NDA running ahead but nowhere near majority

Opinion polls predicting poor Congress performance

By Harihar Swarup

Now that the stage is set for the world’s largest democracy to go to polls in April-May 2014, many questions come to the fore. What sort of government people will elect? Will BJP-led NDA or the Congress-led UPA form the government at centre? What will be role of Arvind Kejriwal-led, Aam Aadmi Party? What, however, appears certain is that no party is getting a clear majority.

Popularity of the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, which rose like a meteor, has been dipping at a fast rate but that of the NDA is still ascending. In January, 36 per cent of respondents had chosen Modi as their preferred Prime Minister. The figure is now down to 31 per cent. The reason for decline in Modi’s popularity graph is said to be rise of Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party, which swayed away voters not only in Delhi and its hold has been increasing in entire north India. The APP is also extending its areas of influence down south.

In an election where people are talking of ‘Modi Wave’, the most optimistic predictions for the BJP are in the range of 200-220; nowhere close to majority. According to conservative estimates, the other major national party-the Congress- may end up with 150 seats. Little wonder, then, that who forms the government at the centre would have to depend on number of seats won by regional parties. With this, the count down for the 16th Lok Sabha election, has begun — one that many see the most exciting and unpredictable polls in a long time.

The AAP is the only party in this election to have declared that it will not form alliances with any other political outfit. Yet, it may have a significant role to play in determining who forms the next government in New Delhi. Opinion polls so far have suggested that the party will not only do very well in Delhi, where it first announced its presence as a political force to be reckoned with, but have an impact on other states too, particularly in urban areas.

The poll surveys indicate that it could even win some seats in other parts of the country, including the National Capital Region and Mumbai. More importantly, it could play spoiler, though at whose cost, is not quite clear. Some of the poll estimates that its pan-India vote share will be higher than any other party other than BJP and Congress. That would be a dream debut for the AAP but nightmare for other parties.

In poll scenario one — the BJP gets 200 plus seats and with allies between 200- 225. In Scenario two; BJP gets between 160 to 180 seats and with allies between 200 to 250. In scenario three — BJP gets between 140 to 160 seats and with allies between 165 to185.

In scenario one, given BJP’s gravitational pulls, it may enlarge pool of likely allies. In scenario two, the BJP needs to cut deals with regional bosses like Naveen Patnaik, Mamata Banerjee and Jayalalithaa. And, in scenario three, BJP finds very difficult to muster majority with close to a hundred MPs or more needed to get majority. In this event, Modi’s PM dream won’t be fulfilled.

Now let us have a look at poll scenario for Congress. In scenario one, it may get 150 plus seats and with allies between 175 to 180. If Congress can arrest its slide from the 206 seats, it won in 2009 at about 150, it will have pulled off a major feat. In scenario two it may win between 120 to 135 seats and with allies between 140 to 165. This will eliminate Congress’s chances of forming even a weak coalition. Its options may be limited to supporting a Third Front. In scenario three, Congress gets between 110 to 120 seats and with allies between 130 to 140. This will take Congress back to its 1999 tally of 114 and the party may spend a longish period in opposition.

In the Third Front or Federal Front, there are many Prime Ministerial aspirants who cannot get well with each other. For instance, Mamata Banerjee and Prakash Karat of the CPI-M cannot get together and are not on talking terms. Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa have been arch rivals and cannot sit on the same table. Mulayam and Mayawati hate each other. Who will then become the Prime Minister in the event of Third Front forming the government? It is a distant dream. Third Front or Federal Front or Regional Front, call it what you like; it pops up on the eve of every general election but disappears as fast as it was constituted.

In 2009, the perception that a chaotic Third Front could come to office was seen to actually work in favour of the Congress party. Fear of a patch up coalition that cannot agree on a common agenda for governance pushed some of floating vote towards Congress. This time, such a concern may benefit BJP more than the Congress.

Coming election is biggest India has ever witnessed. With 81 crore voters and 11 million personnel conducting the polls at 9.36 lakh polling stations, using 1.4 million EVMs, the Indian electorate is considered the biggest such event in the World. This is a management event that expects zero error and 100 per cent success. For the Election Commission, a 60 per cent successful election, or even 80 or 90 per cent success, is not an option.

The EC is now a very experienced institution, with a well-oiled machinery. Its foremost concern every time is, of course, a peaceful poll. The safety of voters, of polling staff and even of security forces is always an overriding concern. (IPA Service)