Election verdict 2019: The exit poll results of perhaps the most keenly watched and politically charged election in many years are out, and a Modi 2.0 is apparently going to be the reality.

It was probably for the first time that an entire election was fought either in support of or against one man – Narendra Damodardas Modi. No Prime Minister since Indira Gandhi has been able to command such an unshakable devotion of his supporters and at the same time attract the concerted opposition of his detractors. Indira Gandhi is the right yardstick because if the exit polls actually turn out to be true on 23 May, Narendra Modi will become the first Prime Minister since the Iron Lady of Indian politics to win majorities consecutive times. (Gandhi had won in 1967 and 1971 with 283 and 352 seats, respectively.)

Held in seven phases from 11 April to 19 May, the 2019 Lok Sabha elections saw a galaxy of opposition leaders shed their personal differences to take on Modi. And yet as many as 11 exit polls predict that the NDA will march past the 300 mark. Three others forecast that the NDA will not get 300 but comfortably get more than 272 seats – the majority mark needed to form a government. Only two exit polls – NewsX and ABP News – are of the view that the NDA will be short of majority. In cases where the NDA is projected to win 300 plus seats, the BJP appears to be getting a majority on its own.

No exit poll has given the UPA more than 162 seats. Non-UPA and non-NDA parties – the much-talked-about Mahagathbandhan – such as TMC, CPI, TDP, YSR Congress, TRS, BJD and SP-BSP-RLD have together got an average of 120 seats in the exit polls.

But exit polls are mere predictions, and some past cases prove they are not right every time. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who has been the most vocal critic of the PM, was quick to dismiss them as “gossips” and, in a tweet on 19 May, urged all opposition leaders to “stay strong” for a “battle”.

The actual results will be released on 23 May, and it could either prove the exit polls right or wrong. In any case, only three main scenarios, and a sub-scenario, emerge. Each scenario will have a major impact on some of the key issues that have been part of the political discourse in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Here is a look at them.

Scenario 1: BJP wins 

A – BJP gets a full majority, NDA crosses 300 mark

This is the scenario that the entire top BJP brass and its supporters have been projecting. During the month-and-half long election campaign, BJP chief Amit Shah repeatedly asserted that his party will comfortably cross the majority mark. On 17 May, in the last press conference of the BJP before the final phase of polling, both Shah and Modi said that the party will cross the 300 mark on its own.

Narendra Modi

Narendra Modi will create history by becoming the first Indian Prime Minister after Indira Gandhi to come back to power with a thumping majority in consecutive terms. He will also be the first BJP leader to become PM for a second time after a full term. Undoubtedly, his stature as India’s most popular PM will be further solidified. It will also prove BJP’s point that an entire election can be woven around the cult popularity of one leader.

Rahul Gandhi

The face of the grand old party, Gandhi’s leadership will come under intense scrutiny if his party fails to win enough seats to be called an opposition in the Lok Sabha. This scenario might make many inside the Congress to actively or passively revolt against Gandhi.

NRC

The BJP will attempt to fulfil everything it promised in the party manifesto, including the contentious National Register of Citizens (NRC). Though the opposition, especially West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, has been most vocal against the implementation of the NRC in the states, the BJP will remain undaunted in its goal of identifying illegal Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh across the country.

Terrorism and national security

The government has achieved tremendous success to rein in terrorism in the last five years. Thus, there will be no change in the security policy with regard to Kashmir and Left Wing Extremism (LWE). On the other hand, the government might come down even more heavily on terrorists and LWEs. Tensions in Kashmir might not go down given that the government will continue its crackdown on separatists.

With 2016 surgical strikes and the 2019 Balakot air strike, PM Modi proved that he was not averse to taking tough decisions when it came to national security. The AFSPA and sedition law is likely to remain in force till the government is in power.

Article 370 and 35A in Kashmir

“Reinstate Narendra Modi as our PM and we would remove Article 370,” Amit Shah said this as recently as on May 16. He and other BJP leaders have been promising to scrap Article 370 of the Constitution, which gives the state of Jammu and Kashmir an autonomous status, for a long time even as Kashmir-centric leaders are opposing it. BJP leaders have also promised to do away with Article 35A, which allows J&K’s legislature to define “permanent resident” of the state. Despite a majority government at the Centre, and an alliance government in the state for three years, the NDA did not do it, which Nitin Gadkari recently said was because of “sensitive situation” in the state. It is to be seen if they take this historical decision this time if they come back to power with a full majority again.

