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  • 2019 Polls: There are no early favourites

    Posted On February 3, 2019

    By Karan Thapar

    Is the opposition reviving or is that just exaggeration and wishful thinking? A series of polls around Republic Day point towards three outcomes: first, the BJP will fall substantially below 272; second, even the NDA will fall short of a majority; and, third, the Congress will cross a hundred but the BJP will be the single biggest party by far. Last weekend, Akali Dal MP and BJP ally, Naresh Gujral, told me on television that no party will cross 200 and the BJP might peak at 180-190. The NDA, he said, would stop at 230.

    At first glance, the odds are stacked against the BJP. It’s already been defeated in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, its lost allies in Bihar and Andhra and upset others in UP, Maharashtra and the North East. On top of that, farmers, students, dalits and muslims are annoyed and it faces a formidable Samajwadi – Bahujan Samaj Party alliance in UP. Put like that things don’t look good.

    The opposition, however, has serious problems of its own. It remains 22 different parties with 22 different leaders and 22 different ambitions. In states like UP, Bengal, Andhra and Kerala they are opponents rather than allies. They may hold grand mahagathbandhan rallies but often fracture at the point of seat-sharing. That’s already happened in UP and Andhra and there are reports of problems in Bihar.

    The BJP, of course, is in power and has the capacity to tackle the concerns affecting its image. The decision to give 10 per cent reservations to the economically weaker sections of the upper castes will certainly appeal to the brahmins if not more widely. The farmer income scheme, pension scheme and tax rebates announced in the budget could appeal to another 25 crore. The only issue is have these steps been taken too late to make a difference?

    In these circumstances, Priyanka Gandhi’s entry into politics will no doubt galvanize the Congress party but could it also weaken the opposition as a whole? If a stronger Congress in UP attracts muslim votes, which otherwise would have gone to SP-BSP, the outcome could split the anti-BJP vote. Only if there’s a strategic understanding between the SP-BSP alliance and Congress, so they don’t undercut each other, will the opposition gain. In that event the BJP could face a double whammy: losing dalit and OBC votes to SP-BSP and brahmin votes to Congress.

    Finally, after the budget will Rahul Gandhi’s promise of a minimum guarantee for the poor still resonate? If it does it could be a winner.

    Now the BJP hopes to make up for what it loses in the hindi-belt with gains in the North East, Bengal and Orissa. No doubt its 2019 performance in the latter two states will be better than 2014. But in the North East the widespread and continuing protests against the Citizenship Amendment Bill and the possibility the NDA itself could fracture spells bad news.

    A lot will depend on Narendra Modi’s campaign. He’s an unparalled orator and tireless at the hustings. Can he swing the election? Or do the recent state election results suggest the Modi magic has diminished? Because the opposition has no one of equal skill or stature and Modi is still the most popular politician in the country, if the election becomes presidential the BJP could surge ahead.

    So what’s my conclusion? Last week’s polls are suggestive but not convincing. A definitive answer to my opening question is likely to elude us till the results are formally announced.

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