New Delhi, May 12: Three independent exit polls this evening predicted the likely emergence of a BJP-led government at the Centre but massive variations in their projections for the different states underscored the inherent uncertainty that marks such exercises.
All three polls, conducted by television channels in collaboration with polling research agencies, indicated that Narendra Modi would be India’s next Prime Minister and two of them predicted the worst seat tally for the Congress in its history.
The polls — by television channels ABP News, CNN-IBN and Times Now — also gave the Trinamul Congress between 20 and 31 seats, numbers that if vindicated on counting day could make Mamata Banerjee’s party the third largest in the new Lok Sabha.
According to the exit poll by ABP News and Nielsen, the National Democratic Alliance would get 281 of the 543 seats, leaving the United Progressive Alliance with 97.
The CNN-IBN poll, conducted in association with the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, projected an NDA tally of 270 to 282, and a UPA count between 92 and 102. The Congress was projected as likely to secure between 79 and 87 seats, far below its worst tally so far — 114 seats in 1999.
The poll by Times Now and ORG India put the NDA tally at 249, with the BJP alone bagging 218, and the UPA score at 148.
All the channels predicted a clear edge for Trinamul over the Left in Bengal. ABP News predicted 24 seats for Trinamul and 12 for the Left; Times Now gave the state’s ruling party 20 and its principal challengers 17; CNN-IBN projected 25 to 31 seats for Mamata and between 7 and 11 for the Left.
All the exit polls showed the BJP winning 46 or more seats out of the 80 in Uttar Pradesh, numbers that if realised would represent the party’s best performance in the state since 1999.
But wild swings between their predictions in some key states highlighted the challenges in mapping the mood of several hundred million voters from diverse regions, communities and socio-economic backgrounds.
In Rajasthan, where the BJP swept back to power last December, reducing the Congress to its lowest-ever number there, CNN-IBN and ABP News predicted landslide returns for the BJP.
But Times Now projected just the opposite — a dramatic Congress resurrection barely five months after its burial, with a haul of 14 of the state’s 25 seats. The BJP, the Times Now poll suggested, would win just 11 seats in Rajasthan.
The variations in the predictions for Bihar were even more puzzling. Reporters and commentators who have followed the campaign and the elections there have almost unanimously touted the contest as one between the BJP and Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal, an ally of the Congress.
The numbers projected by CNN-IBN and ABP News stayed true to this narrative, the CNN-IBN giving the NDA 21-27 seats to the Congress-RJD’s 11-15, and ABP News giving the BJP-led coalition 21 seats and Congress-Lalu Prasad 14.
But Times Now predicted that Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) — written off by most after its split from the BJP — is the likeliest to challenge Modi’s party in Bihar. The JD(U), Times Now predicted, will win 10 seats and the NDA 28. The Congress-RJD alliance, according to this channel, may manage just a measly two seats.
The uncertainties of capturing voter sentiments in post-poll surveys — the basis for exit polls — were exposed brutally for the polling agencies in 2004, and then again, to a lesser extent, in 2009.
In 2004, no exit poll predicted less than 230 seats for the NDA or more than 205 for the UPA — these numbers were projected by NDTV in collaboration with AC Nielson. But the Congress-led alliance emerged as the largest formation with 219 seats and the NDA won just 187.
Five years later, all the polling agencies gave the UPA the edge, but only just. Again, the highest anyone gave the ruling alliance was 205 and the lowest predicted for the Opposition coalition was 165 — both by CNN-IBN. The UPA won 262 seats and the NDA had to settle for 159.
The results will be declared on Friday.