NEW DELHI: India’s protracted and acrimonious general elections ended on Sunday with four exit polls predicting a return for the Modi government, but analysts cautioned that such surveys had gone completely wrong previously.

Former aide to Atal Bihari Vajpayee Sudheendra Kulkarni reminded television viewers that every exit poll had predicted a win for the former prime minister in 2004, but the election was won by the Congress-led coalition.

In 2009, exit polls had predicted 186 for Mr Vajpayee and 197 for Dr Manmohan Singh. The NDA won much less — 160 — and the Congress coalition ended up winning another term with 262 seats.

Other analysts cited Australian and American pollsters as going totally wrong in recent elections.

According to the exit polls conduc­ted by Sudarshan TV, the ruling Bhara­tiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was exp­ected to win 313 seats and the Cong­ress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was restricted to 121 with the unattached parties getting 109 seats. The winner must get at least 272 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha.

Analysts put a spin on the ballot incident as a key issue, which was evident during much of the campaign despite an initial advantage for Mr Modi. Exit polls conducted by Republic-CVoter predicted 287 seats for Modi-led NDA with the UPA winning 128 and the remainder getting 127. Suvarna News 24x7 poll showed the BJP alliance getting 295-315 seats, the UPA 122-125 and the rest 125-102.

News Nation saw Modi partners getting 282-290 seats and the Congress-led UPA winning 118-126. It said the rest would win 130-138 seats.

There were wide variations in what the polls predicted for Uttar Pradesh. One showed the opposition alliance getting 56 of the 80 seats while others showed the alliance falling behind the BJP.

Reports said while Prime Minister Narendra Modi meditated in a Himalayan cave shrine with saturated TV coverage, several opposition parties went into a huddle with worries over voting machines and the unfair advantage Mr Modi was getting with TV coverage in his Hindu saffron attire after the last day of campaigning had ended for other parties two days ahead of the last leg of elections.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi launched a fresh attack on the Election Commission just as the polls end­ed, alleging that it had yielded to the ruling BJP despite having the constitutional responsibility of providing a level playing field to all political parties.

“From electoral bonds and EVMs to manipulating the election schedule, NaMo TV, Modi’s Army & now the drama in Kedarnath; the Election Commission’s capitulation before Mr Modi & his gang is obvious to all Indians. The EC used to be feared & respected. Not anymore,” Mr Gandhi tweeted.

The Trinamool Congress has complained to the Election Commission that Mr Modi’s “widely televised” visit to the revered Kedarnath shrine in the higher reaches of Uttarakhand was a violation of the Model Code of Conduct.

“...Even though the Election Campaign for the last phase of polling for 2019 Lok Sabha is over as long as back on 17th May, 2019 at 6pm, surprisingly Shri Narendra Modi’s Kedarnath Yatra is being covered and widely televised for the last two days in all natio­nal as well as local media. This is a gross violation of the Model Code of Conduct,” the party led by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said in a letter to the election body on Sunday.

“He even announced that the Master Plan for the Kedarnath Temple is ready and also addressed the public and the media at Kedarnath. It is absolutely unethical and morally incorrect,” said the letter signed by Trinamool parliamentarian Derek O’Brien.

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu was meeting everyone in the opposition about his worries over the voting machines. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, by far the toughest frontal opponent of Mr Modi, blamed the BJP for introducing mob violence in her state. There were crude bomb attacks on the last day of the polls on Sunday.

The three-member Election Commission has been divided over its response to allegations of code violation by Mr Modi.

Mr Naidu in his letter to the poll body spoke of “disappointment” for not registering the dissent of one of the election commissioners, Ashok Lavasa, in giving clean chits to PM Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah over four speeches that many in the opposition believed were in violation of the poll code.

“The callousness showed by the Election Commission in not considering the minority’s decision does not befit the stature of the Election Commission’s office. This clearly depicts an erosion of institutional integrity,” he said.

Published in Dawn, May 20th, 2019