explained to me how the BJP would get this extra boost. “To our Lok Sabha tally of 38% you must add 2% points that Manjhi would bring. His mahadalit vote base was with Nitish in the Lok Sabha polls. So 2% away from Nitish and added to the BJP alliance would give the NDA a 40% vote share and reduce the Lok Sabha vote share of Nitish-Lalu-Congress combine to 43%. Then other backward castes like Kushwahas who were with Nitish in the Lok Sabha poll and are now with the BJP could add another 1 percentage point to NDA at the cost of the grand alliance. Some breakaway Yadavs would add some more”, he said. Of course, he was being over-optimistic in assuming that the NDA, in the present election, would fully retain its vote share of 38% which it acquired at the peak of Modi’s popularity in May 2014. There is bound to be some decline in this.
Actually, without being conscious of it, Nand Kishore Yadav himself was indulging in the plain mathematics of caste rather than relying on some extraordinary chemistry that Modi and Amit Shah had promised. This, indeed, is the truth of the Bihar elections. Every party, including the BJP, was merely focused on caste arithmetic. For public consumption the BJP spoke of Modi’s new magic which would ensure that “ 2 plus 2 would be less than 4” for the Nitish-RJD alliance. This does not seem to have worked.
Most of the exit polls show that pure arithmetic has worked in favour of Nitish, who unmistakably had a pan-Bihar appeal as a development icon. If there was any single sentiment that prevailed across all regions of Bihar, with different caste and community calculations, it was Nitish’s image as someone committed to development. If anything, this was the only binding glue across all castes and regions of Bihar.
The only exit poll which endorses the extraordinary chemistry claimed by Amit Shah is the one put out by Chanakya. Most of the others don’t indicate that any hyper chemical reaction worked for the BJP.
Both Modi and Amit Shah tried many experiments with various toxic chemicals to trigger a favourable chain reaction in the last two phases. Invoking Pakistan and claiming that Muslims would ‘steal’ dalit and OBC reservations were all part of the eleventh hour experiments of the Hindutva lab. They don’t seem to have resulted in the required alchemy going by most of the exit polls. Does this mean the Bihar laboratory has worked differently from the Uttar Pradesh one during the Lok Sabha election? The truth will be out on November 8.