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BJP on course, just about
Exit poll lifts Cong, only just

New Delhi, April 26: The BJP and its allies might sneak past the halfway mark in the Lok Sabha despite gains by the Congress in the second phase, suggest the findings of an exit poll.

According to the projection made by The Telegraph-Star News-C-Voter exit poll, the NDA is set to bag between 267 and 279 seats, the Congress combine 160 and 172 and others 97 and 109.

The forecast implies that if the NDA’s tally is on the lower side of 267, it will need the support of only six more MPs to reach the 273 mark and if it is on the upper reach of 279, it will give the coalition a wafer-thin majority. But even 279 means a loss of 24 from its 1999 tally of 303.

The prediction for the second phase, which saw a higher turnout of 55-60 per cent and less violence compared with the first round, puts the Congress among the big gainers, but the projected seat accretion has not brought it even within striking distance of power.

However, the party looks set to claw back from the record low of 112 seats in 1999 with a gain of 48 even if it were to get the 160 projected at the lower end. The others, which are not part of either coalition and include the Left, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, are slated to remain in the double digit or just about cross it. This tally would be a decline from the 128 seats they picked up in 1999.

In make-or-break Uttar Pradesh, which hosted its first round, the BJP is expected to lose one seat from the 13 in 1999. The Congress could make unexpected gains by doubling its 1999 tally of three seats, while the two regional players, the Samajwadi and the BSP, could pick up eight and five each.

Analysts believe the Congress’ gain accrued at the expense of the BJP and the Samajwadi, aided by the ripples set off across eastern Uttar Pradesh — where today’s polls were held — by the presence of Priyanka Gandhi and the debut of Rahul Gandhi. The response prompted Priyanka to hint today that she might campaign outside the state.

If the final count reflects the exit poll projections, it would appear a section of the Brahmin and Muslim votes shifted to the Congress significantly for the first time since 1991 in the state. The BJP feels that if one part of the “trend” — the division of Muslim votes — persists in other regions of the state, it will help the party and rein in the Samajwadi.

The Telegraph-Star News poll — based on data culled from 25,000 respondents spread over 72 regions in nine of the 11 states which went to polls today — inferred that the NDA would make its maximum gains in Karnataka by bagging 20 of the 28 seats.

In Bihar — where the alliance among Laloo Prasad Yadav, the Congress and Ram Vilas Paswan was supposed to make big gains — the NDA is projected to limit its loss to eight seats and hold on to 20, restricting the rival alliance’s tally to eight. Polling for 12 more seats in Bihar will be held in the third phase.

In Maharashtra, the Congress-NCP-RPI combine is expected to get 27 of the 48 seats and the BJP-Shiv Sena 19. NCP leader Sharad Pawar’s ambiguous statement on Sonia Gandhi’s leadership and a hint that he could consider being part of a third front government do not appear to have dented the alliance’s chances.

Pawar kept up the pressure on the Congress today, too, saying “wider acceptability mattered more than majority in coalition politics”.

The exit poll predicted a change of government in Karnataka and Andhra and the exit of cyber-savvy S.M. Krishna and N. Chandrababu Naidu.

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