Lok Sabha poll counting: Modi eyes record-equalling feat, Oppn hopes for rebound

PM Modi eyes a record-equalling third straight term in power amid the INDIA opposition bloc's hope of springing a surprise as the counting of votes for the Lok Sabha election is set for Tuesday, bringing an end to a marathon polling exercise stretching over 80 days.
Counting of votes for the Lok Sabha election 2024
Counting of votes for the Lok Sabha election 2024

New Delhi | Prime Minister Narendra Modi eyes a record-equalling third straight term in power amid the INDIA opposition bloc's hope of springing a surprise as the counting of votes for the Lok Sabha election is set for Tuesday, bringing an end to a marathon polling exercise stretching over 80 days.

While most experts have long seen the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) as the favourite in the polls, a lot is at stake for the ruling combine in terms of the scale of victory it can pull off and new territories it can conquer. The opposition's stakes are higher still amid its reducing national footprint.

Exit polls have been, however, unanimous in their prediction that the NDA is closer to realising Modi's ambitious target of "400 paar" for his alliance than the INDIA bloc is to crossing even the 180 mark, one-third of the total number of seats.

Though electoral verdicts have historically been accepted, even though grudgingly, by all parties, there has been a sharper edge to the questions being raised by opposition parties this time over the polling process, including the Election Commission (EC).

In the run-up to the counting, the campaign acrimony between the two battling camps has spilled over into the post-poll trading of accusations after the exit polls predicted a massive win for the incumbent alliance, a forecast summarily dismissed by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi as "Modi media poll".

INDIA bloc leaders, who have been raising doubts over the electronic voting machines (EVMs), have accused the prime minister of sending a signal to the bureaucracy through these "fantasy" exit polls and marched to the EC, urging the poll watchdog to follow the counting guidelines.

In its counter-attack, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has accused its rivals of trying to undermine the integrity of India's electoral process and asked the EC to prevent any attempt of "violence and unrest" during the counting of votes.

The results will show if the Congress has it in its organisation and leadership to challenge the BJP amid its reducing footprint across the country since 2014. It has failed to get even the main opposition party status in two consecutive Lok Sabha polls and has been reduced to a pale shadow of itself in a number of states, especially in the Hindi heartland.

Its leaders, including president Mallikarjun Kharge and principal campaigner Rahul Gandhi, have claimed that their alliance will get 295 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha, marking an end of the Modi era.

INDIA bloc leaders believe that their alliance has been able to shape the poll narrative around its planks of welfarism and an alleged threat to the Constitution from an all-powerful saffron onslaught, and will get popular support.

Modi will equal the country's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru's record of leading his party to three straight electoral victories if the BJP retains power.

An uncertain future also hangs over the fate of the Left, besides many regional parties including the Trinamool Congress (TMC), Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and YSR Congress, which are in power in West Bengal, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh respectively.

Modi has spearheaded a concerted BJP push to gain further in strength in the two eastern states, where the party surprised everyone by emerging as the powerful second force in 2019, and the exit polls have suggested that it may topple the two regional parties from the top position in these polls.

Assembly polls were held in Odisha alongside the national election and the BJP and the BJD, which has been in power in the state since 2000 under Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik's leadership, are locked in a fierce battle for power. Assembly polls were also held simultaneously in the YSRCP-ruled Andhra Pradesh.

Another issue that has drawn the limelight is whether the BJP will be able to emerge as a strong force in Tamil Nadu and the Left-ruled Kerala, two states where it has currently no seats but is predicted to win a few this time.

A poor show by the Left will further darken its prospects nationwide as Kerala is the only state where it remains a strong force after being knocked of reckoning in its former strongholds of Bengal and Tripura.

Always confident of his return to power, Modi has already penned an article about his vision for the country, posted on X about people's support to the NDA and rejection of the opposition, and held a meeting with top officials on the "new government's agenda" for the first 100 days.

The results are also expected to spell out the people's verdict on the fate of regional stalwarts like Sharad Pawar and Uddhav Thackeray, whose parties have joined hands with the BJP and who have run an intense campaign to win over people's support for their factions.

The verdict will also be out on a number of Union ministers, including Piyush Goyal, Bhupender Yadav, Sarbananda Sonowal and Dharmendra Pradhan, all Rajya Sabha members asked by the BJP to contest the polls, and former chief ministers, such as the BJP's Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Basavaraj Bommai, Trivendra Singh Rawat and the Congress's Digvijay Singh and Bhupesh Baghel.

Besides Modi, who contested the election from Varanasi for a third straight term, senior members of his cabinet, such as Amit Shah and Rajnath Singh, are in the fray, and the margins of their win will be watched out for as well.

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