If Karnataka is, as many TV channels and even politicians have put it, the semi-final to the General Elections that are due next year, it might have an unusual message for the Bharatiya Janata Party: That it will not be able to win 2019 alone. Most exit polls announced after the end of voting in the assembly elections on Saturday gave the BJP more seats than the Congress. But only one said the saffron party is likely to cross the halfway mark by itself. The rest predicted a hung assembly, with the Janata Dal (Secular) playing kingmaker, and most indications suggesting it will go with the BJP.
Only two out of the eight major exit polls put out by various agencies on Saturday suggested that the Congress would get more seats than the BJP. And not one of them had the Congress building on its tally from 2013, when the party won 122 seats in the 224-strong assembly. Only one of the two that put Congress ahead has it within striking distance – the average prediction of the India Today-Axis poll said the party would pick up 112, just short of the 113 needed.
Six of the eight polls put the BJP comfortably ahead of the Congress with five of those putting the saffron party in the 104-107 range. That would mean the party would still need to pick up help from other Members of Legislative Assembly for it to form government. Most indications seem to suggest that the Janata Dal (Secular), a Karnataka-based party, will end up playing kingmaker.
A rough average of all of the polls, taken to get a sense of where the various predictions come together, suggests the BJP will get 102 seats, the Congress 84, and the JD(S) 32 seats. That represents a jump of more than 60 seats from the BJP’s 2013 tally, albeit explained somewhat by the presence of splinter parties that year, including one led by former BJP chief minister BS Yeddyurappa who is once again the saffron party’s chief ministerial candidate.
Only one of the eight polls suggest the BJP will be able to take the reins by itself, with Today’s Chanakya predicting 120 seats for the saffron party. All others suggest help will be needed from the JD(S).
Will that help be forthcoming? In the run-up to the elections, both the BJP and the Congress sought to portray the JD(S) as the other’s ‘B-team’. Former Prime Minister Deve Gowda, the founder of the JD(S), has also said that he will not tie-up with the BJP, although analysts suggest those words should be taken with a pinch of salt. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to praise Gowda in a rally earlier this month raised eyebrows and seemed to lend credence to the idea that the BJP and the JD(S) have a tacit agreement, especially considering Gowda’s party was always more likely to leach votes from the Congress’ base rather than the saffron party’s.
What might complicate matters are any ambitions from Gowda for a role at the Centre, where his party tends to follow the Opposition line, led by the Congress, on most matters. But based on simple calculations, it seems likely that the JD(S) would want to go with the BJP if it emerged as the single-largest party without a majority, not least because of a supposed animosity between Gowda and the Congress incumbent chief minister Siddaramaiah.
The most important disclaimer to all of this is that exit polls have rarely been consistent in Indian political history, particularly when they involve more than two major parties, so no party will be taking anything as a given before final results are declared after counting begins on May 15.