There has been considerable bewilderment over the revised CNN-IBN exit poll assessment for Tamil Nadu. Both CNN-IBN and NDTV have predicted a resounding win for the DMK-Congress alliance, even to the tune of 35-4. If true, and read with the predictions for Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Assam, it would suggest that a Congress-led government led by Manmohan Singh is a certainty.
We don't have to wait too long to know whether or not the pollsters are correct or horribly wrong. They have stuck their necks out and, presumably, know what they are doing.
With just 12 hours or so left for the first results, the Congress has created a mood of expectation of its re-election. With the news of Naveen Patnaik's possible neutrality in a confidence vote, the dithering in the Left and rumours of Nitish Kumar's re-think on the NDA, the Congress has fostered the belief that it is on a roll.
As a psychological ploy, this has worked. However, there is a flip side.
Tomorrow morning, the Congress and UPA will be judged not on terms of how it has performed vis a vis 2004 but how it has performed in relation to the exit polls. In short, any marked deviation from its comfortable position in the exit polls is going to become the basis of ascertaining whether it has received an endorsement or has been rejected by the voters.
The BJP and NDA begin tomorrow as complete underdogs. If they perform better, they will seize the moment.
Management of expectations is an integral part of political strategy. The Congress has set for itself very high standards which it must live up to. The alternative is a loss of face.
The Congress has won the exit polls handsomely. Let us observe how it has done in the real polls.