Exit polls for states – Assam, Tamil Nadu, Bengal, Kerala and Puducherry

In India, the electoral scene has got so tough over the years that state polls are seen as a barometer of how well the political parties are doing. So, before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP was winning in the elections held in states months before the national elections, and it was as a barometer of the national trend (especially since these states of the Hindi heartland have large populations and hence hold a considerable number of Lok Sabha seats). This was repeated in state elections after the Lok Sabha elections, where the BJP continued its winning spree, to the discomfort of the Congress which saw that the drubbing it had in the 2014 national elections was not over, that people continued to punish the party. However, 2015 was more troublesome for the party. There were 2 major verdicts in 2015 in terms of state elections, with Delhi and Bihar both being seen as big losses for the party. Even though Delhi was a very small state, being the national capital, it has an outsize media attention and the harsh loss of the BJP and decimation of the Congress would have rankled. Similarly, the scale of the loss in Bihar would have also been very troubling for the BJP, since the message it had for the opposition was that it could defeat the BJP if they managed to get an alliance going (even if it was an unnatural as the alliance between the JD(U) and the RJD).
After these losses, the BJP is on the defensive. These are not outlier states, they are right in the heartland, and where the party had won massively in the Lok Sabha elections. The BJP badly needs a comforting win in the next set of state elections, or atleast to show that it has made inroads in a state where it has no position. The set of states that have ongoing elections is a chance for the BJP to show either of these. It really does not have much of a presence in the states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry or West Bengal, with Assam being the only state where it could show some sort of election promise.

Now the exit polls for these states have emerged after the state elections have been held, and if these polls are an accurate reflection of the trends, the Congress continues to be in a position where it sees no hope. It held a government in the states of Assam and Kerala, and these are significant large states. However, the exit polls show that the BJP has taken a march over the Congress in Assam, although that is the only strong point for the BJP. The expected increase in seats in the other states has just not happened, with the party being belong the support levels that were seen in the Lok Sabha polls.
For the Congress, if it loses in Assam, will be another jolt, since it would mean that its strategy of not forming an all alliance with the AIUDF has not paid off; there were some pressures within the party about whether to form an alliance or not and given that the party was likely to face serious anti-incumbency, there was some expectation that it would form an alliance. Not doing so meant a division of votes that has helped the BJP which did form an alliance (but kept the majority of seats with itself) and as a result, the for now expected loss in Assam will push the Congress more towards alliances in states where there is a sizable third party, even if this means that there are compromises that need to be made. But a loss in Assam, as well as the projected loss in Kerala to the Left alliance would mean that the party has very few sizable states where it is in power (with Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand being the states that the Congress still holds and which are of some size). This means that the Congress remains in a weak position and is not able to reverse the 2014 loss, which in terms means that dissidence is expected to grow and more difficult for the Gandhis to rule the party with an iron hand.
The BJP would be gleeful about the expected victory in Assam, since this is a state that it has never ruled before, but the weaker than expected projections in the other states should continue to remain a source of worry. There is one line of thought that believes that the performance of the BJP in the hindi heartland states maxed out in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and in the state elections, and it would be difficult for the BJP to repeat this performance (after all, is it feasible to think that the BJP will again win 70+ Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh again ?). It needs to open accounts and win seats in more states in order to broadbase their appeal.
The results is a mixed performance for the Left. A continued loss to the TMC means that, even after combining a vote share with the Congress, the Left has been unable to wrest back Bengal; the win in Kerala is somewhat expected because the alliances keep on switching every election. However, even in Kerala, a win for the left will mean a massive fight for who will be the chief minister. The party apparatus is in the hands of one person, and the popular candidate is another person, and this can mean a big headache for the Left.
Tamil Nadu remains a mystery, with not complete clarity on whether Jayalalitha can come back to power, or will the DMK be able to get back to Government formation. The big national parties remain outliers here, with no base and not much of seats.

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