The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is set to retain power in Assam going by the predictions of different exit polls, though there are differences in the extent of victory that has been predicted.
Among the major polls, the India Today-Axis My India one has predicted 75 to 85 seats for the BJP-Asom Gana Parishad-UPPL-GSP alliance and 40-50 seats for the Congress-led alliance that also includes the All India United Democratic Front, Bodoland People's Front, and Left parties.
However, the ABP CVoter exit poll has predicted a far closer contest, with the BJP-led alliance predicted to win 65 seats and the Congress-led alliance set to win 59 seats.
The prediction by Today's Chanakya is somewhere in between, as it shows the NDA winning 70 seats and the UPA winning 56 seats.
In terms of projected vote share, the differences are even more stark. According to the India Today Axis poll, NDA could get 48 percent votes and the UPA 40 percent. On the other hand, the CVoter poll is predicted 48.8 percent votes for the UPA and 42.9 for the NDA. The Today’s Chanakya poll on the other hand predicts 43 percent for both alliances.
What Explains the Diverse Predictions?
The exit polls seem to be broadly in agreement as far as the NDA's victory is concerned but what explains the different seat predictions?
If one goes by the India Today-Axis My India poll, it would appear that the only gains for the Congress are due to the arithmetic of its alliance with the AIUDF and that it hasn't succeeded in winning over any additional voters.
On the other hand, the CVoter poll would indicate that the alliance didn't just gain due to the arithmetic of the Congress, AIUDF, and BPF coming together, they managed to win over a chunk of those who may have voted for the NDA in 2016.
This is the fundamental difference between the poll predictions – is UPA just consolidating a fixed vote or has it managed to win over a section of those who voted for NDA in 2016?
There is a third possibility, that the UPA gained among certain sections, such as Assamese Hindu voters but lost ground among tea garden voters and Bengali Hindu voters, compared to 2016.
There could be seat-wise variations also. It is virtually given that the NDA would lose a number of seats that it may have won as a result of a vote split between the Congress and AIUDF in 2016 – Sorbog and Barpeta being a few examples.
On the other hand, it is possible that the party may be on shaky ground on some of its strongholds in Upper Assam such as Nazira and Sibsagar.
What Happens Next?
If the exit polls are proven true, then it could mean another term for the BJP in the state. But this would mean that the party will be faced with a few important dilemmas.
The first dilemma is whether to persist with Sarbananda Sonowal as chief minister or replace him with Himanta Biswa Sarma. If sources in the BJP are to be believed, a clear majority for the NDA may mean Sonowal returning to the saddle. However, BJP falling short by a bit may not necessarily mean an advantage for Himanta Biswa Sarma. Because in that eventuality the BJP may have to reach out to the Assam Jatiya Parishad-Raijor Dal alliance or the BPF. Both of these elements are said to be more comfortable with Sonowal and opposed to Himanta.
However, if the BJP plans to engineer a split in the Congress to get the numbers, then it would mean advantage Himanta, since he is known to have more leverage to make that happen.
The second dilemma would be on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. There is a great deal of opposition to the CAA, especially among Assamese voters. Implementing the act could spark fresh protests in the state.