Counting day brings high-stakes battle for BJP, Congress, Akhilesh Yadav, AAP
2022 Assembly elections: Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Goa, Manipur, and Uttarakhand voted starting early February, with Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh set to vote later this year.
Assembly election results for five states - including politically crucial Uttar Pradesh - will be announced Thursday, with the BJP predicted to retain control of UP and Manipur, edge out the Congress to remain in power in Uttarakhand and go head-to-head with their rivals in Goa, where regional outfits like the Goa Forward Party could be kingmakers. The big surprise is Punjab, where exit polls signal a big win for Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party, while the ruling Congress bickers and the BJP - who allied with ex-Congress chief minister Amarinder Singh - and Akalis look not to have mustered enough support.
Counting of votes will begin at 8 am and, in the fight for UP, allegations of vote-tampering are already flying, with Akhilesh Yadav claiming manipulation of EVMs in Varanasi, and the BJP hitting back with a letter to the officials.
Victory for the BJP - in what has been touted as a must-win state ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls - is seen as a given, although the margin will likely be much lower than 2017, when it swept 312 of the 403 Assembly seats.
Yogi Adityanath, bidding for a second term as chief minister, faces a challenge not from the struggling Congress but Akhilesh Yadav's Samajwadi Party, with even Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party expected to do better than the GOP.
Exit Polls: BJP set to win UP, AAP a shock Punjab winner, tight race in Goa
Adityanath - against whose leadership senior BJP leaders protested last year, leading to speculation the top brass could do the unthinkable and drop him - has turned it around and is now contesting his first state election, from his stronghold of Gorakhpur. He isn't the only big-name debutant - Samajwadi boss Akhilesh Yadav is standing from his stronghold - Karhal.
The Congress has been side-lined, with only Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the party's in-charge for this election, really taking the fight to the BJP and the Samajwadi Party. Yesterday she told reporters 'we fought as hard as we could...'.
BJP to win UP, Uttarakhand; AAP to win Punjab; tight race in Goa: New exit poll
Republic P-Marq, India Today-Axis My India, Times Now-Veto, ABP-CVoter, and News24-Today's Chanakya all predict the BJP will cross the majority mark of 202 seats, with the Samajwadi Party finishing second with a maximum of 160.
Those results have been dismissed by the Samajwadi Party, which claims it will win, in fact, over 300.
READ: Surveys don't matter, we'll get over 300 seats in UP, says Akhilesh
The Congress, the exit polls say, must be content with a single-digit return, and that will be another blow to the once-dominant political outfit.
Full coverage: Uttar Pradesh Assembly election
A Congress increasingly starved of electoral success cannot afford to lose Punjab - one of the few states it rules outright.
But that is exactly what is likely to happen, with exit polls giving Arvind Kejriwal and his AAP a massive (and perhaps not unsurprising) win.
The AAP is expected to coast past the majority mark of 59 in the 117-member Assembly; ABP is perhaps the most cautious, giving them 51 to 61 seats.
The Congress has had to (publicly) battle internal strife in the run-up to this election, losing veteran Amarinder Singh as chief minister and from the party, while state boss Navjot Sidhu continues to needle and provoke the party and new chief minister Charanjit Channi.
READ: ‘Will accept people’s mandate’: AAP's Bhagwant Mann
The BJP and the Akalis - contesting independently after relations soured over the farmers protests - hope to take advantage of this, but a surge in popularity for the AAP, which has promised free power and water, and improved healthcare, is predicted to derail those hopes.
Exit polls indicate the Akalis and the Congress will fight for second, with the latter likely to win. The BJP could win as many as 13 seats (ABP) but is unlikely to be a major player.
Full coverage: Punjab Assembly election
The BJP is expected to retain Uttarakhand as well, despite changing chief ministers thrice in four months last year. Pushkar Singh Dhami, the incumbent, has expressed confidence the party will return with 45+ seats to its name.
The Uttarakhand Assembly has 70 seats with the majority mark at 36.
Exit polls agree with Dhami but, as in UP, the margin will be significantly reduced. In 2017 the BJP swept an incredible 57 of 70 seats. India Today, Times Now, and News 24 all predict in their favour, with a 36 to 46 seat spread.
READ: Exit polls predict Uttarakhand photo finish; BJP, Congress say it is wrong
ABP is the hold-out and gives the Congress 32-38 seats to the BJP's 26-32. But even that is not enough to 'guarantee' victory, with 3-9 seats still in play.
Full coverage: Uttarakhand Assembly election
The coastal state could see the tightest race of the five states after every major exit poll expecting a hung house. In fact, Republic is right on the fence, predicting a 13-17 return for both the ruling BJP and the Congress. The majority mark in the 40-member Assembly is 21.
India Today gives the Congress the edge and ABP believes it will be the BJP.
Either way it is more than likely that regional outfits like the Goa Forward Party and the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party will have an outsized say in who forms the next government. The MGP is allied with Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool but that has not stopped the BJP from sending out feelers.
READ: No party wants to go with BJP, claims Goa Congress chief
The Congress is open to alliances with the MGP, the Trinamool or even the AAP, which could win as many as four seats, Times Now believes.
The GOP is reacting quicker than it did in 2017, when they emerged as the single-largest party with 17 seats but failed to secure alliances quickly enough, allowing the BJP the upper hand.
Full coverage: 2022 Goa Assembly election
Republic gives the ruling BJP and its allies an easy win with 27-31 of 60 seats. While they may fall short of the majority of 31, the Congress is expected to win only 11-17, giving the BJP wriggle room to form post-poll deals with local parties. Times Now gives the BJP a more comfortable 32-38 seats and India Today an even more comfortable 33-43 result.
Full coverage: 2022 Manipur Assembly election