NEW DELHI: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is set to make big gains in West Bengal and Odisha, the two eastern states where it has had little representation, exit poll results predicted on Sunday, potentially spelling trouble for their incumbent chief ministers and regional parties.
The results forecast a significant decline in seat share for the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC) in West Bengal and Navin Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in Odisha.
In Bengal, most exit polls assigned 11-18 seats of the total 42 in the state to BJP. Likewise, the saffron party is shown winning between 6 and 12 of the 21 seats in Odisha, with the exception of India Today-Axis My India predicting a clean sweep for BJP with 15-19 seats in the state.
The numbers, if true, could prove to be a shot in the arm for the ruling party at the centre. BJP had won just two seats in Bengal and one in Odisha in 2014. In the last Lok Sabha elections, the saffron party polled 8.6 million votes and a 17% vote share in Bengal. In Odisha, BJP had an 18% vote share in 2014.
The exit polls showed a marked decline in the fortunes of TMC. The surveys assigned 22-28 seats to the party, down from the 34 it had won in 2014. Banerjee disputed the exit poll findings. “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," she said in a Twitter post.
TMC has been pulling out all the stops to ensure that the ruling BJP is unsuccessful in making inroads into the state, hoping to retain its 2014 vote share of 39.05%.
TMC is confident that despite the predictions of the exit polls, the truth on the ground would be different. Nine seats in West Bengal cast their ballot on Sunday and TMC has been vociferously highlighting the Narendra Modi-led government’s perceived failures, with the regional party playing up the “chowkidar chor hai" slogan at each of its public meetings.
In Odisha, BJP was shown gaining ground, with some exit polls predicting victory in more than half the Lok Sabha seats. While Times Now-VMR exit polls showed 12 seats for BJP, the News18-Ipsos exit poll predicted that BJP would win 6-8 seats and BJD between 12 and 14 seats. India TV-CNX expects BJP to win six seats, with the rest going to BJD.
Most of the exit polls showed the Congress would draw a blank in the state, except News18 that predicted one or two seats for the party.
Though the exit poll numbers are assumptions and may not paint an accurate picture, the trends indicate that BJP’s efforts are yielding results. Like West Bengal, Odisha was taken up by BJP as a growth state to compensate any loss in states such as Uttar Pradesh.
The popularity of Modi in the state and a campaign with an emphasis on nationalism and national security may have helped BJP in the simultaneous polls. With BJP winning one of the 21 seats in the 2014 polls, any gain is a positive for the party.
In contrast, this will be seen as a drubbing for BJD and the dwindling popularity of chief minister Patnaik,who has been in power since March 2000. In the 147-member assembly, BJD has 117 seats.
“You will see a saffron surprise in Odisha. We will stage an upset in the state and form the government," BJP leader and Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan said in an interview last month.
In the Odisha assembly exit polls the picture may be different, with BJD retaining power. The India-Today-Axis My India exit poll showed that Patnaik may become chief minister for a fifth term.
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