BJP front runner in Haryana, Maharashtra: Exit polls

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI (TIP): At least three exit polls put the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead but short of a clear majority in Maharashtra and Haryana on Wednesday, a ringing endorsement of the so-called ‘Modi magic’ that may have helped the party come into its own in the two politically crucial states. A fourth survey by Today’s Chanakya, which correctly predicted the results of the Lok Sabha polls this year, gave the party a clear majority in both states.

The projections, if true, could touch off a round of intense haggling between the party and its estranged allies – the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra and Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC) – for control of the two states that the Congress has led for more than a decade, either on its own or with its partners. A BJP victory will reaffirm Modi’s appeal among voters and silence detractors of his new party leadership, which was blamed for a string of defeats in recent by-elections that tempered the euphoria of his Lok Sabha triumph. Modi campaigned extensively for the state elections, addressing 27 rallies in Maharashtra and 11 in Haryana in a bid to prop up the BJP’s fortunes after the by-election losses.

A Times Now-C Voter poll predicted the BJP would bag 129 of 288 seats in the politically crucial state of Maharashtra despite the falling apart of its 25-year-old association with the Shiv Sena, which was projected to win in 56 constituencies. Times Now-C Voter predicted 37 seats for the BJP in the 90-member Haryana assembly. An ABP-Nielsen poll predicted 144 seats for the BJP and 77 for the Sena, while an India Today-Cicero exit poll saw the BJP winning 124 seats in Maharashtra. The poll says the Shiv Sena will be the second largest gainer in Maharashtra with 71 seats.

The polls did not bring any cheer to the Congress party, already relegated to the political sidelines since its bruising defeat in the Lok Sabha polls. The Times Now-C Voter poll said the Congress was likely to win 43 seats in Maharashtra while ABP-Nielsen said it will bag just 30 seats. In Haryana, Times Now-C Voter gave the Congress 15 seats and ABP-Nielsen poll predicted the country’s main opposition party will get 10 seats. Today’s Chanakya predicted a clear majority of 151 seats for the BJP in Maharashtra and 52 in Haryana. Today’s Chanakya was on the money when it predicted a 300-plus sweep for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the Lok Sabha elections.

For the Congress, a poor result will possibly stoke further murmurs against Rahul Gandhi’s leadership. If the outcome on October 19 judgement day matches the predictions, it would mean the Congress would have to carry forward with its restructuring process to script a turnaround in the face of a saffron surge. Haryana saw a high turnout of 75.9%, while Maharashtra registered a turnout of 63.4% in the elections seen as a test of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity since he stormed to power in May and the BJP’s strategy to abandon long-standing allies in the states.

The elections were mainly peaceful except for minor clashes between workers of the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), BJP and others in Haryana. Analysts said the BJP had benefited from anger towards the Congress party, which has held power in Maharashtra for 15 years and Haryana for a decade. Both chief ministers, Prithviraj Chavan in Maharashtra and Bhupinder Hooda in Haryana, battled strong anti-incumbency with corruption being a major poll issue.

The BJP took a big gamble on its popularity and campaigned alone in both states. It was in contention for power for the first time in Haryana, where it was a junior partner in the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) government in 2000. Similarly in Maharashtra, the BJP had so far played second fiddle to the Shiv Sena, which led the coalition government in the state from 1995 to 1999. The Congress-NCP alliance ruled the state for 15 years from 1999. In case of a hung verdict, the shaping up of new political alliances promises to be another interesting chapter following the high-stakes elections.

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