A few days ago, I ran the latest round of my regular opinion poll on the Lok Sabha elections. My sample size was half this time, since I hadn't taken any Uber rides last week. So, it was just my friendly neighbourhood guard from Rajasthan.
"Modi-ji bhaari bahumat se waapas aa rahe hain", he asserted. "Yeh joh Pakistan ko sabak sikhaya hai, ab sab log unke saath hain." The man had always voted for the BJP but backed the Congress in the recent assembly election in his state. So, was he going to vote for Modi again? "Nahin sir, main to nahin doonga, lekin baaki sab denge."
Another guard, from the house opposite ours, joined in, immediately doubling my sample size. This one, according my diver, was a 'Congressiya' who had switched sides and voted for Achhe Din in 2014.
"Ab toh 300 seat se zyaada milenge Modi-ji ko" he shouted across the street. Will he also vote for the BJP? "Nahin, Sir. Abki baar, Congress Sarkar", he said, smirking at his own joke. So, my entire sample of two believed that the Balakot airstrike had guaranteed a massive mandate for Modi, but neither of them was going to actually vote for him.
Recent opinion polls seem to confirm this. The two main opinion polls that ran on TV channels yesterday said that the NDA will be within striking distance of a majority. However, the numbers were not significantly different from the polls done in January before the airstrikes inside Pakistan.
The India TV-CNX poll, done in the first week of March (the Balakot airstrikes were conducted on February 26), gives the NDA 285 seats, a thin majority of 13 seats. Of these, the BJP alone would get the lion's share of 238 seats. Should the BJP be happy with this news? Not if it compares it with the India TV-CNX poll of December. That poll, done at a time when the BJP was trailing in the three north-belt states, gave the party 247 seats, and the NDA 281.
In other words, the India TV-CNX poll shows a drop of nine seats for the BJP since December despite Balakot. In fact, even PM Kisan that gives Rs 2,000 to each small farming family apparently hasn't stemmed the slide. Of course, one could argue, that things could have been much worse without Balakot and PM Kisan, and that the polls show the opposition hasn't been able to capitalise on the BJP's electoral losses in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.
The BJP will be much happier with the ABP News-CVoter opinion poll. This one gives the NDA 264 seats, just 8 short of a majority. The BJP is expected to win 220 seats. This is a decent gain compared to the team's previous opinion poll, done in January this year. That poll gave the NDA 233 seats. The NDA's vote share has also risen from 37.6% in the January poll to 41% in the March poll. But is that because of Balakot? The state-wise break-up of the NDA's gains between January and March will give us a better answer to this question. The airstrike on the Jaish training camp has helped the BJP gain one or two seats in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh. It gains nothing in the key state of Orissa, and has dropped one seat in the North East since the January poll. In Uttar Pradesh, the NDA has gone up by four seats, but is still down 44 seats from its 2014 tally.
The biggest change is in one single state: Maharashtra. In the January poll done by ABP News-CVoter, the NDA was set to get 20 seats, and the UPA was projected to get the remaining 28. The March poll projects a virtual sweep for the NDA. Along with its key ally Shiv Sena, the BJP is expected to get 35 of the state's 48 seats. Remember that the overall gain for the NDA, since January to March, is of 31 seats. So 15 of these 31 extra seats are projected to come from Maharashtra alone.
Is this because of the pro-Modi 'nationalist' sentiment after the airstrikes? Or is it simply a result of the announcement of the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance in the state? Again, in the previous ABP News-CVoter poll, the NDA was set to get 16 seats in the southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Now, in the latest poll, it is projected to get 5 more. Is that because the BJP has sown up alliances in Tamil Nadu?
One must also remember that these opinion polls were done in the immediate aftermath of the Balakot airstrikes. It was at the height of the nationalist frenzy whipped up by television channels. As the momentum fades, regular poll issues of roti, kapda and makaan may return to the top of the agenda. Even now, unemployment has shown up as the biggest issue in at least one opinion poll. It could get bigger as the door-to-door campaign gets into full swing.
So, it is not 'nationalism' that's the big game-changer, but the fact that the BJP is getting its alliances in place. Political commentator Swati Chaturvedi has in a column here pointed to the skill with which Amit Shah has got the gathbandhan game going for the ruling party. That, along with the fact that the opposition cannot match BJP's money-power could be the key differentiator as Narendra Modi fights to be PM again.
(Aunindyo Chakravarty was Senior Managing Editor of NDTV's Hindi and Business news channels. He now anchors Simple Samachar on NDTV India.)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.