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Exit polls flash entry sign for Modi

Ahmedabad/New Delhi, Dec. 12: Exit polls suggest Narendra Modi’s BJP is likely to salvage its position by the aggressive use of the “Hindutva card” that saw him branding a victory for the Congress a victory for Pakistan on the last day of campaigning.

At the end of a largely peaceful day of voting for 181 constituencies with a turnout of 61.52 per cent, two exit polls predicted a BJP victory with its majority whittled down from the 116 tally it had chalked up in 1998.

The results were broadly in accord with the indications thrown up by the opinion polls conducted earlier, where all but one had handed the BJP a victory.

A tour of seven constituencies in central Gujarat, which possibly holds the key to this election, painted a picture where the BJP holds the edge with the Congress breathing down its neck.

In north and central Gujarat — chiefly central — which makes up the riot zone, communal polarisation has been the most visible following the Godhra burnings and the violence that ensued. Anti-incumbency feelings run high in Saurashtra but the BJP is reasonably comfortable in south Gujarat.

The polarisation is as visible as this: Jamyatnagar, a new settlement of Muslims driven out of Balol village, has 315 votes, of which 200 had been cast by 11 am. Voting here could be 100 per cent. The Congress candidate’s agent is present. The sitting MLA is a Congressman.

Across the road in Balol, 179 votes had been cast of a total of 828 till 11.10 am. The BJP candidate’s aide, Jignesh Patel, says: “People will vote in a relaxed manner. There is no tension because the Muslims are not going to come here.”

Scenes such as this, or similar to this, are spread across riot-hit villages and towns of central Gujarat. Different booths for communities through which a wedge has been driven.

Through Mahuda, Thasra and Kathlal constituencies in Kheda district and Godhra, Sahera, Lunawada and Balasinor in Panchmahal, voter opinion was split four-three. Four seats for the BJP, three for the Congress. Again, not too different from what the exit polls were predicting.

The Zee News-Taleem poll gave the BJP 101 seats and the Congress 69. The Aaj Tak-C-Voter poll forecast 93-109 for the BJP and 72-88 for the Congress.

Although the exit polls were watched avidly by politicians, the results were not taken with too much seriousness because recent similar exercises have gone way off the mark on a number of occasions.

In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP was tipped to be the largest party, it came third. In Uttaranchal, it was to win, it lost. Ditto in Maharashtra where it was in alliance with the Shiv Sena.

No wonder that instead of being buoyed by the exit polls this time, it was cautious. There was another reason for the circumspection: BJP sources said 100-odd seats was “not a big victory”.

“All one can say is that if the Godhra tragedy had not taken place, we would have been wiped out because of misgovernance, lack of development and other factors that matter when there is no wave,” a senior BJP Central minister said.

Results of the exit polls, if correct, would also suggest that the scale of the BJP’s victory does not convincingly prove that the Hindutva campaign has triumphed.

In Salawada village of Lunawada constituency, which is held by the Congress, Ramesh Devji Patel, 44, a relatively rich farmer, said: “In our village the BJP will win because the candidate is good but we are not sure we want the BJP to rule. First, Keshubhai Patel (who Modi replaced) was given short shrift. Second, people are seeing through Hinduvaad because it has been repeated so many times. See, we’re just 40 km from Godhra but no Muslim here has been touched.”

But the exit polls do indicate that Modi has used the post-Godhra developments as a life-saving drug for his government, provided the margin of victory finally turns out to be narrower than in 1998.

Party sources said a Gujarat win would not mean that the Hindutva experiment would be replicated in other states going to polls. In Maharashtra, for instance, the party is taking up issues like drought and low cotton price in the run-up to the 2004 polls. ( )

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