Military

Notwithstanding the controversy over the Dassault Rafale fighter jet deal, a BJP-led NDA government will continue to ensure that India’s military strength keeps increasing. New defence deals will be struck as India is still looking to meet the fast depleting numbers of fighter squadrons in the Air Force. Modern and more effective assault rifles for the Army and other equipment needed to guard the borders with Pakistan and China will be procured within the five years till 2024. The government may also pay greater attention to the needs of the personnel of the armed forces.

Ram Mandir

Hindu hardliners who support the BJP have the Ram Mandir as their only demand. The BJP might do everything possible to make the temple a reality by 2024, given the fact that the chances of it winning the next elections, forget full majority, will be really low.

Triple Talaq Bill

A full majority might help the government implement the BJP’s push to make triple talaq a criminal offence. Though passed in the Lok Sabha on multiple occasions, the Bill got stalled in the Rajya Sabha due to the opposition. Many Muslim women have been sympathetic to the BJP for this very reason. Over 300 seats might also indicate a favourable inclination of Muslims towards the BJP. The BJP will, therefore, try to maintain its goal of getting the Bill turned into a law.

Economy

‘Vikas’ was the buzzword of PM Modi in 2014. Though the government launched a series of welfare schemes, including the Ujjwala and Ayushman Bharat Yojna, experts have said that the GST and demonetisation dealt a blow to the economy. The government will, most likely, try to steer clear from such policies that failed to fulfil PM Modi’s promise of ‘Acche Din’ between 2014 and 2019. Also in the crosshairs will be growth rate and unemployment. In spite of the government’s claims, the NDA under Modi did not do well on these two metrics.

Intolerance

Some say that India witnessed a “rise in intolerance” between 2014 and 2019. The BJP getting a second term with full majority might bolster a section of the Hindu hardliners to carry on with their agenda against minority communities.

Opposition parties

Obviously, many opposition parties will have to go back to the drawing boards. It could also be a question of survival for some political parties. The 2019 election brought many historic rivals together against the BJP. Most of these parties bank on caste and minority vote banks, not development. Thus their defeat could signal that the voting pattern of communities have undergone an unprecedented change in the last five years.

B – BJP fails to get full majority

According to some exit polls, though the NDA will come to power, the BJP will not get majority on its own. In this scenario, the biggest gain will be of the NDA allies, who will get to dictate the government and the PM on a lot of issues on which they do not completely align.

Narendra Modi

It might happen that Narendra Modi may have to make way for a BJP leader who is more acceptable to the allies. It must be noted that some allies parted ways with the BJP top brass that includes Modi, and some, such as Shiv Sena, though ally, have given tough time to the BJP in the last five years.

Rahul Gandhi

His political relevance will depend on the number of seats Congress wins in such a scenario. If UPA fails and Mahagathbandhan takes more, Gandhi’s situation will be similar to what it will be in the case if the BJP gets full majority on its own. If his party manages to win substantial numbers, it will be a personal victory of sorts for the 48-year-old.

NRC

It is very likely that the BJP will put the NRC on the backburner because of alliance parties, who might not be too keen to be seen as anti-Muslim from any angle.

Terrorism and national security

The NDA allies have so far been on the same page when it comes to terrorism and national security. Thus military actions in Kashmir and areas affected by LWEs will continue probably with the same intensity as under a BJP-majority NDA.

Military

Here, too, the NDA will continue its work on boosting the military infrastructure with more defence deals and military industrial set up within the country.

Ram Mandir

This is unlikely to take shape due to alliance politics. The reason is the same as in the case of NRC.

Triple Talaq Bill

It is difficult to say what stance an NDA that depends on allies will take in this case. If the NDA goes ahead with its objective to make the Bill a law, it might dilute some provisions and turn triple talaq into a civil offence instead of criminal.

Economy

Some economic policies of the NDA government in the last five years came in for criticism from its own allies. What is certain is that sudden announcements such as demonetisation will not happen. Welfare-based economic model might become more entrenched in the NDA policy.

Intolerance

A drop in the number of cases of intolerance might happen especially since a less powerful BJP will enfeeble the hardliners. However, the law and order situation and the government in the states from where such crimes are reported are also a factor.

