The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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1-1 and into tie-breaker in two
Whoever laughs the last, laughs the most — BJP
The party is certain to be voted back to power in all four states — Congres

New Delhi, Dec. 1: Exit polls conducted by TV news channels during voting today showed the BJP taking Madhya Pradesh and the Congress retaining Delhi while Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh were too close to call.

The exit polls brought cheer to the BJP and jolted the Congress because the opinion surveys that preceded them had predicted a three-one result in favour of the Congress, which was expected to lose only Madhya Pradesh.

Most of the polling was conducted five to three hours before voting ended, and all four channels — STAR News, Aaj Tak, Zee and Sahara Samay — agreed on two outcomes: a sweeping return to power by the BJP under Uma Bharti in Madhya Pradesh and a landslide victory for the Congress under ruling chief minister Sheila Dikshit in Delhi.

Rajasthan sprang the biggest surprise. Belying the opinion surveys which projected a comfortable win for the Congress under Ashok Gehlot’s stewardship, the party was locked in a keen contest with the BJP which, led by Vasundhara Raje, seemed to have recovered substantial ground in the last few days.

Likewise, Ajit Jogi, who was expected to have a cakewalk in Chhattisgarh, which had its first election after it was carved out of Madhya Pradesh, finds himself biting his nails off despite his BJP rival Dilip Singh Judeo getting sucked into a last-minute cash-on-camera scandal.

Although the four states have traditionally seen straight fights between the Congress and the BJP, this time all the exit polls have highlighted the role of the “others” — a loose collection of Independents, caste-based parties and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). Not only have the “others” polled a relatively high percentage but were also projected to pick up seats everywhere.

Reacting to the exit results, BJP spokesman Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said: “Why only three states' We will win all four with a clear majority'”

His Congress counterpart Anand Sharma said: “We did not believe the earlier opinion polls and neither do we take the exit polls seriously. We know what their record was like in the past. Let us wait for the actual results.”

Exit polls have gone wrong in the past — as have opinion surveys. The tally of seats for each party varies in the STAR News-AC Nielsen, Aaj Tak-ORG-MARG, Zee News-C-Voter and Sahara Samay-DRS polls, but they all agree on the outcome in Madhya Pradesh and Delhi.

According to STAR News, the BJP is set to form the government in Madhya Pradesh with a vote share of 40 per cent with the corresponding figure for the Congress being 34. Aaj Tak showed a 10 per cent difference between the vote shares in a state where a 1 per cent variation is enough to ensure a win or a defeat.

In 1998, the Congress belied all surveys and exit polls and retained power with a 1 per cent swing.

Apparently, the anti-incumbency sentiment, manifest throughout Madhya Pradesh against erratic power supply and bad roads, caught up with Digvijay Singh, though his supporters claimed there was a “last minute surge” in his favour because of his “achievements” in the social sector.

In Delhi, the BJP’s strategy of countering Dikshit by projecting Madan Lal Khurana as its alternative appeared to have come a cropper.

Even party sources admitted that Khurana, a Punjabi from the post-Partition era, was not their best bet to cope with the demographic shifts that have taken place in the capital over the last decade because of the large influx from Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh.

The poorvanchalis, or easterners, as they are labelled, constitute a much bigger vote bank than the Punjabis.

Initial reports from Rajasthan indicated that Gehlot would sail to another term on the strength of his effective drought management and the reported unacceptability of Raje as the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate.

But the decision of the Jats — a make-or-mar caste grouping — to vote en bloc for the BJP, rebellion in the Congress and the role of smaller parties like the BSP may have made the going a lot tougher for the ruling party.

In Chhattisgarh, an aggressive response to the Judeo scam from the BJP may have dented the edge the Congress hoped to derive from the sting operation.

Reports from the state suggested that instead of being perceived as a villain, Judeo, who was seen accepting cash on a CD, actually earned sympathy in BJP strongholds.

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