There will always be sharp differences of opinion over the veracity of exit polls and, for that matter, exit polls. In view of the erratic track record of such polls there will always be those who are inclined to dismiss their projected outcome as erroneous. This temptation will be even more marked if the polls go against what politicians want the results to be, rather than what will be. TV channels don’t make matters easier by often pretending that their exit poll constitutes the last word on the subject and equating it — at least for a few days — with the eventual outcome. The media, in fact, feeds on an impression that exit polls are a huge Tamasha.
As things stand over this weekend, the outcome of the exit polls don’t seem to augur too well for the BJP. No doubt there are mixed outcomes forecast from Chhattisgarh, always a very difficult state to predict, and Madhya Pradesh. Many of the polls forecast either a hung Assembly or an outright Congress victory. They balance those exit polls that see the BJP returning to power in both Raipur and Bhopal.
In the case of Rajasthan, the exit polls seem unanimous that the see-saw pattern of politics will see the exit of Vasundhara Raje and her replacement by a Congress Chief Minister. In short, it would appear that the recurrent whisper of a late swing back to the BJP may well turn out to be illusory.
It is best to leave the state-wise post-mortem to the afternoon of December 11 when the actual results will be known. However, there is no mistaking the fact that the stalwarts of the ruling party and, indeed, the Narendra Modi government will be spending this weekend in a state of utmost anxiety.
It is still too early to enter into the realms of speculation but what seems certain is that in the event the outcome is unfavourable to the BJP — this, in effect, means that the party loses another state apart from Rajasthan, where a defeat was always factored in — here will be some explanations in order. For a start, there will be a temptation to attribute the setbacks to local anti-incumbency. The sub-text will imply that the outcome of the Assembly polls will not necessarily be replicated in the general election of April-May 2019.
In the event the results show a marked revival of the Congress, a party which had grown accustomed to adversity since 2014, there will be an equal temptation to see the results as indicative of a national trend. For the Congress, the most important issue is the successful projection of Rahul Gandhi as the next Prime Minister of India. To this end, any Congress revival will be attributed to the inspirational leadership provided by Rahul. The contribution of local stalwarts be it Kamal Nath in Madhya Pradesh and Sachin Pilot will be discounted. If, on the other hand, these local leaders fail to push the Congress beyond the majority mar, they will be tarred with the brush of failure.
Success will always belong to Rahul Gandhi and failure to the lesser leaders.
There is no point trying to argue with the Congress ecosystem that such a version of events doesn’t always correspond to reality. There are some conclusions that are carved in stone and the infallibility of the First Family is on top of the list.
That apart, however, a good performance by the Congress will introduce additional dimensions to Opposition politics.
First, and most important, it will persuade the Opposition that the BJP’s election machine, formidable as it undeniably is, can be stopped. This will be an important input in terms of morale of workers and the future funding of elections are concerned. Secondly, if the Congress does well in the five State Assembly elections, it will clearly establish the party as the natural leader of any anti-Modi Grand Alliance. This naturally means that schemes such as the Federal Front of regional parties will have to reassess their general election strategies. Whether this will be a natural process or will be marked by horrible complications will be worth observing.
How will adversity affect the BJP? The answers are likely to be a little less unsettling. Modi believes, as does the rest of the party, that the next general election will be fought on the performance of the Government since 2014 and the leadership qualities of the Prime Minister. That approach will not change regardless of the results on Monday. What could witness some fine-tuning is the quantum of Hindu issues which are injected only to galvanise the committed voters. In short, there is likely to be less volatility in the BJP after the present round of Assembly elections. No one is likely to demand Amit Shah’s head for failing and they won’t elevate him further if he pulls it off again. At best, in the event she fails horribly, the position of Vasundhara Raje in state politics may warrant a review.
What could cause complications, however, is if alliance partners decide to review their positions. That will be a big imponderable.
However, all political reactions can’t always be anticipated. There is a likely scenario resulting from a reading of exit polls and a real scenario post-results. Both don’t necessarily follow the same script. Like cricket, politics is also riddled with glorious uncertainties.