Elections concluded on Sunday in India after seven phases of voting over six weeks. The voting process was stretched over this period to allow for movement of election and security personnel across this vast country. Counting of ballots is on Thursday. But based on exit polls and this writer’s own assessment of his discussions with voters, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi will return to government for another term. The BJP led an alliance of 41 parties called the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) while the main opposition Congress party led an alliance of 36 parties called the Congress (INC) led the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). Rahul Gandhi has been projected as the alliance PM candidate. But this is not going to be a reality. Modi, who is leader of NDA, will remain for another term as PM. Modi is extremely popular in India – the most popular political figure in the country and people want him to serve another term. His NDA is reliably expected to clear a majority.
Every exit poll of some 15 that were conducted on the outcome of the election, put the NDA ahead of the UPA almost two to one. The polls put the BJP/NDA as winning between 245 and 369 seats – a wide distribution. In India, exit polls are not very reliable. The poll showing NDA winning 369 seats could be way off though its outcome is not impossible. The poll showing NDA getting only 245 seats – 27 short of a majority -- also does not reflect reality on the ground based on this writer’s findings traveling around India and polling voters.
Photo : Dr. Vishnu Bisram
Some 917 million voters were eligible to cast ballots, but only about 65 percent actually voted or around 600 million – the largest voting exercise in history. The counting of ballots takes place quickly. Within two hours, the results are known unlike in Guyana where it takes at least two days “to count” less than 600 ballots per polling booth. Gecom should consider hiring some election workers from India to help with counting and honesty in managing elections.
There has been keen interest in the India elections by people from Guyana and the wider Caribbean and their diasporas. Several individuals from Trinidad, Guyana, Surinam, Jamaica, Holland, and UK were contacting me over the last month, while I was in India, on Modi’s chances of re-election. Clearly, they support Modi. I told them not to worry Modi would return as PM though exact number of seats were uncertain. Everywhere I traveled, it was a Modi wave except in rural areas in UP and in the slum areas of the major cities where the poor is divided in their support for BJP and other parties. The middle and upper classes were solidly with BJP.
It is very difficult to make sense of the wide distribution and differences in the exit polls in India. There should have been some consistency across all of them with closer differences in numbers. One commonality among all of the exit polls is the BJP and its alliance partners will form the government and Modi will return as PM. To this point, there is no disagreement.
But the opposition Congress party and its partners dispute this conclusion. The Chair of the UPA, Sonia Gandhi, has invited leaders of her alliance and others to a dinner on May 23 for a discussion on selecting its Prime Ministerial candidate and government formation. There will not be a Prime Minister from the opposition or from “a third front”, an idea that was floated a week ago. Modi will return as PM and his alliance will win a majority. Those running around like a headless chicken promoting an ambition to be PM will be disappointed when the results are announced on May 23.
I traveled around several states and from the trends I picked up, BJP would lose seats in the key states of Uttar Pradesh (from where most Guyanese trace roots), Rajasthan, Chattisgarh, and Punjab but make gains in other states that will more than balance off losses. The Congress won state elections with alliance partners in four states last year. There has been simmering discontent in all four states. Congress would see reversal in all of those states in general election results that could lead to unrest among its elected members and the toppling of at least two of its coalition governments.
The election was a referendum on Modi and he has beaten back critics. He was struggling early in the year to win an election when I was in India in January. But his decision to carry out surgical strikes by Indian air force against terror camps deep inside in Pakistan in February closed the deal for him. Almost every Indian supported the strike and praised Modi. Indians are concerned about national security. There is rising nationalism as India becomes wealthy with Indians wanting a leader to project India’s military power.
As I indicated in a previous write up, the BJP will win a minimum 269 seats (possibly much more) and alliance around 40 (if not more) for a minimum total of 309 and (possibly more). Only 272 seats are needed for government formation. Last time BJP won 282 and the alliance 54 seats for a total of 336. Over the last couple years, alliance partners fell out with BJP and linked up with Congress and new partners joined BJP; new partners boosted BJP’s chances. In addition, there are three parties in south India (TRS, YSR, AIADMK, etc.) not partnering with BJP, but will support the NDA and that is expected to win around 47 seats.
There is no threat to Modi returning as the PM.