All eyes are on as the election process is ongoing in the world's largest democracy. Across the globe people are eagerly waiting for May 23, the day of announcement of the poll results. The seventh and the last phase of election is slated to be completed on the 19th of this month.
On the evening of May 19 there will be number of exit poll forecasts. It is likely that the exits polls may throw up varying and differing forecasts given the complexity of the situation. Nevertheless the exit poll results will generate a lot of excitement and despair in the camp followers on both sides. The most nagging question is - Whether Modi is to return as prime minister or not?
There is a general feeling of general discontentment among the people about the performance of the government led by Narendrabhai Damodardass Modi. Economy is not in good shape as most of the economic indictors are subdued. But one bonus is that there has been no abnormal rise in prices - the inflation is under control, despite the fall in the external value of the rupee. Not much jobs have been created as promised.
The number of educated unemployed are on the rise. The corporate houses are not making major recruitment drive as their profitability is on the decline. Only growth figures are mainly due to one engine - the government expenditure.
However there has been some satisfactory work in the infrastructure sector like roads, housing for the poor, household toilets and distribution of LPG gas cylinders to the rural poor. Modi's demonetisation drive and introduction of Goods and Services Tax (GST) had a telling impact on the informal sector. His promise of erasing black money in the economy has remained unfulfilled.
Unfortunately, the major national opposition party, Indian National Congress is unable to encash on the situation. Several attempts had been made to corner the prime minister on Rafale deal. But message could not be communicated to the public in a convincing manner.
The party came out with its election manifesto - Congress Will Deliver - dwelling upon problems of unemployment, enhancing growth, rejuvenating the industry, development of infrastructure, addressing rural and farmer's distress.
It has also promised to eliminate abject poverty by 2030 by introducing minimum income support programme to provide Rs 72,000 a year to the poorest 20 per cent families, reforms in GST and banking and financial sector. Ultimately it says Ab Hoga Nayay - Justice Will Dawn. But how much of it has convinced the people. It is yet to be seen.
Incidentally, Modi who has failed on the tall promises he made in 2014 Elections does not speaks much on the performance of his government. Instead he has preferred to target the Nehru-Gandhi family and the "dynasty" that directly or indirectly ruled the country over five decades.
As air strikes at Balakot terrorist hideout in Pakistan took place after the Pulwama terror attack, Modi is encashing on the incident to prove that he is the only leader who can safeguard country's sovereignty. The earlier surgical strike and recently the testing of anti-satellite weapons (ASAT) have also raised his image in public perception as a "strong man".
His party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has brought "nationalism" to the fore to counter the opposition onslaught. Banking on Modi image, the party has called for "Phir Ek Bar Modi Sarkar" - Modi Government Once Again. The BJP also boasts of Modi's success in international diplomacy which created India's image in the comity of nations.
Actually Modi faces more tough opposition from regional parties than from the Congress at state levels. But unfortunately all the regional opposition forces are not united in their support to Congress to oust Modi. Some of them are aspiring to become prime minister in case the polls throw up a hung Parliament. This situation has come as a boon to BJP which is likely emerge as the single largest party.
Congress is the direct challenger to BJP in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh. It has tie-ups with main regional parties in Bihar, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. BJP too have tie-ups with main regional parties in north-east India, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Bihar, Goa. This makes direct fight between Congress allies and BJP allies. However major regional parties in Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, West Bengal do not have any electoral alliances with Congress.
BJP's spectacular victory in 2014 polls was mainly due to stunning victory in 10 states of the Hindi heartland - Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand where it won 190 of the total 225 seats. This tally may come down this time. The victory in Uttar Pradesh was spectacular in the sense, BJP alone won 71 seats and its allay Apna Dal 2 seats.
The Samajwadi Party (SP) got 5 seats, Congress 2 seats and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) scored nil. However this time three caste-based parties SP, BSP and Rashritya Lok Dal (RLD) have formed an alliance to defeat BJP. This alliance is likely to have support of the minority community. The Congress, however, is contesting alone.
In UP in the last 2014 polls BJP got 42.3 per cent votes, while SP, BSP and RLD together polled 42.5 per cent votes. Considering the past figures and pooling of votes by the SP-BSP-RLD alliance it can be said that in the current election, BJP's tally in UP may drastically come down to 40 odd seats.
The BJP may lose 40 to 50 seats in Hindi heartland. It is expected to minimise this loss with new gains from states like West Bengal, Odisha, north-east India and from southern parts of the country. In this situation BJP's total tally will come down to about 240 seats in the current elections from 282 in 2014 polls.
The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by BJP will need co-opt other parties to get the magic figure of 272 to make Narendra Modi as prime minister. In such a case this is a possibility. Marketing of Modi image as a "strong man" who can protect country's sovereignty and disunity among the opposition forces has created a public perception that there can be no alternative to Modi. This situation is likely to favour his return as prime minister.
The writer is a senior columnist
based in Delhi, India
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