Opposition parties

A weak NDA means that the opposition has achieved some success. Those who dilly-dallied on forming an alliance might get a morale boost and will find themselves in a position to better challenge the government on a host of issues. The NDA, too, will not be able to take key decisions with matters concerning national security as well as economic policies by bypassing the opposition.

Scenario 2: Congress-led UPA comes to power

It will be a historic win for the UPA and a personal victory of Congress president Rahul Gandhi if his party is able to form a government at the Centre. The most visible impact of a UPA win will have to be the end of what the opposition calls “hate politics”. The other immediate impact will be that the Sensex will take a nosedive.

Modi (and NDA)

There could be an internal turmoil in the NDA. Either some allies will part ways or force the BJP to replace the top leadership – Modi-Shah. Obviously, the blame for an NDA defeat will fall on the two. In the BJP, old warhorses just might make a comeback or give their backing to a new leadership.

Rahul Gandhi

The 48-year-old will be elected as the Prime Minister of India unless he chooses to do what his mother, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, did in 2004. Whatever may be the case, Gandhi would be hailed as a David who defeated the Goliath. A UPA victory will also prove that the people of India have rejected “hate politics”.

NRC

This BJP pet project will be thrown out of the window. The UPA has been opposed to the NRC and will certainly bring an end to the process.

Terrorism and national security

The Congress in its manifesto promised to tackle terrorism but also said that they will reduce the presence of armed forces in the Kashmir Valley. The party also promised to review the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). “Suitable changes will be made in the text of the laws to balance the requirements of security and the protection of human rights,” read the manifesto. The Congress also stressed on dialogue to solve the Kashmir problem.

Article 370 and 35A in Kashmir

It will be most likely that Congress and it allies would like to maintain status quo, given that their main argument on the issue has been that the Kashmir situation had come under control during the UPA rule.

Military

UPA government will probably scrap the Dassaul Rafale deal and issue a fresh tender. Technically, this would be a major setback for the Indian Air Force as they will have to continue with the ageing fleet of MiG-21s, SEPECAT Jaguars and MiG-27s till the new birds come home. The Congress has not made anything clear about its policies for the Indian military or how it will ensure the much-needed military modernisation.

Ram Mandir

Three words: Forget about it. However, having antagonised Hindus in the past with what the latter said “appeasement policies” for the minority communities, UPA’s soft Hindutva will most probably stay alive and kicking.

Triple Talaq Bill

The UPA government has been completely opposed to the Bill.

Economy and social security

The UPA will implement NYAY. It could be that the UPA government continue with the massive healthcare scheme of the NDA, but with some major changes.

Intolerance

Fringe groups will be defanged and the incidents of lynchings and other forms of targeted attacks on specific communities may ebb. Yet again, governments in the states will be a major factor to ensure this.

Scenario 3:  Mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) comes to power

This is the most unlikely scenario, yet must be taken into account due to the unprecedented unity displayed at the hustings even by parties who were historically rivals. This motley group includes every non-NDA and non-UPA party. Prominent among them are Mamata Banerjee’s TMC and N Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP. Though the parties projected themselves as allies and even attended anti-BJP rallies, they kept mum on the question of a PM candidate.

NRC

The Mahagathbandhan will definitely scrap the NRC.

Terrorism and national security

There will not be any complacency in anti-terror operations but it is possible that the Mahagathbandhan will take similar steps on matters of national security as a UPA government would.

Military

The Mahagathbandhan’s stance on boosting military capability will be similar to that of the UPA. The Dassault Rafale deal could be scrapped and a new one placed on the table.

Ram Mandir

Three words (again): Forget about it.

Triple Talaq Bill

The entire bill might get scrapped because grand alliance parties will not want to rile Muslims, who form a large chunk of their voters.

Economy and social security

A grand alliance government will introduce even more welfare schemes and heavily shift the economy towards socialism. The GST could either be simplified or replaced with a new taxation system. Welfare schemes of the NDA government might be renamed or restructured with infusion of socialist ideas of the parties. There will definitely not be any knee-jerk announcements on economic matters.

Intolerance

Cases of intolerance will reduce sharply.

NDA and UPA

While the NDA will be depowered, the UPA might back a grand alliance to stay politically relevant. A victory of grand alliance parties will mean a loss for both Modi and Gandhi, as many of the parties in the Mahagathbandhan are opposed to both BJP and Congress – though in different measures.