Op-Ed: Exit Polls Bring Worrying Portents for Naveen

[A disclaimer is perhaps in order at the very outset. This columnist has never taken Exit Polls or their findings seriously and has always believed in waiting for the actual results to roll out before trying to make sense of the ‘verdict’. Hence, he would hold his breath till May 23 before drawing any conclusion.

Having said that, such is the buzz around the Exit Polls across the country – and in the state – there is just no way you can write on something else and still expect people to read you on a day like this. So, here it goes.]

The actual results of Elections 2019 three days from now could well turn out to be widely different from what the exit polls showed on Sunday evening. But there is little doubt that some people would not have slept well last night dreading the prospect of the projections coming true on May 23. Another set of people too would not have slept well, but for an entirely different reason. They would have fidgeted on their beds all night salivating at the prospect of the projections coming true!

The exit polls have certainly given the BJP a cause for celebration even if it lasts just three days. On TV, party spokespersons actually boasted that the results would be a lot better for it than what the exit polls were showing! The number of Lok Sabha seats given to the saffron party by the exit polls varied from eight to 19. Even if we were to take the lowest number (8), it would still mean a huge improvement over its performance in 2014 when it won just a solitary state out of 21.

The BJD, on the other hand, has a lot to worry about after the exit polls. It would be sincerely praying that the results on May 23 turn out to be vastly different from what the polls have shown. Give or take a seat or two. But if the broad trends that emerge out of all the exit polls taken together are anything to go by, the ruling party has to reconfigure its position both at the national and levels post May 23. At the national level, a comfortable majority for the NDA, as the exit polls showed, would mean Narendra Modi would not be as beholden to Naveen Patnaik for support as he would have been in a hung Parliament kind of situation, as most people expect it to be. This, in turn, would mean the BJD would have to get off the high horse that it had been riding till recently – now saying it would play a ‘key role’ in the formation of the next government, now throwing Naveen Patnaik’s hat into the Prime Ministerial ring.

But the bigger cause for worry is the number of seats coming its way through the exit polls. The numbers in its favour across ‘national’ TV channels start from as low as two but, unfortunately for the party, go no farther than 15. Even more worryingly, the only exit poll done by a local media organization (Sambad-Kanak TV) gives the BJP a clear win in only six seats while conveniently slotting six more in a newly created category called ‘close fight’! Even if all the six seats in this quixotic category were to ultimately go into the BJD’s kitty, it would still give the party just 12 seats, a far cry from the 20 it won last time. The difference between 20 and 12 could mean the difference between dictating terms to the Modi-Shah combine and pleading with them for something to show in return for its support to convince the people of Odisha that it had acted in the best interest of the state, particularly in a situation where the NDA gets a majority on its own.

Even as it sincerely hopes that the findings of the Sambad-Kanak TV exit polls go wrong in respect of the Lok Sabha polls, it would also be fervently hoping that at least its projections on the Assembly elections (85-95 for BJD, 25-34 for BJP and 12-15 for Congress) turn out to be correct – or even an underestimation. [In any case, that is the only poll that one can refer to because none of the ‘national’ channels have bothered to give us a break-up of the Assembly elections.)

No one would be really surprised if that ultimately turns out to be the case. All through this election, conventional wisdom suggested that people of Odisha, in a departure from their past electoral behavior, had made up their minds to keep Modi and Naveen in their respective places.

An unprecedented fifth successive term as Chief Minister would certainly give Naveen reason to smile, but not too broadly.

[Since this piece started with a disclaimer, it is perhaps in order that it ends with another. Nothing that has been said in this article can be held against this author after May 23 because he continues to believe, as he has always done, that exit polls could be wildly misleading.]

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)