Prime Minister Narendra Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks as BJP President Amit Shah looks on during a press conference at the party headquarter in New Delhi, Friday, May 17, 2019. Image Credit: PTI

Dubai: As India’s marathon national elections enter the final leg on Sunday, a broad consensus is emerging that electorates are likely to throw up a hung verdict on May 23.

Most observers, including stock market pundits, are bracing for a fractured mandate with no party or alliance breaching the halfway mark of 272 in a house of 543 in Parliament.

On Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi appeared confident of a decisive verdict and his colleague Amit Shah said the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will cross 300 on its own, 18 more than it won in 2014. While Indian voters are capable of throwing up surprises, most pollsters and political observers agree that the ruling National Democratic Alliance — of which BJP is the leading partner — will end up below majority.

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu flashes victory sign as he participates in an election rally by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, during the ongoing Lok Sabha elections, in Midnapore district, on May 9, 2019. Image Credit: PTI

Action begins on Sunday

TV channels and pollsters will release exit poll numbers shortly after the last phase of polling ends at 6pm on Sunday. These numbers will give the most definite indication of the actual results on May 23. While exit polls have gone horribly wrong in the past — both in terms of predicting seats and in extreme cases they have got the winners wrong — the release of numbers is a national spectacle that is broadcast live on prime time television. Given the intense scrutiny exit polls will invite, pollsters will be cautious in predicting the results.

Their reputation is at stake in this elections, which observers say is one of the toughest to understand and predict in recent decades.

Bahujan Samajwadi Party chief Mayawati
Bahujan Samajwadi Party chief Mayawati with Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav waves at supporters at an election rally for Lok Sabha polls, in Varanasi, on May 16, 2019. Image Credit: PTI

Immediately after the exit poll results are out on Sunday evening, New Delhi will witness intense political activity and speculations.

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While Modi’s NDA and Rahul Gandhi’s United Progressive Alliance (UPA) are likely to be the two largest pre-poll coalitions, the regional parties are expected to corner a big chunk of seats this time.

The regional parties which are not of any alliance will have the numbers to tilt the scales in the eventuality of a hung verdict. Both the NDA and the UPA will entice regional parties to boost their numbers.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi after paying obeisance at Kedarnath Temple, during his two day pilgrimage to Himalayan shrines, in Rudraprayag district, Saturday, May 18, 2019. Image Credit: PTI

Who will form the government?

Conventional thinking says unaligned regional players will be drawn towards the largest coalition once the exit poll data is out and by the counting day on May 23, the winning alliance should be able to consolidate its position, ready to stake claim. However, things are not so simple and events in the past show that parties have lost a chance to rule even after coming tantalisingly close to the magical figure of 272.

Narendra Modi,
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, and Congress party President Rahul Gandhi address press conferences in their respective party headquarters in New Delhi, on Friday, May 17, 2019. Image Credit: AP

Whoever plays the game right on May 23 will have a better chance of forming the government.

The UPA chief Sonia Gandhi has made the first move by inviting regional parties for a meeting on May 23. If the Congress is serious about ousting Modi, it will have to move swiftly and bring regional players, including Mamata Banerjee and Mayawati on the table. If the Congress crosses the psychological barrier of 100 seats and its alliance gets up to 135 seats, regional heavyweights will be inclined support a non-BJP coalition government. In that scenario, the Congress will have to obtain letters of support from regional leaders and stake claim.

Sonia Gandhi
Sonia Gandhi, leader of India's main opposition Congress party, shows her ink-marked finger after casting her vote at a polling station during the sixth phase of general election in New Delhi, on May 12, 2019. Image Credit: REUTERS

The President’s role

The President plays a big role when electorates throw up a fractured verdict and there is no rule book to guide him. President Ram Kovind, formerly of RSS, the BJP’s parent organisation, is most likely to invite the pre-poll largest alliance, meaning any alliance that was formed before the elections and with the highest number of seats will get the first shot at power.

In that scenario, Modi’s NDA has an edge as it is likely to be the largest coalition and the BJP has the organisational muscle and money to get to the majority mark with the support from non-NDA parties. But if the NDA gets less than 220 seats, the UPA will be in contention provided it shows pragmatism on the contentious issue of who will be the prime minister. The Congress leaders have said recently that the party will not insist on a Congress prime minister.

DMK Leader MK Stalin greets Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao
DMK Leader MK Stalin greets Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao (KCR), at his residence, in Chennai, Monday, May 13, 2019. Image Credit: PTI

The President is under no obligation to take letters of support at face value and before inviting, he may also like to satisfy himself whether the alliance is capable of proving majority on the floor of the house.