Gap between phases can influence poll results: Naveen Surpaneni
The long gap between the first and the last phase of the coming Lok Sabha polls can significantly influence the results, says noted psephologist and executive director of Marketing and Development Research Associates (MDRA) Naveen Surpaneni.
"With ideological faultlines blurring, the percentage of floating voters — those who do not decide whom to vote for until the last hour — has boomed considerably in the last few years," Surpaneni told HindustanTimes.com. "These voters can swing either way. They can vote with the tide, so that their vote is not wasted, or en masse against the tide, to prevent a particular party from winning if they see that happening. The huge gap — of 20 days — between the first and the last phase will make them gauge the tide and vote accordingly, rather than go by their instinctive choice."
But he refrains from predicting which party would benefit from the gap. "It is still too early to comment," he says. "The extent of the impact will depend on how parties mobilise their cadres, the role of the media and the exit polls."
Surpaneni fells that a host of interesting developments are cropping up in the run up to the polls. "We are witnessing an unprecedented showcasing of personalities," he says. "The BJP has based its campaign almost entirely on the persona of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. It also started the race to induct film and television personalities and sports stars. The Congress is following suit, starting its campaign with Priyanka and Rahul, then pulling film stars on to its own bandwagon. Though all this has happened in earlier elections too, personality-driven campaigning never reached such heights."
"Another interesting development is that 'India Shining' — essentially a development issue — has been the main debating point, both between parties and in the media, until now," he says. "The BJP started it, and the Congress has willy-nilly been drawn into the debate. Emotional issues like Ayodhya have largely been kept out of the discussion, something unusual for elections of the past decade. But we have to see if this will last."
"It will also be interesting to see if parties come out with early manifestos," he says. "Normally, manifestos are released about 10 days or so before the polls, and are little more than publicity stunts for the media. This time, with poll dates announced so much in advance, parties have a real chance to come out with early manifestos and keep the debate focussed on policies and development proposals. It will be a shame if the campaign slumps back to mudslinging and personality attacks, as has happened so often in the past."
Surpaneni feels it is advantage NDA, as predicted by his agency's recent opinion poll for Outlook newsmagazine that gives 280-290 seats for the BJP-led coalition, against 159-169 for Congress and allies. But a lot would depend on how state-wise alliances work out for both the national parties, he says.
"Uttar Pradesh is the most crucial state," he says. "The polity is extremely fractured here. The largest party polled just 26 per cent of the votes the last time, and it won't be any different this time. This means that the slightest shift in votes can be the difference between winning and losing. The Congress needs to tie-up with either Mulayam or Mayawati, or it might lose the elections even before voting begins."
Mulayam Singh's Samajwadi Party has already formed an alliance with Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal. And Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party has announced the names of its candidates for 50 of UP's 80 seats, though this may just be a "pressure tactic" to force Congress's hand, says Surpaneni.
"In Bihar, though the Congress has a tie-up with RJD and Paswan's LJP, the BJP-JD(U) combine has the advantage of being longer established. Also, RJD and LJP are having differences on some seats, and LJP is thinking of 'friendly contests' on these. This will only hurt the combine," he says.
"Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan haven't really come out of the pro-BJP wave we witnessed during the assembly polls. But Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu are three large states where the Congress stands a genuine chance," he says.
"It is contesting with the NCP this time in Maharashtra, as opposed to 1999 when they contested separately and came together only after the polls. In Tamil Nadu, it has a formidable alliance with almost all anti-AIADMK parties. And in Andhra, it has finalised a pact with the pro-Telengana TRS, though much will depend on how this affects the party's vote in other regions of the state."
Advantage regional parties?
"The most important point is that the significance of regional parties continues to rise, and that national parties are recognising this," says Surpaneni. "Even though we do not have a significant nationwide 'Third Front' this time, the very fact that Congress has accepted coalition politics and is actively pursuing pre-poll alliances speaks for itself."
"The BJP recognised this before the Congress, and gained the upper hand, which it is exploiting now. But with the Congress realising its mistake and making full amends, who knows what way the dice might turn this time."