If the exit polls for four state elections are an accurate reflection of the overall trend, Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi should be in a position to form the government at the Centre in 2014. If these results are confirmed, on Sunday, when the results are unveiled, it will give the BJP a major boost and help bury internal differences to mount a credible challenge to the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.
Also, the post-poll survey results are likely to lift the stature of Modi as the Congress and other parties have often attacked him saying the saffron party lost wherever he campaigned in the past. The BJP had suffered back-to-back defeats in the 2004 and 2009 general elections. The state elections, held in recent weeks, are considered a barometer for the general elections that are scheduled to be held before the end of May.
The initial results showed the Grand Old Party’s campaign in four states, led by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, have failed to impress voters. As far as the Congress party is concerned, the ruling party’s humiliation is believed to be a direct result of inflation, corruption, misgovernance and the weakest economic growth in a decade among other issues.
The big question is whether the BJP under Modi will be able to win more seats in state polls than it did in 2008, at the last state elections. If the margin is significantly wider, it would give a clear signal that Modi’s stock is quite high and people look at him as somebody with proven track record in governance and are looking for a decisive leadership quality, analysts said during a televised debate on the exit-poll results. The Gujarat Chief Minister is projecting his record of governance and stronger-than-average economic growth in the state he has ruled since 2001 in an attempt to propel his party to national power.
According to exit polls that have had a mixed record in the past, if the BJP emerges a clear winner in this round of elections to the legislative assemblies, it can hope to reinforce its claims of being a natural alternative to the Congress for regional players to consider as an ally. The party also hopes victory will dilute Modi's ‘pariah’ tag with regard to the 2002 Gujarat riots.
But there are also other dark horses in the BJP who may spoil Modi's national ambitions in case the saffron party fails to win at least 180 seats on its own. This would mean bringing in more allies into the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) who would seek a non-divisive leader with a wider appeal as the Prime Minister. Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Raman Singh, the Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh chief ministers, will enter the league of Modi, who draws part of his cachet from having won Gujarat thrice, if exit poll results released on Wednesday are to be believed.
The results are also likely to again stir organisational debates in the BJP. If Chouhan manages an impressive third term in Madhya Pradesh, detractors of the Gujarat Chief Minister could project Chouhan as an alternative. Modi's star appeal convinced the BJP to pick him as its prime ministerial candidate in September. But his rise came only after a power struggle in the party.
The state elections, termed as the ‘semi-finals’ to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, were also seen as a ‘referendum’ on the ‘Modi effect’ and the leadership of Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi. These polls were crucial for the big parties — the Congress and the BJP — as it was a direct fight in these four States — Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. For the BJP, victory in these four states, which account for 72 of the total 543 Lok Sabha seats, would strengthen Modi’s bid to bring the saffron party back to power at the Centre after 10 years.
The exit polls results pointed to a vote of no confidence for the Congress and also cast doubt on the ruling party's prospects for national elections. It is clear that the Congress is suffering the effects of a factional organisational set up and a serious leadership deficit: For, it has been unable to dislodge the BJP in Madhya Pradesh. Most exit polls say the BJP’s vote share in Madhya Pradesh will rise between 2 and 5%, suggesting it will beat anti-incumbency. Similarly, in Chhattisgarh, too, there is hardly any dent in BJP’s vote share.
In the final analysis, NaMo may not have conquered the whole of India yet but his conquest of the BJP is complete.