Despite BJP edge over Cong, both NDA and UPA are conjectures
Opinion polls show the BJP and the NDA ahead of the Congress and UPA. But it is the regional parties that are likely to make the biggest gains. NDA and UPA are post-poll creatures
If the ABP News-AC Nielsen survey is to be believed, the NDA will pack off the UPA if elections were to be held right now. Among other things, the survey, which polled over 33,000 voters in 152 parliamentary constituencies in early May, shows the NDA vote marginally ahead at 27 percent against the UPA’s 26 percent.
A seat projection based on these numbers would give the NDA 206 seats, while the UPA will trail at 136. The regional parties and the Left will get 167 – leaving the rest to independents, et al.
For those in the NDA who may be rubbing their hands in anticipation of power, here’s a sobering thought: the polls do show the BJP in better light than the Congress, but the biggest chunk of the popular vote will go to parties other than the Big Two – some 47 percent of the vote goes to regional parties and the Left.
The real vote is thus against the Congress and marginally in favour of the BJP, with the BJP benefiting from the shift of Congress voters away from the party. But of the 26 percent of former Congress voters moving away this time, the BJP gets just 9 percent while the rest get 19 percent. The regional parties are gaining.
This is the untold story of the polls - about the relative weakness of the Big Two.
Among voters wanting to vote for the Big Two, 31 percent prefer BJP and 20 percent Congress. But the Big Two are clearly garnering only half the voter base – indicating that the national parties are losing steam to the regionals.
The real conclusions one can draw from this survey are this:
One, it is pointless to talk about an NDA vote and a UPA vote, since both fronts will effectively be driven by post-election numbers. The BJP’s only all-weather ally is the Akali Dal, with Shiv Sena probably another likely partner. But there is still the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena of Raj Thackeray to contend with, and hence even in Maharashtra, the NDA is a work-in-progress. In Bihar, Nitish Kumar is drifting away. So there is no real NDA.
As for UPA, only the National Conference in J&K, the DMK, the Kerala allies, and the RLD in Uttar Pradesh look like settled partners. But don’t be sure even here. Ajit Singh of RLD is the chameleon of the century. The DMK may well be decimated. The rest of the Congress’ current allies will be election rivals who may come along for the numbers game post-elections.
Two, given the strong 64:36 skew of respondents among males and females, we have to treat the seat projections as iffy – especially if the ratio changes between now and election time.
Three, the 31-20 ratio of voter intentions favouring BJP or Congress suggests that the national parties could, or should, risk going it alone in some places. When national parties go with allies, the anti-incumbency vote may go either to the national party or its ally – depending on who the voters are voting against. For example, in Tamil Nadu, if the mood is anti-DMK, the Congress may benefit from creating an alliance excluding the DMK. In Bihar, the jury is out on what will happen if the BJP and JD(U) part ways. One can’t be sure if the two parties’ vote share will rise or fall, even though seat shares may fall. 2014 may be ideal for trying out new partners and ideas since alliances will be formed only post-polls.
Four, the one point on which there is clarity is the strong continuing preference for Narendra Modi as PM; he turns out to be a clear favourite with 36 percent backing him versus 13 percent Rahul Gandhi, and 12 percent for Manmohan Singh. Singh is clearly the surprise package here, indicating that his name is not yet mud with many voters. This would suggest that the BJP will squander its chances if it continues to encourage its factions and presents a divided house.
Five, what the polls don’t tell us is what would happen if Modi were really the PM candidate of the BJP – for in that case one could expect a lot of tactical voting by sections of the minorities, and counter-tactical voting by the rest.
The bottomline: we’ve miles to go before the next elections, and the numbers are only indicative of voter disenchantment with the Congress.
But the overall results are wide open – especially given the huge vote shares of the regional parties.
This election is the BJP’s to lose – but it is the regional parties that will hold the aces.
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