The good thing about electronic voting machines is that the results of an election are known within hours of the start of counting. The bad thing about the electoral process, however, is the waiting. Even though voting in Gujarat ended on Thursday night, we’ll have to wait till Sunday to find out who won. In the meantime, we have the exit polls.
These are often unreliable — as indeed are all opinion polls when it comes to assembly elections — but at present, they seem to point to a single conclusion: a victory for Narendra Modi and the BJP.
Journalists returning from Gujarat have, by and large, endorsed that verdict. Few expect the landslide suggested by the early opinion polls but most concede that the BJP has an edge. Whatever the media may think of Narendra Modi, say journalists on the campaign trail, there’s no doubt that his rhetoric touches a powerful chord among women and youth. The mood at his well-attended rallies resembles nothing as much as the hysteria of the torchlit Nuremberg rallies of the Thirties and Mr Modi holds out a powerful, almost hypnotic appeal to the herrenvolk.
Whether this will be enough to guarantee victory or to make voters forget the administrative failures of his government remains to be seen. The BJP claims that the high turnout reflects a higher attendance by women and young people lured by Mr Modi’s rhetoric. On the other hand, the Congress says that the high turnout will work against the BJP. The voters went to the booths, it says, to turn Mr Modi out of office. By Sunday evening we will know which party has won. If Mr Modi wins a massive mandate, the moderate wing of the BJP is effectively finished. A high-decibel, Muslim-baiting brand of Hindutva will take over. If, on the other hand, he loses, then the party will return to the moderate path. The third option, however, is the interesting one. What happens if the BJP wins a narrow victory? Mr Modi will, of course, survive. But will his brand of hatred have triumphed?