I had this past weekend fully planned out. The seemingly never-ending election campaign was finally over, so I was going to completely detach myself from all political news, Twitter included, and I was going to stay unplugged till counting day on Thursday. Yes, I would give the exit polls a minor glance on Sunday evening with all the seriousness you would do the IPL scores, spend a moment to mock the silly prognostications and then continue with my apolitical reverie. Well, that was the plan anyway.
It was impossible to ignore the exit polls that reflected a BJP victory on par and perhaps beyond its 2014 mandate. All exit polls, except one outlier, giving the NDA a majority, half the polls giving it over 300 seats with the poll-of-polls average above 300 seats, and three major polls at the top of the heap giving the NDA between 330 and 364 seats, which would mean the BJP would surpass its 2014 tally of 282 and quite possibly cross the 300 mark on its own. If the polls on the upper end are proven to be correct on Thursday it would not just mean a saffron wave but a saffron blitzkrieg with the BJP sweeping north and western states once again and also announcing its arrival in West Bengal and Odisha on equal footing with TMC and BJD. A sea of saffron across India except for Punjab, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana.
Uttar Pradesh threw up just about every permutation of possible results, perhaps underlining the close contest between BJP and the BSP-SP-RLD alliance. Congress was shown to have been demolished in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, states it won only in December. Punjab is a state that just about every poll agreed that Congress was sweeping with 8 or 9 seats, an assessment with which I'm in agreement. BJP is shown to be replicating its dominance in Delhi, with perhaps one seat going to the Congress, and AAP wiped out. There was also little disagreement about NDA winning Bihar decisively. And that's how the story continued with BJP shown replicating its 2014 tally, to a large degree, in state after state.
And what became of issues like a faltering economy, rural distress, demonetization, drought in Maharashtra/Karnataka, and umpteen broken campaign promises? Let me answer like a true blue bhakt: Modi, Modi, Modi! To put it bluntly, the BJP succeeded in making it a presidential contest and the opposition did not nominate a candidate. End of story. Or at least that's the analysis excited and panting news anchors gave us on Sunday night.
My assessment remained the same throughout the election - that BJP would remain the largest party and Modi would almost certainly be sworn in as PM again but with a smaller BJP Lok Sabha contingent. Before the exit polls my best guess was that BJP would win between 210 to 220 seats with NDA falling just short of the 272 mark, resulting in TRS and Jagan Reddy coming to the rescue and providing enough seats for a comfortable coalition majority. This scenario was basically the ABP-Nielsen exit poll result till they nervously tacked on 10 seats to the BJP late in the evening for reasons not quite clear to me.
It's easy to criticise Rahul Gandhi now in hindsight but I still maintain he ran a pretty decent campaign, even though he seemed overburdened by the demands of being Congress President in the early stages of the election. Rafale may not have become a voting issue but it did allow the Congress to keep the pressure on the PM. Unquestionably Rahul failed to raise the level of debate to where Modi's divisive rhetoric would have become a liability, but that is a talent only the very best politicians possess. Definitely no Barack Obamas in India at the moment.
Honestly, if Prime Minister Modi is able to replicate or even surpass his 2014 triumph, it will be a major milestone in our political history. But it's important also to remember that not one vote was counted on Sunday. That will happen on Thursday. I've always believed that exit polls were flawed and superfluous but largely harmless since they occurred after the last vote was cast and provided some entertainment while we waited for counting day. However, for pollsters, they are the ultimate test because there is no room for error with their results being put to the test within a matter of days when the votes are actually counted. Which is why, there is no point doubting the motives of the pollsters, as I'm sure they are doing their best to be accurate and none of them want to look stupid on May 23.
Yet exit polls did go badly wrong in 2004 and the result was a complete shocker to everyone, especially the Congress, which found itself in government against all odds. Although the two crucial states of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu decided that election, which flipped completely from the NDA to the UPA and that was it. This time, for the exit polls to be wrong, it would require an overestimation of the BJP vote share across the breadth of the country, but even the difference between CVoter's 287 seats for the NDA and the 350 seats by Today's Chanakya would mean two completely different results and produce two completely different Modi second terms. For instance, if Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal were to produce an undercurrent not fully captured in the exit polls, it could dramatically change the final result because of the large number of seats involved.
You may call it wishful thinking, and you'd be partly right, but I suspect this election has one or two final twists left in it on counting day.
(Krishan Partap Singh is a novelist and political commentator.)
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