BJP winning Guj, close contest in HP: Exit polls

Published on Dec 05, 2022 11:54 PM IST

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is on course to securing a seventh straight assembly election victory in Gujarat and possibly even register its biggest victory, a clutch of exit polls predicted on Monday, even as the elections in Himachal Pradesh appeared poised on knife’s edge with no clear victor emerging.

People stand in queue to cast their votes during the second phase of Gujarat state legislature elections in Ahmedabad, India, Monday, Dec. 5, 2022. The local elections in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home state is seen as a barometer of his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party's popularity ahead of a general election in 2024. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki) (AP)
People stand in queue to cast their votes during the second phase of Gujarat state legislature elections in Ahmedabad, India, Monday, Dec. 5, 2022. The local elections in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home state is seen as a barometer of his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party's popularity ahead of a general election in 2024. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki) (AP)
By, New Delhi

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is on course to securing a seventh straight assembly election victory in Gujarat and possibly even register its biggest victory, a clutch of exit polls predicted on Monday, even as the elections in Himachal Pradesh appeared poised on knife’s edge with no clear victor emerging.

Two-phase assembly elections in Gujarat ended on Monday. Himachal Pradesh voted on November 12. The votes for both states will be counted on Thursday.

In Gujarat, the BJP was seen comfortably crossing the halfway mark of 92 by all exit polls, a major improvement from its performance five years ago when the Congress posted its best results in a generation. Five surveys predicted that the party would achieve a record-breaking victory in the state, at least in terms of seats won, by bettering its 2002 tally of 127. All surveys placed the Congress a distant second and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) third in a state that saw its traditionally two-party polity upended with the entry of the AAP.

In Himachal Pradesh, on the other hand, the surveys threw up mixed results. One prominent survey, India Today-Axis MyIndia, projected the Congress as marginally ahead of the BJP in the hill state while another — News 24-Today’s Chanakya — predicted a photo-finish. Four other surveys put the BJP ahead of the Congress but said the difference between the two parties will be slim. If the BJP retains power in Himachal, it will break the state’s political tradition of voting out the incumbent, after having achieved an identical feat in neighbouring Uttarakhand last year. For the Congress, which has gone without winning an election on its own in nearly three years, winning Himachal Pradesh is important.

To be sure, exit polls are not always accurate and have often got the verdict wrong in earlier elections, especially in states with diverse populations, castes and communities. But they are useful in identifying trends.

“Many exit polls are showing that the BJP is forming government again in Himachal while some others are predicting a neck-to-neck fight in a few segments. We should wait till December 8 for the final outcome. According to our analysis, there is a very good possibility of the BJP forming the government with a comfortable majority,” outgoing Himachal chief minister Jai Ram Thakur said.

In Gujarat, home minister Harsh Sanghvi said, “The BJP and the people of Gujarat have decided to create history. Our relationship has remained strong for 27 years and will only get stronger in the coming days. This will not be a victory for power but to reaffirm our relationship with the people of Gujarat.”

Senior Congress leader and former Uttarakhand CM Harish Rawat was silent on his party’s prospects in Himachal but exuded confidence of the Congress winning about 40 seats in Gujarat saying that the people of the state have voted in favour of the Congress.

“Looking at the general public mood, I personally feel the voters in Gujarat are in favour of the Congress. We did change our tactic while campaigning for the polls. I can say that we are winning about 40 seats,” said Rawat.

This round of assembly elections is important because they mark the beginning of an almost-continuous poll season next year – assembly elections in eight states are scheduled in 2023 – leading to the general election in 2024. Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh were also two states where the BJP and Congress squared up against each other, that is, before the entry of the AAP.

The elections in Gujarat are considered a prestige battle for the BJP, which struggled to assuage farmer and trader anger and the Patidar quota agitation in 2017 and slumped to its lowest tally in two decades. This time, the party replaced the chief minister and changed virtually the entire council of ministers last year in a bid to arrest anti-incumbency. It also dropped several sitting lawmakers and banked heavily on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity in his home state. If it wins more than 130 seats — five of the six surveys suggested that it was likely to – it will be a vindication of this strategy.

But in Gujarat, the attention was also on who will emerge as runner-up with the AAP aiming to hive off chunks of support from the BJP and the Congress. The Congress, in contrast, ran a low-key campaign and focussed on seat-by-seat consolidation. If the Congress slips to below 40 seats – four surveys indicated the possibility – it will be its worst showing since 1990 and indicate that it ceded ground to the AAP and vote-splitting helped the BJP.

With most surveys indicating that the AAP had garnered a significant vote share, it is clear that a two-party contest is now triangular in the state for the first time since 1990. Three surveys indicated that the AAP may end up in single digits though the seat ranges given by the others showed that it may also end up closer to the Congress tally, in low double digits. This will have major implications on national opposition politics at a time several parties are not happy with the Congress’s leadership of anti-BJP forces.

In Himachal, a state where the campaign focused mostly on local issues and discontents, four of six surveys gave the BJP a slight edge over the Congress but said that the fight was neck-and-neck. The Congress focused on harnessing local anger against the BJP government in the small state where government employees and apple growers wield considerable power and influence. The BJP campaigned on its promise of development, double-engine government (a reference to the BJP being in power both at the Centre and in the state) and PM Modi’s popularity. The contest in the state was seen by exit polls as largely bipolar with small margins separating the two parties.

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