Siddharth Varadarajan

Journalist | Writer | Analyst

Can the BJP and its allies cross 272?

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The BJP and its allies at 275?

NDTV, April 15, 2014

Siddharth Varadarajan

The latest edition of NDTV’s opinion poll shows the Bharatiya Janata Party under Narendra Modi heading towards a commanding position in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections with the National Democratic Alliance that it leads set to cross the half-way mark of 272 with three seats to spare.
 
We are, of course, still approximately a month away from the final round of voting and the situation on the ground in many key states, especially Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra, which together account for 238 seats, is likely to shift further in ways that could bring cheer – or tension – to the principal contenders for power at the Centre. 

As the BJP consolidates its hold as the front-runner, the process of coalition building is also gathering momentum.

Even before NDTV began its series of opinion polls, it was clear that we could divide all states into three categories.
 
Category I: States where the direction and scale of the outcome was predictable:
 
Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh: BJP sweeps
West Bengal: A sweep for Mamta Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress
Odisha: A sweep for Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal
 
Category II: States where direction was predictable but not the scale:
 
Kerala: A swing towards the Left and away from the Congress-led UDF in Kerala
Bihar: A swing towards the BJP and the RJD-Congress combine and away from Nitish Kumar’s JDU
Punjab, Haryana: A swing towards the BJP-led NDA
Karnataka: A swing away from the BJP and towards the Congress
Assam: Congress holds on to its dominant position
Tamil Nadu: A swing towards Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK
Delhi: A swing away from Congress and towards the AAP and BJP
 
Category III: States where the multi-cornered nature of the contest made it difficult to predict both the direction and scale.
 
Uttar Pradesh: A robust four-cornered fight between the BJP, Congress, Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party. Ajit Singh’s RLD, which had fought the 2009 elections in alliance with the BJP, is now with the Congress. The entry of AAP in key seats added another layer of unpredictability, as did the fact that theMuzaffarnagar communal violence had vitiated the atmosphere and made Muslims insecure not just in the western region but across the entire state.
 
Maharashtra: The Congress-NCP alliance was known to be facing ‘double anti-incumbency’ at both the Central and state level but the big question was: would the BJP-Shiv Sena combine be able to overcome the impact of Raj Thackeray’s MNS, whose performance cost the NDA at least 8 seats in 2009?
 
Andhra Pradesh: The decimation of the Congress, which won 33 out of undivided Andhra’s 42 seats in 2009, was expected in Seemandhra but would the benefit accrue to Jagan Reddy’s YSR Congress or to Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party? And in Telangana, it was not clear how seats would be apportioned between the Congress and K Chandrasekhar Rao’s Telangana Rashtriya Samiti.
 
NDTV’s latest nationwide opinion poll is along expected lines for all of the Category I states except Odisha, where the BJP is shown as winning as many as 7 out of 21 seats. Where earlier polls were giving Naveen Patnaik as many as 17, the implosion of the Congress and perhaps the absence of a strategist like Pyarimohan Mohapatra appears to have weakened the BJD’s defences against the BJP and its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.
 
Among the Category II states, the picture is somewhat clearer, although not entirely. The Congress appears broadly to be holding its own in Punjab, perhaps thanks to the unpopularity of the Shiroman Akali Dal-led state government and also the entry of AAP, which is taking votes from all sides. In Haryana, the NDTV poll gives the NDA a sweep, especially considering the declaration Om Prakash Chautala’s INLD has made that they are ready to back Modi as Prime Minister. 

Delhi is shown now firmly in BJP’s pocket though I suspect the survey, which was held more than a week before voting, has underestimated AAP, many of whose Muslim voters likely took their decision to abandon the Congress at the very last minute.
 
The situation in two of the Category-II states remains fluid: Bihar and Karnataka. The survey suggests the BJP is gaining ground in the former and Congress in the latter. Modi has strongly campaigned in both states. The NDA’s vote share in Bihar (i.e. BJP+JDU) in 2009 was 38 per cent and it won 32 seats. Today, the NDTV poll gives the BJP a vote share of 35 per cent while the JDU is getting 21 per cent and the Congress-RJD alliance 28 per cent. How this three-cornered race converts into seats is anyone’s guess. The poll predicts a rout for Nitish and 24 seats for the BJP, which is certainly consistent with the vote share lead the saffron party has, but a lot will depend on local factors too.
 
