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    FILE PHOTO: Members of election staff carry Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) and Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines after collecting them from a distribution centre at an indoor stadium ahead of the seventh and last phase of general election, in Kolkata, India, May 18, 2019.

    Analyst Outlines Three Possible Difficulties in Vote Count For India's Elections

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    India has been holding its seven-phased elections since April 19, with 900 million eligible voters. The vote counting is expected to begin on 23 May and the results are expected to be announced the same day. Exit polls suggest that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are likely to win the election.

    Sputnik has discussed the issue with Chintan Thorat, psephologist and vice president of Chintan Group.

    Sputnik: How do you assess the chances of the two main parties securing a majority in the Lok Sabha? Which is more likely to emerge victorious?

    Chintan Thorat: With the current situation, I feel that securing a majority for any single party is an extremely difficult task. However, BJP stands some chance to gain the majority but the likely outcome of this election will be that BJP will emerge as the single largest party and will get to see a coalition government being formed in 2019.

    Sputnik: Given the large size of the Indian electorate, with almost 900 million eligible voters, what difficulties might be encountered in the counting of votes?

    Chintan Thorat: The Election Commission of India has been using EVMs (Electronic Voting Machines) throughout every election in the country for the past 15 years. These machines have time and again proven to be state-of-the art machinery hence reducing the manual counting error to a minimum. However, there are three major difficulties that might be faced by these machines as well.

    First one is a technical error causing delay. Second error is sometimes the total votes cast in a machine and total number of votes counted do not match. This may happen because the local electoral officer of the election booth may forget to reset the machine after test voting ends (every polling booth agent of political parties test the functionality of EVMs installed before actual voting starts). So the test votes are also counted with the actual votes. The third problem is human error. In India every Lok Sabha constituency is divided into electoral booths.

    This division is based upon the population and geography of the area. One booth on average counts the voting of 700-1,300 voters. After the polling ends, these votes get sealed in the EVM assigned to the booth & this EVM is only opened on the day of the counting of votes. (There may be multiple EVMs used in one booth if the number of candidates contesting exceeds the limit of buttons on the EVM which is 19).

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    On the day of the counting, the EVM from one booth may get mixed with some other lot or booth due to confusion while transporting these EVMs. These are the major errors that can be faced while counting the votes in India, but it is not something that cannot be rectified on the spot. Usually such errors are rectified on the spot and results are declared on the same day itself.

    Sputnik: The Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) lost power in the Hindi-speaking states of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan in December's regional elections. How do you assess the BJP's chances in these states in the current general elections?

    Chintan Thorat: Rajasthan has always been a swing state. So the power change there was quite inevitable. MP & Chhattisgarh were both being governed by BJP for 15 years. So there was a big factor of anti-incumbency of the time of the poll. Even after being in power for 15 years in MP the vote share of Congress and BJP in MP was pretty close, if BJP would have gotten just over 3,000 votes in 6 specific constituencies then they would have won those seats and formed the government in MP.

    For a party with anti-incumbency that is not a bad performance from my point of view. Another factor with these elections is the leaders of MP Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the ex-CM of MP is still quite popular among the common people so that will benefit BJP in the upcoming elections. To help the matter, the loan waiver announced by Kamal Nath, Congress CM, after coming to power hasn't been executed in an organised manner, so that will also help BJP. However the recent Income Tax raids that happened in Madhya Pradesh received a lot of flak from common people, so it will be interesting to watch how voters process that.

    Vasundhara Raje, ex-CM of Rajasthan faced massive anti-incumbancy. Her strategies and candidate selection in the assembly election were major reasons for the party's poor performance in the Rajasthan election. So now there is a change of face and Bhupendra Yadav is looking after LS Polls in Rajasthan for BJP. He is really good at political management and will do a lot of damage control for what happened during the assembly elections.

    In India, voter mentality is as such that after changing the goverment, the anti-incumbancy factor recedes. So we have to see if Congress manages to get the same vote share in LS elections as they did in assembly elections.

    Given all these factors, BJP won't repeat the same performance of winning 27/29 seats in MP & 25/25 in Rajasthan like 2014. They will lose some seats there but Shivraj & Bhupendra might do some damage control.

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    Sputnik: The most important state for election participants is Uttar Pradesh with a population of 200 million people and where the battle for 80 parliamentary seats will take place. In your opinion, which party will be successful in this region?

