Exit Poll Results 2019: If predictions are true, they reinforce Narendra Modi's image as a leader whom Indians trust the most

Let’s start with a disclaimer. Exit polls are after all, exit polls, and they can go horribly wrong. It won’t be preposterous to suggest that the real result on 23 May might be completely, or partially different and Modi Wave 2.0 might not be a reality. Who knows, the BJP may yet fail to become the single-largest party, the mahagathbandhan in Uttar Pradesh may thwart and halve saffron tally and we may see a coalition government at the Centre. Stranger things have happened in politics. It is not easy in a country of this scale and diversity to get the complex numbers right.

 Exit Poll Results 2019: If predictions are true, they reinforce Narendra Modis image as a leader whom Indians trust the most

Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Kedarnath temple. Twitter/@BJP

That said, taken together, all exit polls and surveys may point towards a broad trend. Remember also that exit polls tend to deliberately underplay the projections for the winner to err on the side of caution. Therefore, while a reversal in numbers remains a theoretical possibility, a likely outcome could be BJP achieving even greater numbers than projected. I call this a “likely” and not a “theoretical” possibility because all exit polls have pointed towards a massive mandate for BJP and a second term for Narendra Modi. These polls are done by different agencies, they have different sample sizes and employ various methodologies. It is a little difficult to imagine that all of them could go horribly wrong.

One glance at the numbers suggests near total domination of the BJP. It would seem from these projections that the lone bulwark against another saffron sweep — the SP-BSP tie-up in Uttar Pradesh — has failed to work. According to My Axis-India Today exit poll that boasted of a sample size of 8 lakh, the BJP may end up winning a staggering 48 percent vote share in the state that sends 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha. This is quite close to the BJP’s stated aim of 50 percent vote share in Uttar Pradesh and may translate into 62-68 seats in the crucial Hindi heartland state. The Akhilesh-Mayawati-Ajit Singh alliance may settle for only 10-16 seats with 39 percent vote share, according to this survey. Priyanka Gandhi’s entry into the Uttar Pradesh may fail to halt the slide of the Congress that may get only eight percent votes.

It’s only ABP News-AC Nielsen survey that has predicted a big win for the SP-BSP-RLD alliance in Uttar Pradesh with 56 seats, reducing BJP’s number to 22 (it had won 71+2 in 2014). Most pollsters predict majority for BJP in Uttar Pradesh but its tally is shown to fluctuating between 65 to 33. This indicates that though BJP remains the frontrunner in UP, the gathbandhan’s chances cannot be ruled out.

So, the question is, if BJP’s numbers take a hit in UP (it could be a small quantum of 5-6 seats compared to 2014 or a clean half or even less) how does it square up with BJP’s projected overall tally of over 300? It is likely that BJP’s projected losses in Uttar Pradesh would be made up through its gains elsewhere, especially in the eastern seaboard states of West Bengal and Odisha where the BJP is expected to do quite well. In fact, so spectacular might be its gains in Mamata Banerjee’s West Bengal that sends 42 seats to the Parliament, that the BJP may be able to mitigate its losses in the Hindi heartland.

The overall result, therefore, looks quite pretty for the BJP. Today’s Chanakya Exit Poll predicts a landslide for Modi-led NDA with seats as against 70 seats for UPA. That’s a total decimation of the Opposition. Times Now-VMR projects 306 seats for NDA and 132 for Congress-led UPA. Republic-CVoter forecasts a tally of 287 for the NDA and 128 for UPA. The ABP-Nielsen gives NDA 277 (less but still enough to form a government) and 130 to UPA. India Today-Axis My India Exit Poll says NDA may get between 339 and 369 seats while the UPA may settle for 77 to 108 seats.

These numbers would be up for a challenge on Thursday, the day of counting, but assuming that all exit polls might not be completely misreading the picture or hatching a ‘grand conspiracy’, as Mamata Banerjee has suggested, we are likely to see Modi return for a second term.

This should immediately call for a new lexicon to define BJP’s popularity under Modi. Are we returning to the pre-coalition era when massive mandates for a single party was the norm? This is possibly a misleading interpretation. India’s open economy, high GDP growth, the rise of a neo-middle class, eradication of poverty and advancement of technology are big enablers that have given rise to new realities. India in 2019 is a more vibrant, ambitious and comparatively prosperous democracy than in the 1960s and 70s. The coalition era was the symbol of greater federalism in Indian Union, empowerment of the powerless and a shift in power equation from the Centre to the states.

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What may have happened to reverse this trend? The BJP won an absolute majority in 2014 (282) and five years later Modi is on the cusp of a greater mandate defying all rules of incumbency. What made this possible? While defining Modi’s popularity, analysts tend to follow two broad trends. One, that is critical of Modi, make him the beneficiary of a lacklustre Opposition. They claim that Modi had failed in various parameters during his tenure but is still the frontrunner because there is no one else. That may be partially true. The Opposition’s dichotomy is evident. The only pan-Indian party that may throw a challenge to the BJP is a shadow of itself, led by a fourth-generation dynast who seems ill-fitted for the job despite the tall claims made by the Congress ecosystem machinery.

The powerful chieftains who may rival Modi in the mass appeal are hemmed in by geography. But to attribute Modi’s success — which if the exit poll numbers hold would be quite astounding — to lack of alternative among the Opposition is a cynical interpretation that seeks to downplay Modi’s strengths.

The other set of analysts tend to portray Modi as a strong leader capable of taking tough decisions, a tireless worker, an excellent communicator who has turned the aspirational middle class into his permanent vote bank and has extended appeal among the poor with wide-ranging welfare schemes with excellent ‘last-mile delivery’ mechanism. For Modi’s core voters, he is a Hindutva icon who offers an alternative reading of the idea of India, triggering Hindu nationalism as the bulwark of a new Hindu awakening and establishing true secularism in a country that draws inspiration not from imported ideas but its own civilisational past.

It seems likely that Modi’s popularity — that far outstrips that of his party — is a combination of these factors and another phenomenon that is readily overlooked. Modi enjoys a huge amount of trust among the electorate. Conducted in April this year, Firstpost Trust Survey pointed towards this phenomenon. At that time, Modi had quadrupled his ‘trust’ factor over Rahul Gandhi, his nearest competitor.

The problem with ‘trust’ as a measure of a leader’s popularity is that it does not easily lend itself to metrics that may be analysed. Yet, downplaying this factor leaves large gaps in analyses. Many analysts are confounded how Modi, despite the lack of well-paying jobs, rural distress, stuttering economy and teething issues over Demonetisation and GST manages to hold on to, and even increase his popularity.

The often-overlooked reason is trust, which allows Modi more leeway among the electorate compared to his peers. This trust factor also enables Modi to make mistakes and get away relatively lightly, because the masses interpret his mistakes as those committed by an individual who is dedicated in his work and is at least trying to do something for the nation instead of just plotting for power or enjoying its perks.

This ‘trust’ factor has not been achieved in a day. Through innovative communicative strategies — such as Mann Ki Baat or Pariksha Pe Charcha — that are apparently apolitical but serve to underline his credentials as a leader who towers above his peers, Modi has broad-based his appeal and drove it deeper than any political leader or PR agency have thought it possible. What we see now is a reflection of that creativity.

It was arrogant of Rahul to have uttered that he has successfully “dismantled” Modi’s image. Repeating ‘chowkidar chor hai’ is not enough to “dismantle the image” of a leader who enjoys high degree of trust among voters. When the prime minister said recently that his image is the result of 45 years of tapasya (meditation), he wasn’t indulging in mere rhetoric.


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Updated Date: May 20, 2019 15:48:09 IST