In Karnataka, the return of BS Yeddyurappa does not appear to have given the BJP the edge it was hoping for, despite the former Chief Minister’s strong showing as a third party in the 2013 assembly elections. Analysts on the ground expect the BJP’s support in the state to shrink further come results day.
 
Turning to Category-III states, the NDTV poll gives the BJP/NDA a clean sweep in all three races — as many as 106 seats out of 170 — and this, in turns, gives the Modi campaign the crucial boost it needs to cross the 272 mark in the Lok Sabha.
 
What explains this swing towards the NDA and how robust is the prediction?
 
In Seemandhra, the TDP is benefiting from its tie-up with the BJP and this is allowing the NDA to steal a march over Jagan’s YSRC. Jagan is also battling the perception that a vote for his party would be “a vote for the Congress”, a party reviled in the rump state for pushing ahead with the creation of Telanagana in such an opportunistic manner. It is in order to counter this perception that Jagan has loudly declared that he would be happy to support Modi as PM. In Telangana, the Congress’s failure to seal an alliance with the TRS has proved fatal to its chances of at least sweeping most of the region’s 17 seats.
 
Maharashtra’s swing towards the NDA is not surprising because smart alliance building with the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana of Raju Shetty and the Ramdas Athavale RPI has given the BJP-SS combine an even more decisive edge. The MNS may have cost the NDA many urban regions, including Mumbai, in 2009, but the ‘Modi factor’ will give the alliance enough of a bounce to counter that effect this time around. What we don’t know, however, is the impact AAP will have in the state. Polls suggest the fledgling party is garnering around 5 per cent of the popular vote statewide. If these votes are concentrated in urban areas, could they tilt the balance one way or the other in what are already multi-cornered contests?
 
Uttar Pradesh, of course, remains the biggest enigma. True, the NDTV survey shows the BJP winning more than 50 seats on the basis of a 38 per cent vote share. But opinion polls have always tended to underestimate the performance of the BSP and the SP. The choice of candidates and the constituency-level interplay between national politics and local factors, including personalities and caste allegiances, have complicated the mix further. 

The BSP, for example, has fielded a large number of Muslim and Brahmin candidates and this will have its own impact. Attempts to communalise the campaign by BJP and SP leaders like Amit Shah and Azam Khan are also likely to affect voter behaviour. As long as the Modi campaign was confined to promising development, it was easy for fence-sitters to cross over to his side. But if there is a chance of communal polarization increasing, many Hindu voters may think twice about pressing the ‘kamal’ button while Muslim voters will almost certainly vote strategically in different constituencies to try and ensure the defeat of the BJP. This means the fate of UP will likely only be settled on the last day of polling – May 12 – and that opinion poll predictions for India’s largest state are perhaps best to be taken with a pinch of salt. 

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9 comments on “Can the BJP and its allies cross 272?

  1. dason
    April 23, 2014

    I’m sad that AAP is nowhere in the picture. I hope there are lots of surprises.

  2. Tushar Patel
    April 21, 2014

    Good analysis.

    I made another analysis.

    AAP fielded more then 30 muslim candidates.

    Uttarpradesh they field 14 muslim candidates.

    12 seats in uttarpradesh where 2 or more muslim candidates contest by AAP,cong,SP,BSP.

    In bihar 4 muslim candidates by AAP.

  3. Ajit
    April 18, 2014

    You ignore the most obvious reason not to take this opinion poll by NDTV seriously. Simply put, they have no credibility whatsoever.

    Just check the opinion polls they did in 2004 and 2009. They always, always overstate BJP’s chances.

    What else one can expect from a corporate media outlet only concerned with profits and their own place among establishment. Their star journalist was caught in bed with Nira Radia.

    Like a broken clock getting it twice right in a day , I am sure they pray they get it right this time. Maybe it can even happen. But there is no excuse for ignoring their track record when it comes to polls.

  4. AB
    April 17, 2014

    Dear Mr. Vardarajan,
    Thank you for your frank analysis here. I wish you could have got more than a word in edgewise on TV. A few of my observations to supplement your excellent ones, and the ones from your comments so far.

    1) While I do not set much store with opinion polls, because they have enough sampling bias and a difficult conversion of polls to seats, I do believe that they are, more or less, a correct predictor of the trends. This has been betrayed by the last two general elections, when the Congress gained significant momentum in the campaign and came back to emphatically trounce the BJP. That trend seems to be favouring the BJP right now.

