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Touch & Go

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Despite the BJP’s recent electoral setbacks, pollsters are expecting the NDA to fall short of a majority in the coming Lok Sabha elections by just fifteen seats. No other party, including the Congress, is getting anywhere near the numbers required to be a contender to form the government. Considering that surveys have a margin of about three percent, either way, the NDA might even get across the finish line. Considering that the BJP and Prime Minister Modi are finally getting into election mode, with the sops coming thick and fast, it can be said that the picture still remains fluid.
The big challenge for the opposition parties is to forge a pre or post electoral alliance that has reasonable hopes of remaining together. Almost every one of the non-Congress parties is chary of creating a situation where Rahul Gandhi can make a claim for the Premiership, as this would considerably diminish their own prospects. States where the Congress is a viable other party against the BJP are very few, and no regional satrap would want it to regain its position in his or her own area of influence. This is particularly so in areas where the BJP is struggling to find its place, such as the southern and eastern states.
Akhilesh Yadav and Maywati have absolute clarity on this in UP. They are happy to keep the Congress out of their alliance not just to deny it the opportunity to come back, but also because it will serve to break away ‘upper caste’ votes from the BJP. This move almost ensures them half the seats in the state which constitute the rural areas. SP and BSP may fall out later for leadership of the state, but that is quite some time away. It ensures Mayawati certainly more seats than the zero she got previously. On the other hand, the Congress may struggle even in its bastions of Amethi and Rae Bareli, and will likely be destroyed everywhere else in UP.
While the Rafale issue is fading except in the Congress echo-chambers, initiatives taken by the BJP such as Ayushman Bharat Yojana and the reservation for economically backward upper castes will likely influence the swing voters. The latter has been particularly timed for the elections. The stand taken by other parties on this, as well as on controversies like Sabarimala and the Citizenship Bill, will also play a role in determining voting behaviour. There will be, of course, more to come and the pollsters should keep projecting to understand the developing mood as the nation approaches voting day.