Narendra Modi, the controversial Indian politician, who is simultaneously vilified and celebrated, appears set to become the country’s next prime minister. Exits polls released on Monday predict a Modi victory in the national elections of India, as well as a parliamentary sweep by his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies.
Considered a crucial election year, the 2014 campaigns have reportedly cost as much as $5 billion. Additionally, the Election Commission of India has estimated that the processes of the elections will cost the exchequer in excess of $577 million. With political parties attempting to win the votes of approximately 815 million Indians, the 2014 general election has made its way into the record books for being the longest electoral process in the country’s history. The election is taking place in nine phases in India, from April 7 to May 12. The final results will be released on May 16.
Historically, Indian elections have been notoriously difficult to call, given the country’s sheer size and diversity. While national political figures like Modi, the ruling Indian National Congress (INC) party’s figurehead Rahul Gandhi, and the newly emergent Aam Aadmi Party’s anti-corruption leader Arvind Kejriwal are important power brokers, local candidates hold great sway in India’s elections. Such local strongholds can skew opinion polls and exits polls, and have in the past resulted in inaccurate and in some cases, completely wrong predictions.
During the 2004 and 2009 general elections, a number of national exit polls over-estimated the BJP’s seat share, and the INC party went on to form coalition governments on both occasions. But, the exit polls for the 2014 Indian elections that predict a Modi victory and a BJP sweep are being seen as solid indicators by political pundits and election watchers.
A leading research group, C-Voter (Centre for Voting Opinion and Trends in Election Research) predicts that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) headed by the BJP will win 289 seats, while the INC alliance will hold just 101. C-Voter reached its conclusions based on a sample of 166,901 randomly selected respondents in all 543 seats up for grabs. The pollster said its margin of error is +\-3 percent at a national level.
Another exit poll put together by Cicero research firm for the India Today group, showed the BJP-led NDA alliance winning between 261 and 283 seats. A political party requires at least 272 seats to rule, which is often garnered through coalitions with regional parties and independent winners.
This election cycle has seen high drama, bitterly fought wars of words, and aggressive campaigning. As the ruling INC party battles rising anti-incumbency from the voters amid accusations of graft and scams, Modi and the BJP have blistered the entire country with a media-savvy campaign that has promised to reenergize the Indian economy.
As the “Modi wave” overwhelms and wins over Indian voters as indicated by the exit polls, Praveen Rai, a political analyst at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, cautions that the election results will clarify if the enthusiastic support for Modi is real or created by the media.
According to Rai, one of the reasons for treating the exit polls with wariness is that in caste-sensitive states like Uttar Pradesh, one of India’s core political battleground states, voters could be fearful about their choice and might not speak freely.
Whether voters tell pollsters the truth or not, they have certainly turned out in droves. On Monday, as polling came to an end, Election Commission officials said that more than 551 million voters had cast their ballots, higher than any turnout in the country’s history.
As the biggest democracy of the world closes its longest and perhaps, most expensive election cycle, the results are being awaited with much anticipation, and people are on tenterhooks to see who reaches the magic number of 272 seats first. If exit polls predictions are to be believed, Modi is slated to be the new prime minister of India with his party sweeping their way to a hard-fought victory.
By Monalisa Gangopadhyay