As voting concluded for the last of the seven-phase Lok Sabha elections of 2019, a series of exit polls predicted a clear majority for the BJP-led NDA. Seven separate exit polls estimated that the NDA government would return to power after a bitterly fought elections, with an overall tally ranging from 287-365 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha.
However, only two surveys predicted that the BJP, which won 282 seats in the 2014 elections, would claim a majority on its own this time. India Today-Axis-MyIndia forecast 286 seats for the party while News18-IPSOS estimated that it would win 276.
Two polls predicted that the NDA would fall short of a majority: NewsX-Neta (242) and ABP News-Nielsen (267).
Most of the polls suggested that the Congress, which had registered its worst performance in 2014 with 44 seats, would fall below the 100 mark, with News18-IPSOS projecting only 46 seats for the party.
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All the polls predicted that the BJP would retain its dominance in the Hindi heartland and make considerable gains in the east while failing to claim much ground in the south, except in Karnataka.
Lok Sabha Elections: Exit polls results vary widely for 3 states that hold key to BJP show
However, there was a wide divergence in the predictions for two key states — UP and Bengal.
In UP, with 80 seats, most polls predicted that the SP-BSP gathbandhan could bring down the BJP’s all-time-high tally of 72 to less than 50. Here, the polls show, the BJP is expected to win anywhere between 22 and 65 seats.
In Bengal, the other state that is being keenly watched with the elections marred by violence and a bitter campaign, the exit polls show that the TMC would have to concede some ground to the BJP this time. However, there is a wide difference across exit polls on the tallies, with the BJP predicted to win between four and 22 of the 42 seats.
Explained | How to conduct, read exit polls
In Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, where the Congress won the assembly elections six months ago, the polls indicate that the party has not able to retain its ground. They also signal a difference in voting pattern between the assembly polls and the Parliamentary elections.
Overall, the NDA was projected to get 339-365 seats by India Today-Axis-MyIndia, 350 by News24-Today’s Chanakya, 336 by News18-IPSOS, 306 by Times Now-VMR, 305 by Republic Bharat-Jan ki Baat, 300 by India TV-CNX, 287 by Republic-C Voter, 267 by ABP News-Nielsen and 242 by NewsX-Neta. The Congress-led UPA projections ranged from 77-164.
Exit polls have been reasonably accurate in the past, especially in 2014 when they projected a strong swing towards the BJP-led NDA. However, they have gone wrong, too, most notably in 2004 when they suggested that the BJP-led NDA under A B Vajpayee would return to power.
On Sunday evening, as television channels began to broadcast the survey results, West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC leader Mamata Banerjee expressed lack of trust in the exercise.
“I don’t trust Exit Poll gossip. The game plan is to manipulate or replace thousands of EVMs through this gossip. I appeal to all Opposition parties to be united, strong and bold. We will fight this battle together,” Banerjee posted on Twitter.
In Karnataka, the only southern state where the BJP has a strong presence, the party is predicted to win 18-20 seats. In other southern states, the regional parties appear to be maintaining their dominance. The TRS is projected to win a majority of seats in Telangana, while the TDP and the YSRCP seem to be engaged in a close fight in Andhra Pradesh.
The Congress is projected to do well in Punjab and Kerala. But the News 18-IPSOS survey estimated that the party-led UDF is behind the CPM-led LDF in Kerala where Congress president Rahul Gandhi contested from Wayanad. Many surveys predicted a blank for the BJP or NDA in Kerala, except for NewsX-Neta, which said the BJP could win one seat.
UP and Bengal hold the key
ALL The exit polls converge on the broad theme that the BJP-led NDA holds a clear edge. But the two states where they differ widely are UP and Bengal, which together account for 122 Lok Sabha seats. On May 23, this could be the X factor.
The April-May election was expected to be a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s five-year government, but the focus of the BJP’s campaign was national security, following the Pulwama terror attack in February and India’s air strike on Pakistan’s Balakot.
With the BJP projecting Modi as a decisive and strong leader, the Prime Minister was the face of the party’s campaign, addressing 142 rallies across the country. In his speeches, he targeted Congress president Rahul Gandhi and described the Opposition’s attempts to cobble together a coalition as “mahamilavat”.
Gandhi, who was joined by his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra after her appointment as the Congress general secretary in charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh, focussed on alleged irregularities surrounding the Rafale fighter jet deal, unemployment and the agrarian crisis. In the campaign, he had also promised the Nyay scheme, which aims to provide a minimum income guarantee for 20 per cent of the poorest in the country.