Judging from many of the comments to earlier blogs on the four phases of polling and from observations in other blogs, it would seem that there is an impression that I have been foolish enough to predict the results of the general elections.
This is not the case.
I have merely collated the views and assessments of pollsters, officials and strategists in the political parties. The tally of 196 for the NDA and 147 for the UPA (till the end of the 4th phase) was an estimate by a pollster who has actually conducted exit polls for the BJP. His estimates may turn out to be right or wrong but they are his estimates. I am merely reporting his findings.
There are other estimates too. Senior functionaries of the Congress believe that the party will win anything between 155 to 160 seats against 125 to 130 for the BJP. Ironically, this is the exact reverse of BJP's estimates (155 to 160 for itself and 125 to 130 for the Congress).
Obviously both can't be right.
There are too many imponderables involved. I want to list some:
- The BJP feels it can retain one of the two Arunachal Pradesh seats it won in 2004. The two MPs may well be popular but has the party got the ability to take on the official machinery in a state where voting stations are far flung?
- The BJP seems a bit too cocksure about its Karnataka performance. I know for a fact that at least two of its candidates in potentially winnable seats didn't even campaign and more or less conceded the seats to the Congress. Again, no one knows how the heavy polling in Mangalore and the low turnout in Bangalore will affect the outcome.
- There was large-scale internal sabotage by the BJP itself in the Malwa region of Madhya Pradesh. Will this impact on the outcome?
- The Congress and NCP tacitly supported Independents against each other. Will this count? Raj Thackeray drew very large crowds in his election meetings. Will this translate into votes?
- Orissa reports great support for Naveen Patnaik at the Assembly level and goodwill for the BJP at the Lok Sabha level. Will the voters be so discerning?
- Delhi reported an above average middle class turnout in the middle class areas and a below average polling in slum and minority clusters. Conventional wisdom suggests that this could benefit the BJP but in the Assembly polls the middle class colonies were equally divided between Congress and BJP.
- Candidates from smaller Muslim parties polled well in pockets in the first two phases in Uttar Pradesh. By the third phase, Muslims were leaning towards the Congress. Has the Congress got the ability to convert additional votes into seats.
- Journalistic asessments from Bihar speak of mass antipathy for Lalu and Paswan. Yet, pollsters feel the RJD and LJP will hold on to 10 seats at least. Are they being too conservative?
- The mood in the tea shops and addas seems very anti-CPI(M) in West Bengal. Will this be enough to overcome the formidable Left machinery? Will the Congress undermine the Trinamool in some seats, and vice-versa?
- Pollsters tend to seriously underestimate the BSP outside (and even within) Uttar Pradesh. Remember, this is also a prestige fight for Mayawati. She wants an all-India role.
We are at present only talking of the results, particularly the Congress-BJP fight for number one position. Government formation will be influenced by who is perceived to have done well on May 16. If Congress stalwarts, say Pranab Mukherjee and P. Chidambaram, lose their seats, the Congress will find it difficult to grab the moral space for the next stage. This is as true for the BJP. A bad CPI(M) performance in West Bengal will puncture Karat; a good showing will increase the prospects of a Third Front-led government.
But government formation is still a different ball game. There will be shadowy figures who will emerge in Delhi on May 16.
The NDA has a realistic chance of forming a government if one of the two conditions are met:
- The NDA wins at least 200 seats on May 16. Even then it will be a daunting task because the BJP is an innocent in the game of striking deals. But at least numbers will give it a momentum.
- A dejected Congress announces by the evening of May 16 that it has decided to sit in the Opposition.
We can keep doing our sums but parties will act in their own political self-interest only after they know their numbers. The TRS presence in Ludhiana was a morale booster for the NDA. But don't see it as a trend as yet.
Finally, there is the one imponderable the NDA dreads: the possible role of Rashtrapati Bhavan.