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Bengal drives Modi comeback: Exit polls

Exit poll predictions signal that political ground in much of India has refused to shift away from the BJP
Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Badrinath temple on Sunday.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Badrinath temple on Sunday.

Our Special Correspondent   |   New Delhi   |   Published 19.05.19, 10:43 PM

 The exit poll verdict is in, predicting the BJP-led NDA as the clear winner with big gains in Bengal and Odisha that will help tide it over losses in Uttar Pradesh.

If there is one region where the BJP is projected not to have made inroads, it is the south, barring Karnataka, though a couple of pollsters have given the party one seat in Kerala.

Only one of the nine exit polls put out by the national news networks have the NDA short of the majority mark of 272. The India Today-Axis poll has given the NDA its highest projected tally — 339 to 365, which is higher than its 2014 score of 336.

The Congress, by all accounts, has failed to capitalise on the gains it made in successive state elections from the winter of 2017, beginning with Gujarat.

In Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, where the Congress is in government, and in Gujarat, where it gave a tough fight in the Assembly elections, the BJP is predicted to hold on to its 2014 turf, losing just a couple of seats.

If the exit poll predictions hold in the actual count of votes on Thursday, it would clearly signal that the political ground in much of India has refused to shift away from the BJP and that the Narendra Modi magic can counter the arithmetic of coalitions.

In Jharkhand, where the Congress had a fairly well oiled coalition in place, the BJP has been forecast to hold on to its tally.

While the pollsters are broadly agreed on most of the Hindi heartland states, there is a fair bit of variation on the extent of the damage caused to the BJP in Uttar Pradesh by the BSP-SP mahagathbandhan and on the gains the party is projected to have made in Bengal and Odisha.

Some polls like the News18-IPSOS’s suggest that the alliance’s ability to stem the Modi tide was overrated, giving the NDA 60-62 of the 80 seats. This is just a loss of 10 seats from the NDA’s 2014 haul.

Others like ABP News-Nielsen predicted a huge loss for the BJP in the state, saying it might get only 22 seats while the mahagathbandhan could win 56.

CVoter-Republic gave the mahagathbandhan 40 seats and the NDA 38. Jan Ki Baat put the NDA tally at 46-57 seats against 15-29 for the alliance.

Broadly, there is agreement that the BJP’s strategy of trying to offset the losses in Uttar Pradesh through gains in Bengal and Odisha has worked. Of Bengal’s 42 seats, CVoter-Republic and ABP-Nielsen have given 11 and 16 seats, respectively, to the BJP, a big improvement on its tally of 2 in 2014. ABP-Nielsen said the BJP would win nine seats in Odisha, compared to one in 2014.

Another point of agreement is on the lack of an Opposition narrative or a face to stand up to the persona of Narendra Modi. While there may have been a push factor that had some voters looking elsewhere, the Opposition did not provide the pull factor.

Some of the polls listed projections for 543 seats although elections were held in only 542 as the Vellore poll was cancelled.

The Opposition parties, as expected, sought to dismiss the exit polls and wait for the actual count.

But former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah seemed to give up 45 minutes after the channels had begun broadcasting the exit polls, tweeting: “Every single exit poll can’t be wrong! Time to switch off the TV, log out of social media & wait to see if the world is still spinning on its axis on the 23rd.’’

Working on the premise that the BJP voter is more vocal and therefore open about his preference, Congress spokesperson Sanjay Jha said: “The silent voter will be king on May 23rd 2019. The ‘fear factor’ playing havoc with respondents to pollsters in an ugly polarised election. Ridiculous #ExitPolls, almost laughable. UPA > NDA when the ‘real counting’ happens.”

With hearts sinking, those who had banked on the Opposition weakening the Modi-Shah duopoly are now hoping for a repeat of what happened this weekend in Australia, where as many as 54 exit polls got it wrong.

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