If most of the exit polls, which give the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) a simple majority in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, are proved correct on 23 May, it will be for the first time in 48 years that an incumbent government will return with full majority.
Except for the Neta-NewsX poll, which gave the NDA 242 seats and the ABP-Nielsen exit poll, which gave it 277 seats, all other surveys projected at least 287 seats for the BJP-led coalition, with the most ambitious estimate of 339-365 seats for the NDA coming from the India Today-My Axis poll. The exit poll projections reflect a huge endorsement of Modi, who led the NDA campaign from the front and directly asked the voters to vote for him.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s return to power will also buttress his reputation as the tallest leader in India and catapult him onto a higher pedestal than even Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the first BJP-NDA prime minister who led the BJP to 182 seats.
It will also mean that voters have reposed faith in him, though he has not been able to deliver on all the promises made during the 2014 elections. This would mean that Modi version 2.0 would be up against greater expectations and judged by harsher standards over the next five years.
For Congress president Rahul Gandhi, a setback would be more serious than the 2014 fiasco as there were others to share the blame in 2014. This time, however, the only solace for the Congress president would be the nearly two-fold increase in the party’s tally that most exit polls have predicted.
Rahul Gandhi became the Congress president just ahead of the 2017 assembly elections in Gujarat, where the Congress gave a tough fight to the BJP. The Nehru-Gandhi scion also tasted success in the 2018 assembly polls in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh. The victories raised the confidence of the party to the extent that it believed it could return to power in 2019, at the least as the single-largest party after the BJP, to lead an opposition coalition at the centre.
However, in January, the Congress was left out of the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party alliance in Uttar Pradesh. The understanding with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in Maharashtra was the only success the Congress had in forging a pre-poll alliance. Rahul Gandhi is also said to have shown signs of panic by choosing Wayanad in Kerala as the second constituency, apparently because of expectations of a close fight in the family bastion of Amethi. This also bogged down the party’s campaign in Uttar Pradesh.
The credibility of the Congress as the main opposition party also came under the scanner after the Left parties protested the Wayanad move. Rahul Gandhi also demonstrated lack of intent to fight after the party vacillated over nominating Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra from Varanasi against Modi to finally drop the plan.
A setback this time would also mean the rejection of the alleged corruption campaign against the Rafael fighter jet deal led by Gandhi.
The NDA’s return will also be a double setback for NCP chief Sharad Pawar, who had started playing a major role in brining together all anti-BJP parties, right after the March 2018 assembly polls. However, the seasoned politician failed to forge together a grand alliance.
Most exit polls project that the BJP-Shiv Sena will get between 34 and 42 of the 48 seats in Maharashtra, with the NCP not even reaching double figures. If the exit polls hold firm and the BJP-Sena combine carries the Lok Sabha momentum into the Assembly polls five months from now, it may virtually mean the end of the Pawar era in politics.