The Congress and its allies, including the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the ADMK, will pick up 174 seats. Others, which include the third force parties, are down several seats.
The BJP is expected to end up as the single largest party with 185 seats, while the Congress will marginally improve its 1998 performance by notching up a tally of 146 on its own.
On the other hand, the NDTV-Insight exit poll gives the BJP-led alliance a clear lead and has projected between 295 and 10 seats for the combine. According to the survey, the Congress alliance will end up with 145-155 seats. Others will get 85 to 95 seats.
The BJP surge has run into a speedbreaker in the heartland. The anti-incumbency factor is weighing heavily against the Kalyan Singh government.
The Doordarshan poll suggests that the BJP and its allies? tally in the state will slump significantly from 59 to 46.
The beneficiaries are the Congress and, in some places, the Bahujan Samaj Party.
The NDTV poll projects a tally of around 50 for the BJP bloc. The Congress is expected to snatch around 12 seats.
The Uttar Pradesh results, according to the Doordarshan poll, show that the Congress, which got only six per cent votes last year, has taken a huge leap forward by getting the support of 21 per cent of the electorate. This massive swing is paying heavy dividends in terms of the total number of seats won.
The Congress had drawn a blank in the last elections and is now projected to win 14 constituencies in the heartland from where it was driven out by the mandir-mandal onslaught launched by the BJP and casteist formations like the Samajwadi Party and the BSP.
The shift of the Muslim votes to the Congress in several places has hit the Samajwadi Party, which is expected to get 16 seats, down by four.
But the two surveys differ on West Bengal. The DD-DRS poll says that the Trinamul-BJP alliance will double its strength of eight, while the Congress will pick up three seats. The Left Front is projected to lose 10 seats from its 1998 tally of 33.
But the NDTV-Insight poll has predicted between 29 and 32 seats for the Left. It gives the Trinamul alliance eight to 11 seats.
A poll conducted for The Telegraph by TNS Mode says that candidates of the Trinamul-BJP alliance will win four of the five seats in Calcutta. In Jadavpur, Kanti Ganguly and Krishna Bose are locked in a close contest.
The DRS poll is government-sponsored and even in the way the programme was conducted and from the choice of the panel, the pro-NDA tilt was more than apparent.
Besides, the sample size in this exit poll, spread over 155 constituencies, covers only 34,000 voters and the admitted error is three per cent either way.
In such surveys, a swing of even one per cent can tilt the scales in several marginal seats. In Uttar Pradesh, especially, a one per cent swing can shift the course of electoral fortunes in 15 to 20 seats.
The Doordarshan-DRS poll has tried to put an end to the ongoing debate begun by the Congress.
Congress spokesman Kapil Sibal has been saying over the past few days that the President should first invite the single largest party to form the government.
The BJP has countered by saying that the President is not constitutionally obliged to do so and should ask the largest bloc to stake claim.
According to today?s survey, the BJP will emerge as the single largest party, as in 1998, and, along with its allies, will obtain a clear majority.
Bhattacharya?s backpat itself lost some of its sheen in the night as a Trinamul activist was hacked to death in Howrah. The 46-year-old victim, Gobinda Das, was dragged out of his home during dinner and killed by CPM supporters, Trinamul leaders said.
But polling passed off more or less in peace in the state, recording a moderate turnout of 70 per cent, down from last year?s 85.
No sooner had the indelible ink dried than the customary round of finger-pointing began. The only new feature was that the most shrill charges came from an unlikely source: the ruling CPM.
The party alleged intimidation of voters and its workers by supporters of the Trinamul-BJP combine and demanded repolling at 200 booths in 10 seats. ?They terrorised the voters and beat up our workers after dragging them out of the booths,? Politburo member Biman Bose charged, echoing word for word allegations usually monopolised by the Opposition in the state.
The CPM?s opponents were quick to read signs of nervousness in the red monolith. ?This is their last battle. They will get the reply,? Mamata Banerjee said.
But CPM state secretary Anil Biswas said: ?Despite the efforts of the Trinamul and the BJP to rig the polls, the CPM will fare better than in 1998.?
Mamata refused to describe the election as ?free and fair?, claiming the CPM ?operated with a section of the police officers?. She alleged that she was heckled at Kasba Balika Vidyalaya by CPM activists and complained of large-scale rigging, but did not demand a repoll.
How was the polling in her constituency? ?Manush thik achche.? Will her margin increase? ?Manush thik korbe.?
If the CPM could not match Mamata?s smug countenance, Bhattacharya did so with a generous burst of self-congratulation. ?The polling was very peaceful with no police firing and reports of any poll-violence deaths. It was a silent election,? he said in the evening at Writers? Buildings.
The home minister also gave credit to the security forces. ?They played a big role in instilling confidence in the voters who turned out in good numbers,? Bhattacharya said. As many as 150 companies of Central forces, in addition to the Rapid Action Force, were deployed in Calcutta and elsewhere in the state.
The Election Commission echoed Bhattacharya and congratulated the government for holding a peaceful election.
Compared with the districts, the turnout was low in Calcutta at 65 per cent, chief electoral officer Jawhar Sircar said. Darjeeling recorded the lowest turnout at 12 per cent following the boycott call by the Gorkha National Liberation Front.
Polling was postponed in 362 booths in Nadia and Burdwan to Tuesday as these were still inundated. The poll panel had made arrangements for floating booths at four places in Malda.
Repolling will be held in about 50 booths where ?the poll process had been vitiated?, Sircar said .
Bhattacharya said 150 persons were arrested in the state on charges of rioting and booth-capturing. The police also seized 15 vehicles laden with arms.
A poll official, Bimal Sardar, and two voters, Vishnu Bhuniya of Christopher Road and Tejendralal Chowdhury of Serampore, died of cardiac failure during the day.
