Poll straws again point to a ‘hung’ Parliament*

The beauty of the verdict of the 2004 general elections was that it rendered the business of predicting future outcomes a tricky, even foolhardy, exercise to undertake, given the manner in which the mainstream media had all but declared the BJP-led NDA a runaway winner based on their own perceptions of the “India Shining” yarn, till rural India provided the reality check.

Still, that doesn’t deter bravehearts from trying to “pry into a voter’s secret communion with democracy”, i.e. feel the pulse of the voter.

Among them is Arun Nehru, the Jenson & Nicholson paint seller who joined the Congress at the behest of cousin Rajiv Gandhi and then did a 180-degree lurch towards the BJP. As one of Rajiv’s backroom boys who did the strategising, Nehru now wears the crown of tabletop psephologist, using his own back-of-the-envelope calculations to gauge which way the poll straws are moving.

Nehru was among those who got the 2004 result horribly wrong, but that hasn’t stopped him from sticking his neck out on what could happen this year.

His key finding (published in today’s Deccan Chronicle): It is going to be another “hung” Parliament in 2009, with the Congress getting 16 seats more than the BJP. The Congress will end up with 150 seats to the BJP’s 134 this time.

In 2004, the Congress had bagged 145 seats (up 32 seats from 1999), the BJP 138 (down 44 from ’99).

With the two major “national” parties short of the 272 figure by between 122 to 138 seats, the regional parties together slated to take 260 seats, a gadbad coalition is in the offing again.

Arun Nehru’s prognosis compares favourably with former Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu‘s a couple of months ago when he said the two main parties put together were unlikely to reach the 272-mark. More recently, the former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh had said the BJP would get 118 seats.

While each side and its supporters can find reasons to quibble over the predictions, while the predictions may yet go wrong, there are some interesting points to ponder from Arun Nehru’s reading of the situation:

# Aside from their geographical presence, can the Congress and BJP really be considered “national” parties? Out of 129 seats in the four States in the South, the BJP can hope to get a look-in in 19 seats in only one of them (Karnataka).

# Congress is expected to draw a blank in one State (Tripura) out of the 28 in the Union, but the BJP is not expected to open its tally in seven of them (12 if you spell out the five Northeastern States besides Assam and Tripura).

# In India’s largest State (Uttar Pradesh), the two parties can only hope to gain 15 of the 80 seats on offer. But the BJP, which is in favour of smaller States, seems to be doing well in small, newly created States (Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Uttaranchal).

Predicting Indian elections is a treacherous exercise given the imponderables at play. An assassination, a “timely” death of a top leader, the possibility of a surgical strike against terror hideouts in Pakistan, etc, could decisively tilt the verdict, one way or the other.

Nevertheless, despite the pitfalls of coalition politics being rammed into their skulls every day, despite prime ministerial candidates being grandly nominated, the fact that more than half the country is disinclined to go with the “national” parties provides a humbling insight into the clutter-free mind of the rural Indian voter able to differentiate hype from tripe on artificially manufactured “national” issues far better than her literate, media-exposed, urban counterpart.

(* Or why all those ‘Advani for PM’ Google ads may go waste)

Read the full article: Soon, a move away from coalitions

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Who will win 2009 poll?