The exit polls that released their survey results at the end of the final phase of polling in Gujarat on Thursday evening predicted that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was set to retain Gujarat and wrest Himachal Pradesh from the Congress.
The turnout in the second phase, covering 93 seats, which is likely to be revised, was 68.70 per cent, nearly 4 percentage points lower than in the 2012 assembly polls.
In the first phase of the elections on December 9, covering 89 seats, the voter turnout was 66.75 per cent. In the 2012 elections, the overall turnout was 71.32 per cent for all the 182 seats.
The low turnout came as a morale buster for the Congress. The conventional election wisdom associates higher turnouts with anti-incumbency, and a vote against the incumbent government. The counting of votes is on December 18.
While survey agencies differed in their seat projections, nearly all predicted almost 100 or more seats for the BJP, with the party set to extend its 22-year rule in the state. Survey agencies also said the election, in the last phases, was focused on the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and overcame the brewing anti-incumbency against the Vijay Rupani government and dissipated the anger that sections of Gujarati society had felt about specific local issues.
The exit polls came on the eve of the start of the winter session of Parliament, and amid Congress allegations that Prime Minister Narendra Modi violated the Election Commission’s model code of conduct as he led a “road show” after casting his vote in Gandhinagar on Thursday afternoon. The Congress also alleged that Central Election Commissioner A K Joti was favouring the BJP and acting like a “puppet” of the government. Opposition leaders held a meeting in Parliament to chalk out their strategy for the winter session, and said they would raise the issue of the role of the Commission during the session.
The BJP said the Congress was looking for excuses before its impending defeat in the Gujarat polls. A party delegation, which included Cabinet ministers Nirmala Sitharaman, Ravi Shankar Prasad, and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, also met the Commission to refute the charges of the Congress against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other leaders. Though the delegation members did not speak to the media on record, sources said they submitted a memorandum, in which they accused the opposition party of misleading the poll watchdog and called the attack on it “unfortunate”.
At an all-party meeting, the PM sought the cooperation of the opposition parties to evolve a consensus on holding simultaneous Lok Sabha and assembly polls. The government is expected to table 25 pending and 14 new Bills, including a Bill providing the Muslim women the right to seek maintenance in the case of triple talaq.
The Opposition said it would raise issues of federalism, slow economic growth, lack of job generation, farm distress, and Aadhaar.
BJP spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao launched a sharp attack on the Congress, saying its “dynastic arrogance” was on display in its attack on the Commission.
The party should find better excuses for its “impending defeat”, he said and deprecated “verbal abuse” by the Congress. The Congress was upset because the Commission dared to serve notice to “King Rahul”, Rao said.
On Wednesday, the Commission had ordered registering FIRs against the television channels that showed an interview of Congress President-elect Rahul Gandhi, and also served a show cause notice on him for allegedly violating the model code of conduct.
All survey agencies, barring ABP-CSDS, predicted a sweep for the BJP in Himachal Pradesh, where the elections were held on November 9. The ABP-CSDS survey predicted a BJP victory, with the Congress running it close in the 68-member assembly. However, survey agencies differed in their predictions for Gujarat.
Axis-India Today, VMR Associates and Nirmana TV predicted the BJP might fall short of its 2012 tally of 115 seats, but could still win nearly 110. However, VDP Associates and Today’s Chanakya predicted a BJP sweep. Today’s Chanakya said the BJP could win as many as 135 seats (with an error margin of 11 seats), while VDP Associates gave the party up to 140 of the 182 seats in the state.
The ABP-CSDS exit poll, which in its last opinion poll had predicted a photo finish with both the BJP and Congress likely to get a 43 per cent vote share, said the whirlwind campaigning by Prime Minister Narendra Modi turned the tide conclusively in the BJP’s favour.
Swaraj Abhiyan leader Yogendra Yadav, who on Wednesday said that basing himself on the ABP-CSDS survey he had sensed a BJP defeat in Gujarat, on Thursday said he was “surprised” at the exit poll results. “But I have no reason to disbelieve all exit polls since they all point in the same direction. It seems clear that the BJP enjoys an edge in Gujarat,” Yadav said.
Rao said recent exit polls had not been able to gauge the extent of victory for the BJP though they could get the trends right. He said Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and the 2014 Lok Sabha polls were examples of this underassessment. “We expect the BJP victory to be bigger than what is projected in the exit polls,” he said.
The Congress, which believes it had fought the election well, is likely to raise the issue of malfunctioning of electronic voting machines (EVMs) vociferously.
The election results on Monday will have implications for the winter session. A Congress win could embolden the Opposition, while a defeat would raise questions on Congress President-elect Rahul Gandhi’s leadership. He is to officially take over the reins of the party on Saturday.