Thursday’s exit polls are unclear about who will win in Punjab: An average of the polls gives 55 seats to the Congress and 54 to the Aam Aadmi Party, in a 117-strong assembly. If those numbers are accurate, the result will be a hung house. Two polls actually give a majority to a party, but with opposite results. Axis says the Congress will win, while CVoter gives the state to AAP. But all the exit polls were clear about one thing: Punjab’s voters are kicking out the incumbent Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party government.
The SAD-BJP government managed a surprising victory despite anti-incumbency in 2012, breaking the see-saw nature of the Punjab elections that had persisted for two decades before. But after 10 years of the BJP-SAD rule, the public seemed to have turned against the ruling alliance, especially in light of an agricultural crisis, concerns about unemployment and a huge increase in the spectre of drugs in the state.
The AAP, a Delhi-based party that pulled off a shocker in 2014 by winning its first four Lok Sabha seats in Punjab, saw this anti-incumbent anger as an opportunity. Delhi Chief Minister and party head Arvind Kejriwal led a massive campaign in the state, helping turn the drugs narrative into a national storyline and managing to whip up the simmering anger against the Akalis.
The Congress meanwhile, saw Punjab as an existential concern, since it looked like the only major state where it could possibly hope to win by itself. It put former chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh in charge, and added firepower from strategist Prashant Kishore’s team in an effort to take the state.
Thursday’s numbers show that strident campaigns by both AAP and the Congress have worked, reducing the ruling alliance to a truly marginal presence according to the projected seats. None of the exit polls give the SAD-BJP combine double digits in terms of seats. The highest projected seat share going to the combine is 9, from Today’s Chanakya, down from the 58 they won in 2012. Axis gives them as few as 6 seats. The poll average puts their seat forecast at 8, in an assembly of 117, a stinging blow for an alliance that is also in power in Delhi.
There is always a chance that exit polls are wrong, as they have shown us time and again in the past. But it would be truly unprecedented for all of the polls to be quite so consistently wrong on how badly the SAD-BJP combine is likely to do, since all seem to be saying the same thing. The question of who will come to power in the state however, seems wide open right now.