After hitting the bullseye with its predictions for the Lok Sabha election this year, Mumbai-based pollster Axis My India is earning plaudits for getting its Haryana exit poll figures right.
Most exit polls that came out on October 21, the day of the Haryana and Maharashtra elections, predicted an outright victory for the Bharatiya Janata Party in Haryana. Times Now gave the BJP 71 seats. The ABP News-CVoter survey punched this up to 72. The CNN-IPSOS poll went even further, projecting 75 seats for the governing party.
The life of a polling company is not easy. It involves marketing itself, training or hiring its surveyors, sending them out on the ground, creating and maintaining in-house tech, and collecting and analysing data, often on a colossal scale. After crores of rupees of investment and hours of calculation, only one or two pollsters wind up with the right numbers.
Success for a pollster lies in its methodology and reach. And in recent years, Axis My India has acquired the reputation of a successful pollster. Its chairman, Pradeep Gupta, is now seen as an astute analyst who can read the political sentiment of any community of voters.
“We go to each and every seat. We go with the proper field force and we have a robust training and monitoring system at our office,” Gupta told Newslaundry.
Asked about the factors behind the BJP’s underperformance in Haryana, Gupta pointed to an Axis My India document that lists the “highlights” for every major political party in Haryana. In the BJP’s case, these are its failure to “make the right caste coalition”; “Jat/Dalit anger” against it, and “under-representation of the Jats in ticket distribution”; a non-Jat face for chief minister; and the prospect of rebel MLAs “spoiling the party’s prospects in at least 13-16 seats”.
“Declaring deputy CM from Jat or Dalit communities could have made some difference,” the document states.
It adds that the Congress successfully tapped into the Jat disillusionment with the BJP, and got the backing of the Dalit community as well.
“JJP’s Dushyant has been able to capture the bulk of Jat votes of Chautala’s stronghold in Hisar, Rohtak and Karnal regions,” it notes, referring to the Indian National Lok Dal chief Om Prakash Chautala.
Although the results of the Haryana election fit well into Axis My India’s seat projections, the vote share predictions are not quite on the spot. The Congress was projected to win 32 per cent of the votes but ended up with 28 per cent. The BJP was given 33 per cent, but it bagged 36.5 per cent.
Gupta attributes this to marginal errors. “It is a multi-cornered contest and there are margins, so it is possible that vote percentage and seats may differ,” he explains. So, what is Axis My India’s methodology to convert vote percentages into seats? Gupta says: “We carry out face-to-face interactions and representative sampling, to put it simply.”
Notes from the ground
On the evening of October 15, the BJP headquarters in Rohtak hosted a rather intriguing event. In a large makeshift tent set up in its backyard, about 50 men were adorned with saffron scarves and initiated into the BJP.
Until hours before, these men were Congress workers. The individual who led this pack, Pradeep Zaildar, was tweeting fire against the BJP government on Twitter as late as September. Zaildar, the general secretary of the Haryana Congress and a Congressman for over two decades, looked on with delight as dozens of Congress workers, ranging from its local OBC Cell manager to Union leaders to IT Cell handlers, joined the BJP.
“I’ve been in the Congress for decades. I did not see the nest of corruption and nepotism that it slowly turned into,” said Zaildar, “but thanks to you friends in the BJP, I can see it now.”
This was urban Rohtak — a Jat stronghold where the certitude of BJP’s second coming was pushing veteran Congress leaders to break ranks and join the saffron party in legions.
In rural Rohtak, however, the mood was diametrically different. As reported in this ground report, Jat voters in the state expressed frustration against the incumbent BJP government because of four primary reasons: water scarcity, farm distress, unemployment and corruption. In village after village, one could meet people who would share stories of falling standards of living and economic disrepair among their communities.
And this sentiment was not just limited to the Jats. When this reporter visited Chamaria and Bhalot villages in rural Rohtak, both dominated by the Scheduled Caste Chamar community, villagers said the last five years of Manohar Lal Khattar’s government did not see any investment in rural infrastructure. “Pukka houses came up in this village under Hooda,” said 52-year-old Rambaj in Chamaria, “but not even one house has been built in the last five years of BJP.”
“Of whatever jobs are left, the Choudharies still corner most of them. The Congress did nothing to uplift us but neither did the BJP,” said 68-year-old Balveer Singh, the Sarpanch in Bhalot.
Here’s what Chamaria’s Rambaj had to say about governance in rural Haryana:
Additionally, two complaints were common across all Jat and non-Jat villages in Rohtak: the state government has not funded the panchayats, leading to a dilapidating rural infrastructure, and it has deepened the social divide.
So, did the BJP see this coming? One can point out that Modi-Shah’s (national) pride parade across the state was meant to placate those who were swinging away from the party thanks to ground realities — that the party knew that it couldn’t pull off a victory as easily as it advertised. But there’s a more fundamental reason for the BJP’s underwhelming performance in Haryana. Over the last five years, the party has erected a state leadership that only has urban cred. In rural Haryana, villagers couldn’t name any grassroots BJP leader who had made it to the high command.
This has made BJP’s networks in Haryana disproportionately urban. The party does not have political reach among rural Haryanavis, who constitute about two-thirds of the state’s population. So, while the Modi-Shah rally blitzkrieg can be used to argue that the party did see this coming, the realities of its political networking can make the opposite case — that they had no idea.
And pollster Axis My India sensed this well.