As the first phase of polling in the electoral battle for Bihar got underway on Monday, surveys predicted a close race between the JD-U-led grand alliance and the BJP and its allies that could go either way.
Surveys conducted weeks ahead of the polls favoured the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) while those closer to the first of five phases of voting have predicted a closer race involving the so-called secular alliance headed by the Janata Dal-United (JD-U).
The old rivalry between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar Strategies, alliances aimed at the caste pie and the focus on issues such as beef have made Mandate 2015 the toughest ever with the BJP desperate to wrest Bihar, Kumar fighting for survival and his ally, Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad, seeking political rehabilitation.
These predictions made by the surveys, some feel, could polarise voters on caste and religious lines and help avert a repeat of 2005, when elections were conducted twice after a split verdict in February.
An online survey conducted by Leadtech in August gave 57 seats in the 243-member Bihar assembly to the JD-U and its allies and 182 to the NDA, more than enough to form a government.
The India Today-Cicero survey, which covered 81 constituencies and wasd conducted during September 1-5, projected 106 seats for the grand alliance and 125 for the NDA.
The ABP News-Nielsen poll, conducted in 37 constituencies during September 3-7, gave 122 seats to the JD-U-led alliance and 118 to the NDA, four short of a simple majority.
The Times Now C-Voter survey, which covered all 243 constituencies in the second and third week of September, gave 117 seats to the NDA and 112 to the grand alliance.
The CNN-IBN Axis survey, carried out between September 23 and October 4 in all 243 constituencies, projected 137 seats for the grand alliance and 95 for the BJP and its allies.
The India TV C-Voter survey, which covered all 243 constituencies from the last week of September to the first week of October, gave 104-120 seats to the grand alliance and 109-125 to the NDA.
However, the Zee News survey was the only recent survey which projected a clear lead for the NDA. The poll, conducted during October 5-8, gave just 64 seats to the grand alliance and 147 to the BJP and its allies.
Sociologist Shiv Visvanathan told Hindustan Times that most surveys “pretend to be scientific” but were usually based on “very poor samples”.
“The situation in Bihar is too dynamic. The caste factor is back and operational at all levels. Sometimes, these surveys are like long-range hunches,” he said. In many recent elections, surveys were a weapon for the candidates as electioneering had become more of a “technocratic practice”, he remarked.
Chief minister Nitish Kumar said: “Surveys are sponsored, so no point losing sleep over them. The BJP, having imported alien issues such as the beef lynching, should be more worried about the outcome.”
JD-U Rajya Sabha member Ali Anwar Ansari said, “These (surveys) are too early. Why the rush?”
That the stakes in the “election of the year” are high has been underscored by personal attacks to deepen social divisions. The high-pitch battle has seen key players hurling abuses at one another, with Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar carrying on their ego war that led to JD-U’s divorce from the BJP before the Lok Sabha polls last year.