India Elections: The final countdown

Polling in India’s general elections — the world’s largest democratic exercise — finished on May 13. Tomorrow, on May 16, the country’s Election Commission will begin counting about 357 million votes. As of now, quite obviously, no one really knows who will come to power, but that’s not stopping anyone from predicting.

India’s media houses, including the one I’m currently attached with, are on forecasting overdrive. However, even if their predictions come true, the final decision of who will become Prime Minister is hardly in the hands of the electorate. In a country known for coalition politics, it is horse-trading which will eventually decide India’s leader.

Here is a rough guide to the situation as it stands presently.

The Major Political Players:

Congress: The incumbent which has managed to stay in power for the full duration of a five-year term. The party came into power on the back of a significant anti-incumbency sentiment during the last elections, the Congress has pumped in money into the country’s hinterland. But the real results are yet to be seen. Economically, although it did nothing radical, it’s image has taken a beating with the global economic slowdown hitting India’s growth rate. The sentiment in the Industry is divided, but many feel it could have done more to help the country’s infrastructure. Another major factor that might go against the Congress is the perception that it is soft on terror. The yet-unsolved Mumbai terror attack was a case in point. All said, though, it is still seen as secular; a distinct advantage when its major opposition has been branded as right-leaning. The Congress, which has projected the incumbent Manmohan Singh as the next PM, leads the United Progressive Alliance (UPA).

Bharatiya Janta Party(BJP): The BJP is the mainstay of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), a grand coalition which was defeated by the Congress-led UPA at the hustings in 2004. The BJP exit from power was unexpected for many as the party had worked substantially to ramp up the country’s infrastructure — seen as a prerequisite for growth — during its term. On foreign policy, however, the party had a mixed performance; India’s then-PM A.B. Vajpayee made a state visit to Pakistan, only to later take on the Islamic Republic militarily during the Kargil conflict. It was on BJP’s watch that Pakistani terrorists hijacked an Indian Airlines flight and parked it at Kandahar (under Taleban control), as well as the attack on the Indian parliament. Internationally, the Godhra Hindu-Muslim riots in Gujarat dented the party’s image more than any other single incident. Regardless, the L.K. Advani-led outfit has stuck to its right wing fundamentals and the party has rather objectively projected itself as a Hindu-friendly organisation. Playing to India’s largest vote-bank (the Hindu’s) could, however, lessen its chances of finding enough allies, post-elections.

Communist Part of India (Marxist)/The Left/ The Third Front: In 2004, India’s Left was not the King. Rather, it was the King-Maker. It provided crucial support to the Congress thereby, giving the UPA the required majority to form the government. However, the two fell apart after the Congress vehemently backed the Indo-US nuclear deal, while the Left even more vehemently opposed it. Although the Congress managed to retain its majority after a few backroom dealings with other parties, the Left has remained a staunch critic. After this elections, the Left will be in a bind. It cannot ideologically support the BJP, and backing the Congress will mean that it will have to go back on its post-nuclear deal stance. Also, the band of political parties that the Left has been able to put together — The Third Front — is unlikely to get enough votes to come into power by itself. That means, unless the Left aligns with someone, it could lose substantial political gravity.

The Fourth Front: These are India’s undecided. And their final decision could make or break the political future of the country. Primarily consisting of Laloo Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Samajwadi Party and Ram Vilas Pawan’s Lok Janshakti Party, the newly-branded Fourth Front has significantly added to the speculation. The big two — UPA and NDA — will have to woo them in order to get a majority. If the Left Front delivers a phenomenal performance, it, too, could look at getting The Fourth Front to back it.

The Prediction:

First things first. Since it is unlikely that any single political party will emerge with a clear majority, any alliance will need to win in 272 out of the 543 parliamentary constituencies.

Now, although a fair number of exit polls are throwing up possible numbers, not to mention the millions of political analysts abound, news channel NDTV’s exit polls seems credible.

This is what NDTV is saying:                                                                                                         

  • UPA is projected to emerge as the largest alliance with 216 seats
  • NDA is expected to get 177 seats
  • The Third Front is expected to get 105 seats
  • The Fourth Front is expected to get 30 seats
  • The remaining parties would get 15 seats  


The Final Word:

The results for the entire elections, nationwide, will be out by 1400 hours (IST) on Saturday. But that is when the real action will begin.

If you think you aren’t sure about who will eventually govern India, don’t worry. A billion people, too, feel exactly the same way.