Prof Ujjwal Anu Chowdhury

Exit polls for the results of Indian general elections 2024 of the mainstream leading television channels and survey agencies are as follows:

India Today- Axis My India -361-401
News 24-Today’s Chanakya -400
ABP News-C Voter – 353-383
Republic Bharat- P Marq -359
India News- D-Dyanamics -371
Republic Bharat- Matrize- 353-368
Dainik Bhaskar- 281-350
News Nation -342-378
TV 9 Bharatvarsh- Polstrat -342
Times Now-ETG – 358
India TV- CNX -362-392
Jan Ki Baat – 362-392

These are seats given to BJP led NDA all of which are much above the requisite 272 to form the government at the centre.

There is one lone voice of difference with a completely alternative numbers as follows:
DB Live-Elect Lime Figures (Desh Bandhu Live – popular YouTube Channel):
INDIA: 260-295; NDA: 215-245; Others: 28-48

Just this exit poll predicts a win for Congress led INDIA and BJP led NDA much below 272. And I stand with this prediction, albeit with some strong reasons of arithmetic of numbers, chemistry among alliance partners (specially in the opposition) and spirit on the ground.

Firstly, there is no overarching issue like the India Against Corruption movement and Achhey Din promise as in 2014 or Pulwama attack and the much-touted surgical strikes as in 2019. Even in spite of Pulwama and aggressive nationalism in public mind, NDA managed to get 353 seats (with 303 of BJP alone). On what basis then will NDA get above that number as predicted by most? While except Modi image there is no overarching reason for the ruling NDA in this election, the Opposition had caste-based census, legally binding Minimum Support Price of crops to farmers, among others as their common issues. In contrast, the talks on Mangalsutra, Congress to take away your buffaloes, Muslims as infiltrators, Modi being divine, or the world did not know Mahatma Gandhi before Richard Attenborough’s film on him: all of these by Modi himself actually brought down his image and sheen sharply.

Also to be noted here is that in exit polls, the agencies actually calculate vote percentages and they translate those into seats. But in real life, percentages do not automatically translate into seats. Just 37% of BJP votes nationally in 2019 gave them 303 seats, while even 20% of votes for Congress could manage to give them only 52 seats. More stark differences are seen in the states. Lower percentage of votes in a very concentrated manner in some pockets can always give more seats and hence the local parties stand to gain with concentrated vote-share more than the national parties.

Secondly, BJP in 2019 had 37.7% vote-share, and with allies it went up to 42%. Congress had 19.66%, Samajwadi Party: 2.55%, Trinamool Congress: 4.1%, AAP: 0.9%, DMK: 2.3%, RJD: 2.1%. They are all in INDIA alliance, apart from the original segments of NCP and Shiv Sena, and also the Left, all together had close to 4.5%. The total of these is around 38%. Finally, even with a sweeping issue like the Pulwama, the vote share of the two alliances were 42% against 38%. Several NDA alliance partners have left (like Akalis), many have got divided (like Shiv Sena), and many partners have joined erstwhile Congress led UPA to become INDIA alliance of today. There was not even a semblance of a united fight by the opposition in 2019, while this time in 2024, a resolute and united opposition fought in all major states of India.

Third, all the by-elections to Maharashtra Assembly that have happened after the break of Shiv Sena and NCP have been won by those opposed to NDA. The Mumbai electoral mood is so much against Eknath Shinde led break-away section and BJP for forcing the Uddhav Thackeray government to resign, that till this day, BMC does not have its elected body for more than two years and 24 municipalities in the state are without any elected representatives. The anger in Maharashtra is palpable, and the exit polls showing 75% seats to NDA is far beyond reality.

Fourth, with the coming together of AAP and Congress in Delhi and their workers organizing joint meetings with fervor, and the fact that BJP had to change 6 out of 7 of its candidates there, coupled with election-time jailing of Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, the mood in Delhi is quite different this time from that of 2019. Giving 7 out of 7 seats of BJP by exit polls is far-fetched.

Fifth, the farmers’ movements for withdrawal of 3 farm bills and for MSP, that erupted after 2019, have seen more than 700 die, thousands arrested, and people in Haryana, Punjab and Western UP by and largely disillusioned with the ruling dispensation. AAP sweeping the Punjab assembly polls and winning in Chandigarh municipality are some evidences of this disillusionment. Exit polls are showing BJP sweep in Western UP and Haryana, and a reasonably good show in Punjab. Highly improbable.

Sixth, BJP performed very well in West Bengal in 2019, winning in 18 constituencies, coming close second after TMC with 22. That led to their call for more than 200 seats in Bengal Assembly polls in 2021, which actually came out to be 77, of which many have resigned since then and loads of workers coming back to TMC. All by-elections and panchayat elections since then show that TMC has maintained its vote share and winning spree, and BJP declining, while the Left showing good revival. In 2019, it was actually 12% of Left vote that had gone to BJP as it was seen as a rising force against TMC. Now, in 2024, the Left-Congress combine as gone out full hog to muster up as much as anti-TMC votes as possible. In no way there shall be an anti-TMC consolidation behind BJP this time in Bengal, and Left-Congress combine will do well and will divide this anti-Mamata electorates. Hence, TMC seats reducing is a complete illogical thing in Bengal, and is not seen as well on ground.

Seventh, exit polls give out of the way high seats to BJP in Kerala (where BJP has never won one nor come close), Tamil Nadu (where BJP has not won any in 2019), Telengana (where recently Congress state government has come to power with a strong majority), and in Karnataka (where recently BJP had a thrashing defeat with less than half Assembly seats than those of Congress). The BJP seats in these states look much bloated than reality on ground. It is only in Andhra Pradesh that NDA alliance is doing well due to an expected good show of Telegu Desam Party.

Eighth, exit polls are giving higher seats to BJP in Orissa than the ruling popular Biju Janata Dal there, and is giving sweeping seats in Bihar (where JDU, a BJP partner, has lost credibility due to multiple flip-flops, and Tejaswi led Rashtriya Janata Dal has been doing an intense campaign with more than 200 rallies in the last two months).

Ninth, even the rest of the Hindi belt is not there where it was in 2019. The defeat of Congress in Rajasthan assembly was narrow, in Chattisgarh was also a close one, and only in MP the results were astonishingly totally against Congress. In UP too, the united electoral battle of Samajwadi Party and Congress has been showing immense potential in the last two months. Four times their rallies had to be cancelled due to much larger audiences than the available space. The differences between Modi-Shah and Yogi Adityanath are all very well known, and Yogi was muted this time in campaign. To predict a total sweep of BJP in these four states today is a completely naïve assessment.

Finally, all are not quiet for BJP even in their original Hindutva lab, Guajarat, where Rajputs have pledged openly in hundreds of villages to vote against BJP (local reasons of an insult to Rajputs by a state BJP minister), and similarly large number of tribals had also decided to vote for INDIA alliance partners, Congress and AAP.

With joblessness hitting half a century high, inflation being on a continuous high range since the pandemic, fuel price hike and rupee price free fall being there for the entire tenure of last five years of this government, no income tax relief to middle class, no real One Rank One Pension scheme or Old Pension scheme given to government employees, the middle class in urban India is no more in the adulatory mood as in 2019 in the backdrop of Pulwama attack.

Arithmetic of numbers (seats, percentage of votes, share of allies’ performances), chemistry among allies, spirit on ground: nothing shows a total sweep of NDA (unless of course if the elections or the counting are rigged or at least compromised in selected seats).

(The author is a university professor of media and communication studies.)