The mammoth seven-phased Lok Sabha elections concluded on Sunday. As the fate of the candidates and political parties get sealed, India will gear up for the verdict on May 23. However, before the final outcome, the exit polls on Sunday gave an early indication of the results.

As has been the trend for the past few years, the exit polls haven’t presented a clear picture. Most exit polls Sunday forecast another term for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with some of them projecting that BJP-led NDA will get more than 300 seats to comfortably cross the majority mark of 272 in the Lok Sabha while UPA will get over 100 seats.

Exit polls are generally considered a better barometer of results than opinion polls. Though they may not be able to predict accurately seats and vote shares, they do generally indicate the direction of the trend correctly. All leading News channels were busy predicting the next king of the throne. But while the news channels were busy predicting the next winning party, who will rule the country, one shouldn’t forget that exit polls can be wrong too.

How are exit polls conducted?

An election exit poll is a poll of voters taken soon after a voter walks out after casting his or her vote. It is considered as an indicator to which party forms the government. Unlike an opinion poll, which asks for whom the voter plans to vote, an exit poll asks for whom the voter actually voted. Exit polls are conducted by a number of organisations.

Wrong predictions

Both exit and opinion polls can be controversial if the agency conducting them is perceived to be biased. As per critics, the projections of these surveys can be influenced by the choice, wording, and timing of the questions, and by the nature of the sample drawn. Political parties often allege that many opinions and exit polls are motivated and sponsored by their rivals, and could have a distorting effect on the choices voters make in a protracted election, rather than simply reflecting public sentiment or views.

How reliable are exit polls?

Exit polls have often proved unreliable in India. There have been several instances when they have predicted the verdict of an election incorrectly. In 2004, the exit polls wrongly predicted BJP-led NDA coalition winning again, while in 2009 they underestimated Congress-led UPA’s seat share. However, exit polls conducted by TV channels in 2014 were mostly accurate with BJP securing a majority of its own.

Why BJP will face a tough time winning this election with the majority?

After sweeping to an outright majority during the last elections in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, are widely expected to lose seats this time.

Deepening concerns about the economy, and about accusations that the BJP’s Hindu-first conservative creed is putting Muslims and other minorities at risk, have led many Indians who voted for Mr. Modi’s party last time to say they might switch. The biggest beneficiary of such a shift would be the Congress party, led by Rahul Gandhi.

Well, it’s not just about Hindu and Muslim voters, this time it’s about numbers too. Since the Modi government took over, not just the expenses we bear every day, but unemployment numbers, GDP and fuel prices have gone for a toss. With farming in crisis, unemployment on the rise and growing fears that India is heading for a recession, the economy is perhaps the biggest issue.

India’s unemployment rate in April rose to 7.6 percent, the highest since October 2016, and up from 6.71 percent in March, according to data compiled by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE). The figures could be a setback for Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a staggered general election, with opposition parties criticising the government over weak farm prices and low jobs growth. But December unemployment figures were leaked to a newspaper and showed that the jobless rate rose to its highest level in at least 45 years in 2017/18. The government has said it will release jobs data once a year.

It’s ok to say the BJP has huge influence over Hindu voters, the saffron party has not left any stone unturned to woo Hindu voters. From Prime Minister Narendra Modi to BJP chief Amit Shah, many were heard shouting “Jai Shri Ram” at rallies, and we should agree the crowd love it, but it was not for the crowd alone. It was to show the opposition how Hindu voters strongly support the BJP. But the saffron party apart from showing off among Hindu voters, have fielded some Sadhvis and Maharajas.

From the 2008 blast accused to Sakshi Maharaja, the saffron party has fielded all the fierce “right-winged and Hindu” candidates this year. Recently, the comments made by BJP leaders show how capable they are of creating a rift in Hindu voters’ mind. Pragya Thakur, while reacting to Makkal Needhi Maiyam founder Kamal Haasan’s speech at a recent poll rally in Tamil Nadu, said that Nathuram Godse, the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi was, in fact, a patriot. This became a full-blown controversy and while BJP was taking the hits for Pragya Thakur’s remarks, later three more BJP leaders Anant Kumar Hegde, Nalin Kumar Kateel and Anil Saumitra stoked controversy by glorifying Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse.

But when the BJP was facing the flak over Thakur’s comments, on Friday, BJP president Amit Shah sought to do damage control on the Godse controversy by saying the statements made by Sadhvi Pragya Thakur and two MPs–Anant Kumar Hegde and Nalin Kateel–were against the official stand and ideology of the party and he has referred the matter to disciplinary committee for action. But if this is against the party ideology, then why has BJP fielded such candidates?

So the bottom line is clear. Though exit polls give us a broad sense of what the outcome might be but it’s better not to draw lines before the official results are announced.