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Projections give edge to BJP

New Delhi, Dec. 4: The BJP is seen heading for a hat-trick in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, wresting Rajasthan from the Congress but hanging in limbo in Delhi, according to exit polls that have had a mixed record in the past.

If the final results follow the exit poll projections, Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Raman Singh, the Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh chief ministers, will enter the league of Narendra Modi, who draws part of his cachet from having won Gujarat thrice.

There were whispers today that Chouhan and Singh must be inducted into the BJP’s parliamentary board, its highest policy-and-decision-making body, to leverage their stature and ensure they have a say in critical matters like selecting candidates for the Lok Sabha polls.

But nobody suggested that a third win would make Chouhan and Singh potential prime ministerial candidates.

If the BJP had reason to cheer over the figures scrolled across TV screens since this evening before Delhi completed voting, the Congress stared at a bleak scenario ahead of next year’s Lok Sabha polls.

Delhi appears headed for a hung Assembly in which the BJP could emerge as the single largest party. So unprecedented was the turnout in the capital today that the Election Commission extended voting time by over an hour to accommodate the long queues.

The joker in the pack is Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which appears poised to take the battle for Delhi down to the wire. Delhi has vacillated between the Congress and the BJP, with the Bahujan Samaj Party occasionally playing a spoiler but without impacting the outcome tangibly.

This time, Kejriwal threatens to turn the chessboard topsy-turvy, emerging as king-maker or possibly even king, going by the projections.

In the 70-member Delhi Assembly, where a party requires 36 members to touch the half-way mark, the exit poll forecast for Kejriwal’s debutant outfit ranged from a conservative six from Headlines Today-ORG Marg to an upbeat 15 from ABP News-AC Nielsen and 16 from C-Voter and a stupendous 31 (caveated by a nine-seat margin of error) from Today’s Chanakya-News 24.

Today’s Chanakya, a Delhi-based “political research” organisation, has generally hit bull’s eye in its recent predictions for the Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh Assembly polls.

ABP News-Nielsen’s initial prognosis for Delhi gave the BJP 32 seats (four short of a majority) and the Congress and AAP, 18 each. Subsequently, it revised its estimates to predict a majority for the BJP with 37 seats. It scaled down the forecast for the Congress and the AAP to 16 and 15 respectively.

“I cannot fathom the AAP phenomenon,” admitted a BJP spokesperson who went around the capital for much of the day. “I cannot guess whose votes the party has taken away because their volunteers were hard at work till the last vote was polled, bringing in people to the booths. That kind of exercise is usually done by a cadre-based party like ours.”

If the final Delhi tally comes close to the exit poll projections, BJP sources acknowledged that it implied the party’s claim about Narendra Modi’s urban appeal could be dented because the national capital’s changing demographics have transformed it to as much of a melting pot as Mumbai.

Also, Delhi is supposed to represent rising India’s youthful aspirations and youths are a constituency that Modi has been targeting the past few years.

Not only do the exit polls hint at AAP’s potential to take away Modi’s youth voters, a hung Assembly would willy-nilly open up the prospect of the Congress or the BJP being compelled to do business with the maverick Kejriwal.

A former income tax officer who was an activist before he set up the party, his record on governance is completely untested and bodes a spell of uncertainty for Delhi that has had uninterrupted Congress rule for 15 years.

But Delhi seems the only cause of worry for the BJP. Madhya Pradesh’s Chouhan and Chhattisgarh’s Singh appear set to retain their governments.

According to ABP News-Nielsen, the BJP was poised to get 138 seats in the 230-member assembly, five down since 2008 while the Congress would net 80, nine more than its previous tally.

Today’s Chanakya-News 24 forecast 161 seats for the BJP in Madhya Pradesh (with a 11-seat margin error) and 62 for the Congress (plus or minus nine seats).

CNN-IBN, in collaboration with Delhi’s Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, did a post-poll survey (as distinct from an exit poll) that placed the BJP at a comfortable 136 to 146 seats in Madhya Pradesh and the Congress at 67 to 77. C-Voter-India TV estimated the BJP would get 128 seats and the Congress, 92.

The projections for Rajasthan were the clearest.

BJP leader and former chief minister Vasundhara Raje was poised to return with good numbers and the Congress exit in ignominy. C-Voter-India TV gave the BJP 130 of the 199 seats (polling in one seat was countermanded because of a contestant’s death) and the Congress, 48, that is a loss of 54 seats from its 2008 kitty.