Sorry BJP, the exit polls don’t reveal a ‘Modi wave’

New Delhi, 14 May-2014, Hasan Suroor: Regrettably, I am not a number-cruncher and have no clue how you convert a party’s vote share into seats, but I can count. All the way up to 272, if you like, and tell whether it adds up. And looking at the much-anticipated exit poll results it is obvious (never mind, the BJP spin) that the numbers don’t add up either to a BJP or a Modi “wave’’, let alone a ‘tsunami’. I looked at three exit polls, and all show the BJP struggling to reach the magic half-way mark of 272 that would allow it to form a government on its own. Even the most generous and comprehensive of them the CNN-IBN-CSDS-Lokniti post-poll survey –gives the BJP on its own between 230 and 242 seats only, leaving it short by 30.

Sorry BJP, the exit polls don’t reveal a ‘Modi wave’

Sorry BJP, the exit polls don’t reveal a ‘Modi wave’

tatistically, the claim that it is a better result than what the party achieved even under Atal Behari Vajpayee may be correct, but a ‘wave’? A ‘wave’ is a wave only when it turns all calculations upside down leaving even the winner looking slightly stunned—as happened in 1984 when the Congress under Rajiv Gandhi romped home with 411 seats. That was a wave. Remember the 1980 elections when (again) the Congress under an Emergency tainted Indira Gandhi won 353 seats surprising its own supporters? That was a wave. A more recent instance is how Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress tore through the Left Front in West Bengal in 2010 setting a new record in the state’s political history. If exit polls tell us anything it is simply this: that the BJP which seemed to be in the dumps until a year ago– riven by internal divisions and mistrusted by several of its own erstwhile allies—has bounced back and looks within striking distance of coming to power with the help of some old, and some new allies. A far cry from the breathless claims that, forget 272, it was headed for a 300-plus landslide victory on the back of an unstoppable “Modi tsunami’’. The fact is that even the NDA as a whole may just about manage to get a simple majority. Indeed, the Times Now post-poll survey shows that it may even fail to cross the 250-mark, giving the NDA 249 seats. The CNN-IBN poll gives it 280 and ABP News-Nielsen 281. Given that there is scope for a substantial margin of error in these projections, acknowledged by pollsters themselves, it is not yet all done and dusted for the NDA. So much for the BJP/NDA ‘wave’. What about the much-touted ‘Modi magic’? There is a revealing figure buried in the CNN-IBN survey on UP: “Sixty four percent of the respondents of the survey were of the opinion that they would have voted for the party, even if Modi was not the party’s mascot or was not contesting from the state. Actually, only 17 percent of the surveys’ respondents said that Narendra Modi was a deciding factor in voting for BJP.” This should take some of the sheen off the myth of a ‘Modi-propelled’ victory for the BJP. And this in a make-or-break state where the BJP is predicted to win the maximum number of seats (upto 53—up from ten in 2009). What seemed to have worked in UP is not so much the ‘Modi magic’ as the hard work of RSS activists who have not always pulled their full weight in the past. I know this because I’ve covered many UP elections and the ones that the BJP lost were invariably those where the local RSS cadre stayed home because of internal divisions. Likewise, in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh it is the record of the incumbent BJP governments in these states which has contributed to the party’s projected gains than Modi’s charisma. The BJP would have done well in these states even if Modi was not the prime ministerial candidate. It would be churlish, however, to play down the significance of Modi. To him goes the dubious credit of polarising the electorate by playing the Hindu nationalist card and thus ensuring that the Hindu vote which had drifted away from the BJP returned to it. At another level, he succeeded brilliantly in marketing his image as a ‘strong’ and ‘decisive’ leader single-mindedly committed to development. Yet, given the hoopla around his personality (so much so that his supporters were asking for votes in his name rather than in the name of the party), it is revealing that his supposed charisma does not appear to have played a decisive role in many crucial states. And if his expected victory in Varanasi is anything short of a landslide the Modi magic will have been truly exposed. Meanwhile, the exit polls confirm the polarisation of the Hindu-Muslim vote. In UP, while Hindus across the caste divide are said to have voted overwhelmingly for the BJP, Muslims have turned to Samajwadi Party with some 56 percent reportedly voting for it despite its alleged role in the Muzzaffarnagar riots. To the surprise of many, the SP is likely to hold on to much of its 2009 vote share despite losing quite a few seats. It is expected to get anything between 13 and 17 seats –down from 23. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) will be clearly disappointed with the trends, especially in Delhi where it made such a spectacular debut only a few months ago. Of the seven Lok Sabha seats in the state, it might just about manage to win one. According to Times Now, however, it could draw a blank. Across India, it seems, AAP has failed to make any impact, and the most optimistic projection is that it might end up with four seats.

The reason : a strategic error in spreading itself too thin instead of concentrating on a few strongholds compounded by an unfocused and fuzzy campaign. But as Firstpost Editor-in-chief R Jagannathan argued, the idea of AAP- –transparency and corruption-free politics— will remain relevant and should not be written off. However, it needs to go back to the drawing board and rethink its strategy if wants to evolve into a serious political force. Finally, the Congress which looks set for a historic defeat and is likely to be reduced to 80-odd seats. No surprises there, but it is bound to put pressure on the party’s ‘First family’ and could mark the beginning of the end of the dynasty, though Congress being Congress you can never tell. The outcome in Amethi will be crucial. If Rahul Gandhi ends up with a much-reduced majority, alarm bells will certainly start ringing at 24 Akbar Road. A critical factor in the Congress decline is that Muslims seem to have abandoned it for good amid a slightly misplaced sense of’betrayal’ that somehow it is to blame for all their problems. Nowhere is this more evident than in UP where only 13 per cent Muslims voted for it. The party’s UPA allies also seem to be struggling in large parts of the country with CNN-IBN giving it 92-102 seats and ABP-Nielsen 97. Times Now has it at a seemingly unlikely148. Ultimately, however, this election was always about the BJP, especially Modi, and I’m afraid the exit poll results don’t live up to the hype. ‘Wave’? What wave?

(Input source: FP)