The six-week long Indian general elections start April 11. Skeptics darkly paint Pulwama and its aftermath as a godsend for Modi’s re-election bid. Modi’s recent, aggressive speeches suggest he feels his party has made political hay out of Pulwama; so think the TV pundits here and there. But if latest opinion polls coming out of India are any guide, Modi’s “muscular” approach has fallen short of an electoral wave.
One cannot read too much into opinion polls (remember Trump’s come-from-behind victory in 2016?). Beyond the methodology issues, opinion polls in India are controversial also because of political engineering. But polls still give some sense of change in national mood or lack thereof. So, let’s see how, since Pulwama, the needle has moved for the fortunes of BJP-led, centre-right NDA.
In January 2019, a month before Pulwama, the “ABP News – C Voter” poll had put NDA’s electoral tally at 233 seats – that’s 39 short of a simple majority in the 543-seat lower house (Lok Sabha). In early March 2019, a few weeks after Pulwama and days after India and Pakistan had been “going at it,” as Trump put it, the same poll had NDA’s tally at 264 seats – 8 short of a simple majority.
If this poll is credible, some gain has clearly accrued Modi’s way, at the expense of the Congress-led, centre-left UPA. However, there is still prospect of a hung parliament. It could mean that the BJP’s strategy of creating a nationalist frenzy post-Pulwama won’t help them in crossing the finish line. Being an authoritarian leader, Modi might not like the idea of a hung parliament where he’d have to make compromises. In that case, BJP, despite gaining the most seats, would have to go for new elections.
Another poll conducted in March by the “India TV – CNX” is also interesting. Compared to other recent polls that have consistently predicted a hung parliament, this poll has been skewed towards an NDA majority. But even this somewhat partisan poll shows an addition of just 4 seats for Modi sarkar post Pulwama, predicting a 13 seat surplus over the winning threshold of 272 seats.
If this poll is credible, then it also confirms that a post-Pulwama “swing” didn’t occur as hoped for by Modi’s cohorts. In other words, these two polls suggest hostilities haven’t changed the status quo. But there is a possibility that the region may be one attack away from being thrown back into chaos, affecting the electoral outcome.
At a seminar organised last week by the Institute of Policy Reforms in Islamabad, Dr. Moeed Yusuf, Associate Vice President, US Institute for Peace, suggested that the “blip” was gone but the Indo-Pak crisis was not over. He noted that the combination of militants’ ability to strike again and Modi losing the last round was not a peaceful one. US, Russia and China needed to come together soon to solve the next crisis, he said, while also conceding that the West sided with India.
If anything, the above-mentioned polls should encourage Modi’s think-tank to soften their rhetoric and appeal to moderate voters, who are keener on economic development than warfare. But given the NDA’s mixed economic scorecard – read BR Research’s take on Modi’s era in: “Encore for Modi sarkar?” published January 16, 2019 – the chances of Modi changing his campaign narrative a month from the elections look slim