Battleground Bengal: This Is Why Some Exit Polls Projecting A Trinamool Win May Be Wrong

Battleground Bengal: This Is Why Some Exit Polls Projecting A Trinamool Win May Be WrongMamata Banerjee.
Snapshot
  • All the pollsters predicted that the BJP’s tally in Bengal would be in single digits only. That’s because the electorate did not declare who they voted for honestly.

    The outcome of the polls could be as surprising as 2019. And prove many pollsters quite wrong as well.

The results of the exit polls for Bengal, announced soon after polling in the last and eighth phase concluded on Thursday (29 April) predicted widely varying outcomes.

While two of them gave Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a clear win, two others said the Trinamool would return to power with a comfortable majority and two others suggested a very close fight with chances of a hung assembly.

But the four of them — the ones predicting a Trinamool win and the two forecasting a fractured verdict — may be quite wrong.

The primary reason for that is that Bengal is a difficult state to conduct such exit polls in. And the main cause for that is the intense fear factor that hangs like a dark shadow over the poll process.

It is the fear of retribution from the ruling dispensation that inhibits voters from speaking their minds. Few in Bengal will dare to declare, and that too to a stranger, who they voted for.

Polling in all the eight phases, and especially in the last three phases, have been marred by violent incidents and attempts by Trinamool goons to rig the polls.

But such attempts had been largely defeated by the huge presence of central security forces and by determined resistance from the opposition, especially the BJP.

Acute anti-incumbency and widespread popular anger against the Mamata Banerjee government gave the BJP strong tailwinds and helped the party build up an impressive ground-level support.

It was this support — of millions of ordinary long-suffering folks fed up with Trinamool misrule, extortion by Trinamool functionaries and Mamata Banerjee’s autocratic ways — which helped BJP put up resistance to and thwart attempts by Trinamool goons to rig the polls.

This also instilled confidence, and provided determination to the masses, to go out and vote in large numbers.

At innumerable places across the state, ordinary folks defied Trinamool diktats and went out to cast their votes.

And they even resisted attempts by Trinamool goons at many places to physically prevent them from going to the polling booths.

Central forces responded to their citizens’ pleas and escorted them to polling stations at many places.

But the Trinamool, thanks to it being the ruling party, still remains strong on the ground and has been successful in convincing a large number of its cadres and musclemen that it will return to power.

Thus, a large number of musclemen still remain with the Trinamool despite the political shift on the ground.

And that’s why voters who exercised their franchise despite all odds would not have been forthcoming with pollsters about who they voted for.

A large number of voters, according to admission by a number of pollsters, were reticent. And many were most likely to have provided completely misleading responses to queries by the pollsters conducting the exit polls.

The ground reality in Bengal is that a voter who declares he or she had voted for the BJP, or any other opposition party, would be vulnerable to attacks by Trinamool goons.

Such ‘attacks’ are usually carried out after central security forces leave the day after polling, leaving people vulnerable. And the attacks can be horrific and brutal.

Naturally, no one would like to invite the wrath of Trinamool goons.

It is pertinent to note that an array of Trinamool leaders, including party supremo Mamata Banerjee, had held out this sinister warning of post-poll retribution by Trinamool cadres.

They had repeatedly said that the central forces would leave the state soon and the administrative machinery would be back in the hands of the Trinamool.

The diabolic implication: after polls, our (Trinamool) cadres will wreak vengeance on those who defied the party’s diktats.

Hence, people of Bengal have opted to keep their ballot preferences secret. That’s understandable; no one would want to risk life and limb to declare to strangers (pollsters) who they voted for.

Many may point to the 2011 or 2016 assembly polls to argue that all the pollsters had got it mostly right then.

But a comparison with the last two polls would be completely erroneous. That’s because in 2011, it was easy to see the massive wave in favour of the Trinamool.

The inordinately long 34 years of Left rule, and the Nandigram and Singur fiascos, had generated a massive wave in favour of the Trinamool that no one could have missed.

And that gigantic wave, driven also by intense anger against the Left, a severe erosion in the Left’s support base and a largescale exodus of Left cadres (including muscleman and goons of the Left) to the Trinamool, led to the masses overcoming their fear of the Left and finding the courage to openly express their support for the Trinamool.

That is why the exit polls in 2011 reflected the ground reality. Voters had the courage and confidence to declare who they had voted for because the fear of the Left’s cadres inflicting retribution after the polls had completely evaporated.

In 2016, the Trinamool was well entrenched in power and very strong on the ground. Though disillusionment with Banerjee’s misrule, propelled also by the involvement of many Trinamool leaders in the Sarada, Narada and other ponzi scams, had set in, the BJP or any other opposition party was not strong enough on the ground.

Hence, people could not muster the courage to even vote against the Trinamool. Many could not even cast their votes.

But just three years later — in 2019 — all the pollsters got it wrong. They gave the BJP only five to seven seats (on an average) in the Lok Sabha polls that year.

All the pollsters predicted that the BJP’s tally in Bengal would be in single digits only. That’s because the electorate did not declare who they voted for honestly.

And the reasons for not doing so were exactly the same as now: fear of retribution from the Trinamool which still has an army of goons at the grassroots level.

That the voters did not give honest answers to pollsters’ queries (about who they voted for) in the summer of 2019 became evident when the results were declared and the BJP bagged an impressive 18 (of 42) seats, dealing a stunning blow to the Trinamool.

This time, too, the outcome of the polls could be as surprising as 2019, and prove many pollsters quite wrong as well.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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