Exit polls in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections were released right after the seventh and the final phase concluded on Sunday, 19 May.
Most exit polls have forecast another term for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with some of them projecting that the BJP-led NDA will get over 300 seats to comfortably cross the majority mark of 272 in the Lok Sabha.
In Gujarat, News24-Chanakya and India Today-Axis polls have predicted a clean sweep for the BJP across 26 seats. Meanwhile ABP News-Nielsen and TimesNow-VMR showed BJP losing two seats and three seats respectively to the Congress. On the other hand, the Republic-CVoter poll and the Republic Bharat-Jan Ki Baat poll shows the Congress winning around four seats, and NEWSX-NETA shows the Congress winning five seats out of 26.
But will these numbers stick on Thursday, 23 May, when the results are declared?
The most conservative estimates before the exit polls were released forecast 20 seats for the BJP and six for the Congress. So, is the Congress facing a rout in Gujarat, yet again?
Bell Tolls for Congress in Valsad
Let’s start with the bellwether seat – Valsad. The party that wins the seat forms the government at the Centre. The trend has held true since the 70s, and the BJP looks strong to retake the seat.
According to local sources, although Valsad Lok Sabha Constituency is dominated by tribal Assembly constituencies, the votes have gone to the BJP and not the Congress. Part of the blame lies with Congress’ insipid campaigning when compared to the BJP’s robust grassroots network.
According to sociologist and political analyst, Professor Gaurang Jani, Gujarat’s Congress party workers lacked motivation and the will to succeed.
“They have been on the losing side for nearly over two decades now. That is one whole generation of Congress workers never tasting victory. So it’s obvious that the new cream of Congress cadres are demotivated and can’t stop the BJP juggernaut.”Professor Gaurang Jani, Sociologist and Political Analyst
The constituency has over 90,000 Muslim voters, which the Grand Old Party considers its vote bank. However, the party treated its vote bank casually, while the local BJP MLA from Valsad, Bharatbhai Patel, ensured that Muslim voters favour the saffron party by developing road infrastructure in Muslim-dominated localities.
According to sources, the BJP can easily muster over 25,000 Muslim votes from Valsad. Apart from this, first-time voters in Valsad, predominantly students, favour Narendra Modi and his politics. Another reason for the BJP’s grassroots support is the education facilities provided in the constituency, where state government hostels offer free meals and tuitions to students.
Has Rural Gujarat Turned Against Congress?
Gujarat was seething with anti-incumbency carried forward from the 2017 Assembly elections. Farmers of rural Gujarat, especially in Saurashtra and North Gujarat, were angry with the state and central governments for several reasons ranging from lack of water for irrigation, poor MSP, non-payment of crop insurance claims, among other things.
However, Professor Gaurang Jani believes that even the rural voters in Saurashtra can be influenced by the urban vote bank in the region.
“If you travel 25-50 kms in any direction in Saurashtra, you will reach a town or city where a Lok Sabha constituency is based. Although there are several Assembly constituencies under each LS seat, one needs to remember that the local civic bodies in these regions are under the BJP. I’m specifically talking about Porbandar, Junagadh, Jamnagar, among others.”Professor Gaurang Jani, Sociologist and Political Analyst
“Urban voters have sympathy for Modi, BJP and the sangh parivar. This can spill over onto the rural vote bank and influence them,” he added.
Historically, Saurashtra has always recorded lower turnout and 23 April was no different. However, the Congress is bruised badly across Saurashtra after the BJP poached its MLAs. The change of guard will raise the ante against the Grand Old Party.
“The BJP has smartly taken over Congress MLAs in the state and just before the Lok Sabha elections. It will be a cause of discontent among saffron party workers, but it won’t translate into negative results, because BJP’s foundations in Gujarat will always remain robust,” Professor Jani said.
Among the Congress campaigners, Professor Jani is quite confident that former Gujarat Congress president Bharatsinh Solanki has a strong chance of returning to Parliament, while Paresh Dhanani may have an uphill task before him.
“Bharatsinh Solanki will return due to his long-standing influence in that area. Anand has seen three generations of Congress leaders, including former Gujarat Chief Minister Madhavsinh and later his son Bharatsinh Solanki. Dhanani, on the other hand, will endure a close contest, albeit he is the sitting MLA from Amreli.”Professor Gaurang Jani, Sociologist and Political Analyst
BJP Elated, Congress Defensive
Buoyed by exit polls that have forecast a majority for the BJP-led NDA, Gujarat Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel on Monday, 20 May, said the saffron party will get even more seats than predicted.
“Under Modi, the country got the strongest-ever government in 2014. And, people had already decided that they want to hand over the reins to the Modi government for another five years. This is being reflected in all the major exit poll projections. I am confident that the BJP and NDA will get more seats than what is being forecast in the exit polls. Many exit polls even suggested that the NDA’s tally would surpass the existing numbers in the Lok Sabha.”Nitin Patel, Deputy Chief Minister Gujarat
However, Gujarat Congress president Amit Chavda questioned the credibility of such predictions and claimed his party will win 10 out of the total 26 seats in the state.
“The exit polls never give an accurate picture. The results of 2004 and 2009 Lok Sabha polls proved that the exit poll projections cannot be trusted. This time, too, results will prove that exit polls were wrong. In Gujarat, the Congress will win at least 10 seats.”Amit Chavda, Gujarat Congress President
Whether farmers’ angst and anti-incumbency in rural belt trump a second Modi wave, the picture will only be clear on 23 May.