    2) I agree that the final picture presented by NDTV is rather inflated. I feel that the swing towards the Congress in Karnataka will gather further momentum, and the BJP might end up with ten seats or less there. Also, a back of the envelope calculation for the constituencies in UP and their local conditions shows me that BJP would probably need a further mobilisation of vote in its favour to get to the 50 seat mark. This is no 1999, when the SP was in its infancy and the BSP was more of a local player. I would be extremely surprised if the BJP managed to go past 45, they would probably end up with ten less.

    3) The high voting in Assam (and in general) has been surprising. This might betray some degree of anti-incumbency, and the Congress’ citadel there might not be so secure. Your latest poll showed that BJP is picking up (I’m guessing this is most of AGP’s residual vote) and I feel this trend continued into the poll booths. On a side-note, while your coverage of Assam in these polls focused on the fall of the AGP, I wonder how Mr. Ajmal’s AIUDF is doing.

    4) The decision not to ally with TRS and the DMK will cost the Congress dear. They are bound to lose out on at least twenty to thirty seats because of this critical error.

    5) Lastly, I would question the timing of the poll. While it abided with the EC and Supreme Court’s directive in letter, it did not in spirit. If there is anything that is sure, it is the fact that the undecided voter loves to jump on the winning horse and showing this figure of 275 sends a strong symbolic message. I wonder how the observers might have ended up impacting the system they were observing.

    I cannot wait for post-polls coverage. This is going to be interesting.

    Thanks again for your analysis,

    – AB

  5. rabindra
    April 16, 2014

    Though its clear that BJP will be the largest party after polls, its very tough for them to reach 275. It seems the channels are starting to dance to the tunes of ‘bureau chief’ Jaitley to face the eventuality of modi government…

  6. Pranay Krishna
    April 16, 2014

    With a significant number of seats in Orissa and Maharashtra going to polls tommorow, an opinion poll (coming just 72 hours before) hiking the NDA tally substantially compared to that of last month in both these states raises a lot of doubt. In all probability the next opinion poll shall hike the all India figure to 300 plus for NDA. Beware of the opinion polls!

  7. Noor Ahmed Sheriff.
    April 16, 2014

    I personally think NDTV have got it right. A couple of points: 1)In UP I think the Muslim vote is getting divided between the three parties. 2)Mayawati may set up Muslim candidates. But my experience is tthat Muslims dont consider voting for a Muslim unless their is a gurantee of a clear victory. Else they look for the strongest pole to defeat the BJP. 3)In Bihar it is getting divided between Laloo and Nitish. 4)In Maharashtra the 5% of vote that AAP is expected to garner is most probably the “Secular” Vote. 5)In Telengana I guess Congress will be able to get a major chunk once the Muslim consolidation happens.
    I also wanted to bring forth the following observations. 1)I agree with you that Nitish read Laloo s ascendancy correctly. But he should taken the following two steps: a)Appoint Sharad Yadav as the Deputy CM to garner some Yadav votes.b)Stuck an alliance with Congress to ensure that his fight against Modi got a national outlook. 2)Congress should have stuck an pre-poll alliance with SP to consolidate OBC, Part of the SC votes, and the perennial Muslim vote.
    But this election is the worst for Muslims. There is no talk of development because of the “demon” on the horizon. Though I have never been a “practicing” Muslim, I can sense the fear creeping. Thankfully in Karnataka, due to the AAP campaign never hitting critical mass, the option for Muslims is the same old Congress and that is proving a bit of silver lining for the “Secular” Congress.

  8. Pluto
    April 15, 2014

    Excellent analysis Siddarth…. And from what we know large chunk of voters decide on who to vote in the last 2-3 days. And the sample size of 24,000 citizens (all may not even vote) is too small a size to convincingly determine the pattern of the voters. BJP will end being the largest party, but NDA getting absolute majority is beyond anybody’s widest imagination, I am sure including Modi’s.

  9. amit bhandari
    April 15, 2014

    excellent analysis, just want to add that their overconfidence in d shape of arrogance and their personal attacks is not a good news for the bjp! modi’s recent attack on Rahul, calling jogi a cripple and swamy’s personal attacks on priyanka and others are sending wrong signals even to those who may have decided not to vote congress this time. Secondly i think their campaign has peaked to early, now they have nothing much to say, the speeches are getting repetitive and personal. bhakts are getting restless and intolerant. any comment against modi sir is hurled with abuses and hate messages. let’s wait for the final result. till then good luck to you .

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