There are several intertwined stories that are likely to make this Indian election the most historical ever. My forecasts, based on various opinion polls that have come out over the last three months, are presented below. But as the saying goes, none of them is responsible for my errors.
There are five major results disguised as forecasts. First, that there is a Modi wave, an explosion that will take the NDA comfortably above the 272 mark. On its own, the BJP is likely to cross 250 seats (see table for details) and the Congress, with a tally of 81, will be important in no more than three major states (Assam, Karnataka and Kerala). The extent of the Congress debacle can be garnered from the fact that this number is almost half the number of seats gained by the Congress in the Emergency election of 1977 (154 seats then).
Result one: Is the large BJP victory the outcome of an anti-Congress sentiment or is it a pro-Modi phenomenon? While it will not make any difference to the eventual result, the answer to this important question is relevant for history.
In many ways, this is a chicken or egg, or batsman-bowler-pitch question. In other words, there is an identification problem. When several influences impact the same result, it is conceptually difficult to isolate the true individual contributions. Only by recourse to counter-factuals can one hope to unravel the truth. Let me provide one such counter. Answer the following question — if Narendra Modi had not been the face of the party, but L.K. Advani was, what would be your best guess about the BJP phenomenon? Would we be talking about 150 seats for the BJP, just 34 seats above the 2009 level, or would we be talking about, as at present, more than double the 2009 level? Note that the economy remains the same in the two scenarios, disgruntlement with the Congress remains the same, and all other political parameters remain the same. Whether you think there is a Modi wave or not depends on your answer to the above question.
Result two: The impending demise of the Left. An important story, being missed in the excitement about waves and tsunamis and impending change at the Centre, is a result that will indicate that India has joined the late-20th-century collection of nations. The Left, comprising the communist parties, CPI and CPM (and sympathisers like the AAP), has been an important player in most Indian elections, either at the state or national level or both. Until the 2009 election, the lowest number of seats this “intellectually popular” party obtained was 28 in 1984; in 2009, the bloc dropped to a new low of 20 seats. This bloc has operated primarily out of two areas — the east (West Bengal and Tripura) and the deep south (Kerala). The latest, March 2014, CSDS opinion poll indicates an 18 percentage point (ppt) decline in vote share from 43 per cent actual continued…