    Chintan Thorat: UP is most definitely going to be the most important factor. BJP won 71 seats out of 80 in the 2014 election. They will definitely not achieve the same figure. After the election of Yogi Aditya Nath as CM, the state of UP has been massively polarised. In addition, the alliance of two of the biggest political parties in UP, SP — BSP (Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party) will deliver massive damage to BJP. The SP-BSP alliance became stronger due to the actions of Akhilesh Yadav (Leader of SP) last week. The photo of him greeting Mayawati (Leader of BSP) by bowing down in front of her as a symbol of respect for her venerable career went viral and sent a positive message among the electorate, ending an age old rift between the two giants & unifying Yadavs and Dalaits who make up large number of the electorate in the state (approximately 30%). So this will lead to SP — BSP winning maximum seats, second postion will be held by BJP, and Congress as well as other regional parties will find it hard to cross single digit figures.

    Sputnik: Yogi Adityanath, CM of Uttar Pradesh, said a victory for the opposition Indian National Congress (INC) in the parliamentary elections will lead to increased separatism and terrorist activity in the country. Do you agree with the statement?

    Chintan Thorat: If you look at the last 5 years of BJP government, there were no civilian terrorist attacks. India gave a befitting reply to the terrorist attacks that happened in the last 5 years on military installations. National security has been much better as compared to the tenure from 2004 to 2014 and there has been evident advancement of technology for the military. Congress has always been using a soft approach towards the issue of terrorism and separatism. So in the hour of need when stringent measures are needed, it is debatable how firmly Congress will handle these issues when the time comes.

    Sputnik: Can PM Narendra Modi repeat the success of the 2014 election? What will happen if the BJP does not get an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha?

    Chintan Thorat: Statistically speaking the possibility of Narendra Modi repeating the success of 2014 is very low. 272 is the magic figure which is required to attain a majority. BJP won 282 seats in the last election. BJP won most of the seats from what we call the "cow belt". It includes the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, and Gujarat. The state of Maharashtra also played an important part in this victory for BJP. If we bifurcate the results in these states, in 2014, BJP won 71/80 seats in UP, 25/25 in Rajasthan, 27/29 in MP, 26/26 in Gujarat.

    Now BJP is bound to lose around 30-35 seats in UP, and at least 5 seats each in Chattisgarh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, MP and Rajasthan (this number may vary). The total of the seats that BJP will lose comes around to 55 seats in the aforementioned states alone which is their stronghold (this number may also increase to 80-95). They are trying to focus on northeastern states and West Bengal to recover from this loss. If they do well in that area then they might come closer to the majority, but it is still difficult for them to cross the magic figure of 272. In such a scenario, a BJP-led NDA government will come into power. There are multiple possibilities here.

    If a majority of Modi-supporting MPs get elected from BJP and only 1-2 allies are required to form the government, i.e. if BJP crosses 240-250 then Modi will remain the PM. If it comes below 240 and if allied parties want a change in the leadership then we might see a new PM from BJP. In such a scenario, there will be two possibilities. First will be the most performing minister of the previous term, Mr Nitin Gadkari will become the PM and if not him then Rajnath Singh may become the PM but Mr Nitin Gadkari will always be the favourite of the people, more than any other name except for Mr Modi.

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    Now in a scenario of Congress getting more than 170 seats then there is a good chance that a Congress-led UPA will come into power with Rahul Gandhi as PM (or if he refuses then someone close to the Gandhi family might get the post of PM like Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot, Ghulam Nabhi Azad or Prithviraj Chavan). If both BJP and Congress fail to cross 160 seats, then we will see a prime minister from the third front. The strongest candidates in such a scenario will be Sharad Pawar of NCP and Chandrababu Naidu of TDP (If he manages to get good seats in LS, which is less likely). These two names have a national acceptability, Mamata Banerjee, Mulayam Singh, and Mayawati won't have that.

    Sputnik: Talking to reporters, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said that there is "better chance of peace" with India if the BJP wins the general elections. In your view, why is the Pakistani establishment favouring the BJP?

    Chintan Thorat: There may be many explanations for this. Statements from Pakistani politicians have played a fair share in Indian elections in the last five years. Almost all the statements were either pro-Congress or anti-Modi and they absolutely benefited the BJP in those elections. So maybe this might be a deliberate mischievous attempt from the Pakistani PM to make a negative impact on the BJP campaign in India. The other alternative is that Pakistan is the biggest victim of terrorism and Modi has a strict zero tolerance to terrorism policy. Maybe he believes that with mutual assistance, they may get rid of the problem of terrorism together.

    Sputnik: How will Pak-Indian relations, especially regarding the settlement of the Kashmir territorial dispute, develop in both cases (if the BJP or the INC win the election)?

    Chintan Thorat: If BJP comes to power, then there is a good chance that separatist issue in Kashmir will get solved in the next five years. There is a good chance of solving the problem at the earliest in such a scenario. If INC comes to power then mutual peace talks will continue as they used to happen between 1984-2014. But it will take a much longer time as it will be difficult to tackle with staunch elements in such a situation.

    The views and opinions expressed by the speaker do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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