New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was set to return to power on Thursday as it led in 292 seats, while the Congress trailed far behind with 51, according to afternoon trends released by the Election Commission for all 542 seats that went to polls.
If the trends stay until final results, the BJP would have improved on its 2014 performance when it had won 282 seats on its own in the 543-member Lok Sabha. Adding the seats won by its allies, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance could win 343 seats, up from 336 in 2014.
However, in South India, the BJP presence is still limited (except in Karnataka) with Tamil Nadu giving a sweep to the DMK and Congress Alliance which was leading in 24 seats out of 38, while the Jagan Congress was leading in 17 out 25 seats, while the Telangana Rashtra Congress was leading in Telangana. In Kerala, the Congress-led United Democratic Front was leading in 18 out 20 seats.
The results are a resounding endorsement of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ‘decisive’ image, his invocation of nationalism following the Pulwama terror attacks and the Balakot ‘air strike’ by India , as well as sharp polarisation along religious lines across in the country in the past five years, which was given a final stamp after BJP fielded terror accused Pragya Singh Thakur as its candidate from Bhopal.
While the media, especially television channels, played their part in bolstering the BJP’s ‘nationalism’ agenda, Modi, who single-handedly managed his party’s poll campaign, also relentlessly attacked the Congress party for what he called its dynastic legacy, even using strong language against former PM Rajiv Gandhi. This was alongside, Thakur terming Gandhi’s killer Nathuram Godse as a ‘patriot’.
Yet, the election trend shows that Modi’s carefully crafted image swept across geographies, caste lines, age, gender and economic status, except in most of South India.
In the politically critical state of Uttar Pradesh, where the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party combine had posed a stiff challenge, the BJP was leading in 56 of the 80 seats at stake. The SP was ahead in eight and BSP in 12. Although the BJP had won 72 seats in the last elections, the performance is much better than what many exit polls had forecast.
Even Congress President Rahul Gandhi was trailing BJP's Smriti Irani in Amethi (a seat held by the Gandhi family since ages) by nearly 7,000 votes but was clearly ahead in Wayanad in Kerala.
The BJP swept not only the Hindi heartland and Gujarat, as was expected, but also ripped through West Bengal and Odisha in the East.
In Odisha, the BJP was ahead in nine of the 21 seats and Biju Janata Dal was ahead in 11. In 2014, the BJD had won 20 seats and BJP took one. BJP ally, Janata Dal (United) was ahead in 16 seats.
In Bengal, the Trinamool Congress was leading in 25 of 42 seats of West Bengal while BJP was ahead in 15, up from two it held in 2014. The Left was heading for a blank in what was once citadel.
The counting exercise is on in over 4,000 counting centres amid concerns raised by opposition parties over alleged tampering of EVMs. They have asked the Election Commission to ensure transparency in counting.
Election Commission officials said results are expected only by late evening.
For the first time in Lok Sabha polls, the EC is tallying the vote count on Electronic Voting Machines with voter verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) slips in five polling stations in each assembly segment of a parliamentary constituency.
Out of the 543 Lok Sabha seats, elections were held in 542 constituencies as the EC had cancelled polls to the Vellore constituency on the ground of excessive use of money power.