Lok Sabha battle ends, India heads for cliffhanger verdict


New Delhi : India was headed for a badly fractured Lok Sabha making government formation a tough task, television projections late Wednesday showed, as one of the country’s most fiercely contested battles for power ended after voting by some 428 million people.

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Three projections put the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) slightly ahead of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), with the Congress tipped to finish as the single largest party in the 545-member Lok Sabha.

As the curtains came down on the staggered elections that began April 16, an India TV exit poll said the UPA could end up with 195-201 seats and the NDA with 189-195 seats. The UPA tally could go up to 227-237 if the seats bagged by its estranged allies were included.

The Star News-Nielsen exit poll also put the UPA marginally ahead with 199 seats, just ahead of the NDA’s 191 seats. The Congress itself was expected to win 155 seats and the BJP 153, both more than what they bagged in 2004.

TimesNow television channel gave 198 seats to the UPA and 183 to the NDA, with the Communist strength in the Lok Sabha falling steeply from over 60 to 38. Smaller and regional groups are expected to win 124 seats and thus determine who gets the throne in New Delhi.

The India TV exit poll gave the wobbly Third Front — an alliance of the Communists and regional parties — 113-121 seats. The Star-Nielsen gave it 104 seats.

The projections — mirroring the pre-election mood across the country — triggered a furious debate among pundits about who would get to rule India by cobbling a coalition of disparate groups.

The expected cliffhanger verdict has already forced the Congress and also the BJP — the two main contenders for power — to desperately scout for new allies. As the month-long voting that began April 16 progressed, some parties switched loyalties.

“It seems to be a very complex political situation. It is the complexity that makes it difficult to make any predictions,” Kerala-based political analyst N.P. Chekutty told IANS, reflecting an opinion widely shared in the world’s largest democracy.

Election officials estimated that some 60 percent of the 714 million electorate – more than the combined population of Russia and the US – had voted over five phases. The results will be known Saturday.

Wednesday’s polling was largely peaceful but for the murder of a political worker in Tamil Nadu, where an alliance led by the AIADMK was poised to crush the ruling DMK and its partner Congress, and clashes in West Bengal, where the ruling Marxists are expected to suffer. They are tipped to get a beating in Kerala as well.

The exercise involved all 39 seats of Tamil Nadu, all four seats of Himachal Pradesh and all five seats of Uttarakhand besides two in Jammu and Kashmir, nine in Punjab, 11 in West Bengal and 14 in Uttar Pradesh besides one each in Chandigarh and Pondicherry.

The most notable of the 1,432 candidates included Home Minister P. Chidambaram of the Congress (Sivaganga, Tamil Nadu) and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee (South Kolkata).

Fearing uncertain times, Indian markets turned edgy Wednesday, with the key index Sensex losing 138 points from its last closing figure at end of trade.

“I’m fully confident that a BJP-led government will be formed at the centre. We will get new partners (after the polls),” BJP president Rajnath Singh said confidently. Within hours, Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh asserted that his party would occupy the number one slot.

With neither the UPA nor NDA expected to cross the magic figure of 272 in the Lok Sabha, the Congress and BJP tried to outsmart one another in order to woo leaders of smaller and regional parties.

AIADMK chief and former Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalitha, a key Third Front partner, said in Chennai: “There are feelers from many places. I am not responding to them now. Everything depends on the results. If the results are as expected, then I will go to Delhi.”

Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who in 2004 pulled off a coup by most unexpectedly worsting the BJP-led alliance in general elections, Wednesday telephoned estranged ally Ram Vilas Paswan after a fire in his house which adjoins her own in the heart of New Delhi.