The counting of votes in the latest round of assembly polls starts Thursday morning, the finale to a ten-week long political drama that began with the announcement of polls in early March.
Exit polls suggest a summer of discontent against incumbent governments might sweep across Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam and Puducherry, leaving only the redoubtable Mamata Banerjee untouched in West Bengal.
A clear picture is likely to emerge by Thursday noon, although the final figures will be out only later in the day.
The BJP, which suffered a series of electoral reveres last year after its stupendous show in 2014, is predicted to romp home in Assam, a first for the saffron party in a state ruled by the Congress for the last 15 years.
It will set the stage for the BJP to make further forays into the northeastern region.
Exit polls also suggest the BJP might make an entry in the Kerala assembly, another first for the party that has so far failed to capitalise on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s considerable presence in the state.
A debut in the assembly by itself might not be of much consequence, but it would bolster the BJP’s claims of being a pan-India party.
There are high stakes for the Congress in these elections. Already edged out of power by the BJP at the Centre and also in Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand and Jammu & Kashmir, the opposition party now faces the prospects of two more states getting out of its hands- Kerala and Assam- as predicted by exit polls.
The polls indicate the return of the M Karunanidhi-led DMK to power in Chennai and of the Congress in Puducherry. The Congress opted for an alliance with the DMK in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, and with rival CPI(M) in West Bengal.
Even if the principal opposition party at the Centre ends up on the winning side in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, it might not do much to its image as a party on the downslide nationally.
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In an interview with HT on Tuesday, finance minister Arun Jaitley took a dig at the Congress saying that even if the opposition party survives as a tailender of an alliance, its ability to be an anchor of a national alliance in future will become “suspect”. Many in the Congress share the finance minister’s assessment.
If Mamata Banerjee survives in West Bengal, despite the Congress and the CPI(M) joining hands and reducing her victory margin, it would only buttress the Left’s crisis of credibility.
The collapse of a flyover in Kolkata was projected as a symbol of the Trinamool government’s failure on the development front. If Banerjee retains power, it would be a reflection of the Left’s inability to regain people’s confidence, rather than of the chief minister’s ability to govern.
The Left’s projected victory in Kerala will, however, add some heft to its diminishing political clout at the national level. The BJP was expected to eat into the Left’s support base, especially given its aggressive outreach to the influential Ezhava community.
For a change, the Congress was banking on the BJP to do well. If the ruling party in the state still fails, it might also be an indication of public anger against a scam-hit Oommen Chandy government and disillusionment with a faction-ridden state Congress.
Kerala registered 77.35% voter turnout, the best in 25 years. High voter turnout is usually associated with anti-incumbency, as validated by exit polls. It might not hold true for other states though. Tamil Nadu registered 74.24% voter turnout, about 4% less than the 2011 figure, but Jayalalithaa government seems to be on the way out according to exit polls.
As one waits for the verdict on Thursday, here is a caveat: Opinion and exit polls have a chequered history and be ready for surprises, if any.