Is it all over? Done and dusted? Or do we have any reason to look forward to the actual count of votes on 23 May, now that all the exit polls are predicting a comfortable return of Narendra Modi government?
Depends. If you are simply interested in who forms the government, then you might switch on your television around noon to check if everything is going as Sunday’s exit polls said it would. And then you can check the final figures around 9 pm. In all probability, the big picture will be similar to the one predicted by exit polls: comfortable majority for the NDA, a victory for the BJP and Narendra Modi as the PM again.
Someone might tell you: exit polls go horribly wrong, no one foresaw Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s defeat in 2004. That’s true. Exit polls do go wrong with their seats prediction and one should not take them as the final word. But if all exit polls done by separate agencies point in the same direction, there is little chance of getting the big picture wrong. Forecasts in 2004 were a special case, where pollsters played safe in under-estimating the loss of then-ruling party in almost every state. This time the direction is different. If all pollsters are playing safe this time, the BJP’s final tally could be higher than what some of the polls are predicting.
One crucial element of the big national picture is still not clear. Would the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) secure a majority on its own, as it did in 2014? This matters, because it affects the nature of constraints or otherwise that the new government may operate with. Exit polls are split on this. The estimates for the BJP range from 240 to about 290. You might wish to track the numbers carefully to see if the BJP is on course to securing 273 seats.
If your interest is in specific states, then there is some suspense still left on the counting day. I would track the following states carefully:
Uttar Pradesh: There is still some uncertainty, because there is some divergence among the various polls. Projections of the BJP winning more than 60 seats are hard to believe, even for someone who trusts exit polls. Nor do I believe ABP-Nielsen’s forecast of 22 seats (hastily revised to 33) for the BJP. It is clear that mahagathbandhan has not been able to consolidate non-BJP votes and the BJP could counter this formidable coalition, but I would still be curious to find out if the BJP can secure more than 50 seats in the state.
West Bengal: We know from exit polls that the BJP has gone beyond the 4-6 seats that conventional political wisdom granted it, but we still don’t know if the new entrant would end up closer to 10 or reach around 20. If latter, that could be the big news of the day and could foreshadow what is to come in the state in the run up to the 2021 assembly election.
Odisha: Again, we know from the exit polls that the BJP has done very well, that it could secure at least half the seats in the state. The extent of its victory is still unclear. Also, would the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) still win the state assembly election? So, has the voter done intelligent ‘ticket splitting’ in this politically laidback state?
Karnataka: Exit polls have surprised everyone by projecting an improvement in the BJP’s tally in the face of an extraordinary Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) alliance. If that happens, it would indicate the depth of pro-BJP sentiment across the country and also cast a shadow on the future of the Kumaraswamy government in the state.
In other states, I would look for some nuance to the big picture presented by the exit polls.
Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Bihar: Will the NDA successfully repeat or even better its performance of 2014 in the face of strong opposition coalitions? If so, that raises questions about mahagathbandhan strategy.
South India: We should expect a state-specific landslide – in favour of the United Democratic Front (UDF) in Kerala, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) in Telangana, the YSR Congress Party in Andhra Pradesh and the DMK-led coalition in Tamil Nadu. The only question is what will be the extent of their sweep in each state.
Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand: In all these states, I would look for a handful of seats that the BJP might possibly lose. Otherwise, it is best to assume a BJP sweep and a wipe out for the Congress.
I am curious about some seats and candidates (where I had campaigned), although I do not expect a great showing from these alternative initiatives. I would track the Hamro Sikkim Party in Sikkim and the Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) in Tamil Nadu and of course many candidates from grassroots movement background. Similarly, if you are a political junkie with interest in each seat, you would of course stay glued to the TV set.
If you see election as a window to the state of democracy in the country, as I do, you would not just look at the seats tally but also look beyond the results to understand the intricate patterns of who voted for whom and why. I would still wait for the findings of the National Election Study conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) to get an insight into that.
The author is the National President of Swaraj India. Views are personal.
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