Though there was no bloodshed, complaints of rigging and disturbances reached the police control room as well Sircar?s office from Taltala-Jaanbazar, Amherst Street, Kashipur, Shyampukur, Jorasanko, Entally, Elliot Road and Garden Reach-Mudiali areas.
Eight armed men on motor-cycles, stated to be Trinamul supporters, were arrested at Gorbeta in Midnapore on the charge of terrorising voters.
The Trinamul candidate from Howrah, Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar, alleged that her husband was injured in an attack by alleged CPM supporters at Don Bosco School, Liluah. The CPM ridiculed the allegation.
The National Democratic Alliance had the edge due to the BJP?s readiness to share the spoils of power with its allies. But the Kargil card lost its shine as local factors came into play. The Congress, buoyed by hopes of a recovery in north India, is a reluctant convert to coalitions which are key to power.
The fall of the Vajpayee government by one vote was at the fore of his party?s campaign. For the first time in a decade, the BJP did not play up Ayodhya, preferring to sidestep a debate with a joint agenda. It chose to put the persona of the prime minister on a pedestal. It also actually decided to contest nearly 50 seats less than last time, tipping the balance in favour of its allies.
Its Achilles? heel is in Uttar Pradesh, which gave it 57 seats last year. Internal divisions prompted by chief minister Kalyan Singh?s style of leadership and caste-based lobbies have divided the votaries of the mandir. In Madhya Pradesh, a resurgent Congress hopes to capitalise on gains notched up in the Assembly polls last winter. A serious slip in the showing of the Hindutva party in these two Hindi-belt states could weaken it in its dealings with allies. It could also lead to a re-examination of options such as the revival, if initially by second-rung leaders, of its own pet ideological issues.
Through much of the campaign, it was the Congress president?s origin that was central to the message of her adversaries. If this card cuts little ice on its own, they will have only themselves to blame. The overkill on the issue was countered by bringing her children onto public platforms and by fast-tracking the entry of Priyanka Vadra into politics. These gestures, while it may not convince voters of her abilities at governance, certainly put paid to the ?foreigner? card against Sonia Gandhi. As with Kargil, this was a topic that merely helped the BJP check the erosion of support. It was a vote retainer rather than a vote winner.
The Congress began with a handicap. Sonia Gandhi?s leadership was called into question by Sharad Pawar, who opted to leave the party last May. The creation of the Nationalist Congress Party forced the parent party to mount a rearguard action in its former bastion of Maharashtra to avert losses of seats. The Congress president has yet to consolidate her hold on the party machine but a reasonable performance at the hustings should silence any dissent.
The major change lay in the attitude of warmth on the part of minorities to the Congress: the Ayodhya syndrome is now part of the past.
But the century-old organisation has a long way to go in recapturing the loyalties of the poor and the under classes who were its loyalists in the past. If it were to win back power in Andhra Pradesh, this battle will have been half won.
Whether the stability card of the Congress clicked is a different matter altogether. The party entered into seat adjustments with allies like Jayalalitha in Tamil Nadu and Laloo Prasad Yadav in Bihar. But it balks at the idea of coalitions: this alone works to the advantage of its rival in the present scenario in which no one party looks like getting to the elusive half-way mark. Further, several regional parties, most significantly the Telugu Desam are bona fide anti-Congress formations. To quote the grammar of Patanjali, they view it in the manner a snake may view a mongoose.
Oddly enough, the one major formation it can hope to do business with is the Left bloc, but this has yet to go beyond a common interest in checkmating the Hindutva forces. Crucially, it has yet to work out any political equation with the Dalit-led Bahujan Samaj Party, a force whose importance the Congress ignores at its own peril.
It is a telling comment on how far things have changed the Congress ? the champion of one-party rule is now pinning its hopes on a hung Parliament in which the BJP will drop enough seats to allow a new set of post-poll arrangements. It is here that the in-house debates in the Sangh Parivar gain significance. As long as its own ideologically charged issues are on the back burner, it will be possible for it to do business with the allies. Should the game of numbers go awry, many smaller parties still dream of a repeat of the 1996 formula.
This is the third and more imponderable factor in the game. These elections may well see a rise in votes polled by the two premier parties but the other players on the scene have neither disappeared nor lost their clout. The return of the NDA to power may well see smaller players in the driver?s seat. Most erstwhile members of the United Front are now in the Vajpayee-led alliance: this includes the old socialist club of the Janata Dal (United), which hopes to win ground from Laloo Prasad Yadav in Bihar. A far stronger lobby would be a combine of regional parties such as the parties headed by Mamata Banerjee, M. Karunanidhi, or Chandrababu Naidu. They will seek control of key economic ministries and be a major force in giving shape and form of a new coalition in New Delhi. Keeping such a diverse flock in control is certain to be a trying task, one that can prove politically damaging and costly.
At the end of the day, two clear possibilities lie ahead. The one, indicated by several pollsters, is a clear sweep for the ruling alliance with the BJP holding the lion?s share of a total of well over 300 seats. Yet, all that is needed to put a spoke in the wheel is for one state to fall out of line, possibly Maharashtra or Andhra Pradesh.
The other plausible scenario, one more in accord with the trends of the last decade in Indian politics, is one in which the premier party itself slips badly, opening up cracks and fissures within and among its allies. Should this happen, his pre-poll alliances will become crucial in giving Vajpayee the edge in the race for power.
It would still need hard bargains and many close deals, in which the cards may well be with smaller formations. It is in their interest to have a weak, not a strong, BJP at the core of the coalition.
But only the bravest of the brave would bet on such an arrangement yielding a five-year government. The situation will be fluid and any precise prediction speculative. An uncertain verdict will have been followed by another unclear mandate.