This Article is From Apr 15, 2014

Opinion: BJP and allies at 275

(Siddharth Varadarajan is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Public Affairs and Critical Theory, New Delhi)

The latest edition of NDTV's opinion poll shows the Bharatiya Janata Party under Narendra Modi heading towards a commanding position in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections with the National Democratic Alliance that it leads set to cross the half-way mark of 272 with three seats to spare.

We are, of course, still approximately a month away from the final round of voting and the situation on the ground in many key states, especially Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra, which together account for 238 seats, is likely to shift further in ways that could bring cheer - or tension - to the principal contenders for power at the Centre.

As the BJP consolidates its hold as the front-runner, the process of coalition building is also gathering momentum. (NDTV Opinion Poll: BJP and allies cross 272 mark)

Even before NDTV began its series of opinion polls, it was clear that we could divide all states into three categories.

Category I: States where the direction and scale of the outcome was predictable:

  • Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh: BJP sweeps
  • West Bengal: A sweep for Mamta Banerjee's Trinamool Congress
  • Odisha: A sweep for Naveen Patnaik's Biju Janata Dal
Category II: States where direction was predictable but not the scale:

Category III: States where the multi-cornered nature of the contest made it difficult to predict both the direction and scale.

Uttar Pradesh: A robust four-cornered fight between the BJP, Congress, Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party. Ajit Singh's RLD, which had fought the 2009 elections in alliance with the BJP, is now with the Congress. The entry of AAP in key seats added another layer of unpredictability, as did the fact that theMuzaffarnagar communal violence had vitiated the atmosphere and made Muslims insecure not just in the western region but across the entire state. (NDTV Opinion Poll: Uttar Pradesh's huge benefit for the BJP)

Maharashtra: The Congress-NCP alliance was known to be facing 'double anti-incumbency' at both the Central and state level but the big question was: would the BJP-Shiv Sena combine be able to overcome the impact of Raj Thackeray's MNS, whose performance cost the NDA at least 8 seats in 2009? (NDTV Opinion Poll: Massive gains for BJP-Shiv Sena alliance in Maharashtra)

Andhra Pradesh: The decimation of the Congress, which won 33 out of undivided Andhra's 42 seats in 2009, was expected in Seemandhra but would the benefit accrue to Jagan Reddy's YSR Congress or to Chandrababu Naidu's Telugu Desam Party? And in Telangana, it was not clear how seats would be apportioned between the Congress and K Chandrasekhar Rao's Telangana Rashtriya Samiti. (NDTV Opinion Poll: BJP's partnership with Chandrababu Naidu pays off)

NDTV's latest nationwide opinion poll is along expected lines for all of the Category I states except Odisha, where the BJP is shown as winning as many as 7 out of 21 seats. Where earlier polls were giving Naveen Patnaik as many as 17, the implosion of the Congress and perhaps the absence of a strategist like Pyarimohan Mohapatra appears to have weakened the BJD's defences against the BJP and its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.

Among the Category II states, the picture is somewhat clearer, although not entirely. The Congress appears broadly to be holding its own in Punjab, perhaps thanks to the unpopularity of the Shiroman Akali Dal-led state government and also the entry of AAP, which is taking votes from all sides. (NDTV Opinion Poll: Forecast for Punjab) In Haryana, the NDTV poll gives the NDA a sweep, especially considering the declaration Om Prakash Chautala's INLD has made that they are ready to back Modi as Prime Minister.

Delhi is shown now firmly in BJP's pocket though I suspect the survey, which was held more than a week before voting, has underestimated AAP, many of whose Muslim voters likely took their decision to abandon the Congress at the very last minute.

The situation in two of the Category-II states remains fluid: Bihar and Karnataka. The survey suggests the BJP is gaining ground in the former and Congress in the latter. Modi has strongly campaigned in both states. The NDA's vote share in Bihar (i.e. BJP+JDU) in 2009 was 38 per cent and it won 32 seats. Today, the NDTV poll gives the BJP a vote share of 35 per cent while the JDU is getting 21 per cent and the Congress-RJD alliance 28 per cent. How this three-cornered race converts into seats is anyone's guess. The poll predicts a rout for Nitish and 24 seats for the BJP, which is certainly consistent with the vote share lead the saffron party has, but a lot will depend on local factors too.

In Karnataka, the return of BS Yeddyurappa does not appear to have given the BJP the edge it was hoping for, despite the former Chief Minister's strong showing as a third party in the 2013 assembly elections. Analysts on the ground expect the BJP's support in the state to shrink further come results day.

Turning to Category-III states, the NDTV poll gives the BJP/NDA a clean sweep in all three races -- as many as 106 seats out of 170 -- and this, in turns, gives the Modi campaign the crucial boost it needs to cross the 272 mark in the Lok Sabha.

What explains this swing towards the NDA and how robust is the prediction?

In Seemandhra, the TDP is benefiting from its tie-up with the BJP and this is allowing the NDA to steal a march over Jagan's YSRC. Jagan is also battling the perception that a vote for his party would be "a vote for the Congress", a party reviled in the rump state for pushing ahead with the creation of Telanagana in such an opportunistic manner. It is in order to counter this perception that Jagan has loudly declared that he would be happy to support Modi as PM. In Telangana, the Congress's failure to seal an alliance with the TRS has proved fatal to its chances of at least sweeping most of the region's 17 seats. (NDTV's Opinion Poll: the Telangana forecast)

Maharashtra's swing towards the NDA is not surprising because smart alliance building with the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana of Raju Shetty and the Ramdas Athavale RPI has given the BJP-SS combine an even more decisive edge. The MNS may have cost the NDA many urban regions, including Mumbai, in 2009, but the 'Modi factor' will give the alliance enough of a bounce to counter that effect this time around. What we don't know, however, is the impact AAP will have in the state. Polls suggest the fledgling party is garnering around 5 per cent of the popular vote statewide. If these votes are concentrated in urban areas, could they tilt the balance one way or the other in what are already multi-cornered contests?

Uttar Pradesh, of course, remains the biggest enigma. True, the NDTV survey shows the BJP winning more than 50 seats on the basis of a 38 per cent vote share. But opinion polls have always tended to underestimate the performance of the BSP and the SP. The choice of candidates and the constituency-level interplay between national politics and local factors, including personalities and caste allegiances, have complicated the mix further.

The BSP, for example, has fielded a large number of Muslim and Brahmin candidates and this will have its own impact. Attempts to communalise the campaign by BJP and SP leaders like Amit Shah and Azam Khan are also likely to affect voter behaviour. As long as the Modi campaign was confined to promising development, it was easy for fence-sitters to cross over to his side. But if there is a chance of communal polarization increasing, many Hindu voters may think twice about pressing the 'kamal' button while Muslim voters will almost certainly vote strategically in different constituencies to try and ensure the defeat of the BJP. This means the fate of UP will likely only be settled on the last day of polling - May 12 - and that opinion poll predictions for India's largest state are perhaps best to be taken with a pinch of salt.

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