NEW DELHI The counting of votes for the seven-phase elections to India’s lower house of parliament, the world’s biggest democratic exercise, will take place on Thursday, bringing the curtains down on a bitterly-fought contest which the country rarely witnessed.
Most of the exit polls have predicted that the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is on course to retain power for a second term.
However, the opposition parties have trashed results of the exit polls, claiming that the BJP will suffer severe drubbing due to rising unemployment, farm distress and a slowdown in the economy.
The voting was staggered between April 11 and May 19 in which around 67 per cent of the nearly 900 million eligible people exercised their franchise to elect 542 members of the Lok Sabha from a total of 8,049 contestants.
In the 2014 elections, the BJP won 282 seats while the Congress had suffered a severe drubbing getting an all-time low of 44 seats as against 206 it won in 2009.
From ‘chowkidar chor hai’ and ‘bhrashtachari no. 1’ to ‘khaki underwear’, acerbic remarks ruled the roost this election season, making it one of the most bitterly-contested parliamentary polls post Independence.
Election Commission officials said the counting of votes for the Lok Sabha elections will begin at 8.00 am Thursday and results are expected only by late evening.
For the first time in Lok Sabha polls, the EC will tally vote count on Electronic Voting Machines with voter-verified paper audit trail slips in five polling stations in each assembly segment of a parliamentary constituency.
It will effectively mean that out of nearly 10.3 lakh polling stations, the EVM-VVPAT matching will take place in 20,600 such stations.
In case of a mismatch, the results based on paper slip count will be considered as final.
The entire exercise of EVM-paper trail machine matching will take an additional four to five hours, EC officials said.
The opposition parties Tuesday raised concerns over reports of alleged tampering of EVMs and asked the Election Commission to ensure transparency in counting.
EC officials said the voting percentage of 67.11 this time was the highest ever-voter turnout in Indian parliamentary elections.
They said as per procedure, postal ballots would be the first to be counted.
The number of service voters stands at 18 lakh and these include personnel of the armed forces, central police force personnel and state police personnel who are posted outside their constituencies.
Diplomats and support staff posted in Indian embassies abroad are also counted as service voters.
Out of the 18 lakh registered voters, 16.49 lakh have sent their postal ballots to their respective returning officers as on May 17.
The exercise of counting postal ballots manually will itself take a couple of hours at least, an EC official said.
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.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, several union ministers, Congress President Rahul Gandhi, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and SP chief Akhilesh Yadav are among key leaders who contested the polls.
Among others in the state, all eyes in state would be on National Conference candidate Dr Farooq Abdullah and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate Mehbooba Mufti and results would reveal whether or not they will emerge victorious or taste defeat.
Close Match In 78 Seats Could Hurt Both NDA, UPA
A set of Lok Sabha seats which are expected to be closely contested is turning out to be the big variable ahead of the counting of votes on Thursday.
These comprise at least 78 seats where the gap in vote share is likely to be less than 3 per cent, according to an India Today-Axis My India exit poll. These provide the grey area and could well turn the tide for the NDA or the UPA.
The poll says there are 37 seats where the NDA has a lead — 33 of these involve the BJP. On the other hand, there are 17 seats where the UPA has a lead — 13 of these involve the Congress.
There are also 16 seats involving regional parties where the margin of victory is less than three per cent — seven of these involve the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party-Rashtriya Lok Dal mahagathbandhan in Uttar Pradesh, five involve the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, three involve the YSR Congress Party in Andhra Pradesh and one involves the Telangana Rashtra Samiti in Telangana.
There are eight other seats where the vote share margin is extremely narrow, the poll says.
It is difficult to say which party could be the loser in these close contests. However, the BJP is the party to beat and exit polls have generally projected that the BJP would emerge as the single largest party in the elections. But, this might not mean a majority on its own as well in the Lok Sabha. In that scenario, slipping up on the seats where it is slightly ahead of its contenders could prove troublesome.
The BJP might not be a major contender in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana but it is in a straight fight with the SP-BSP-RLD mahagathbandhan in Uttar Pradesh and with the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal.
Stay Alert: Home Ministry Asks States
A day before counting of votes for the Lok Sabha polls, the Union Home Ministry on May 22 alerted all States and Union Territories on the possibility of violence in different parts of the country, saying calls were given in various quarters for inciting violence.
In a statement, the Ministry also said it has asked the States and UTs to maintain law and order, peace and public tranquillity.
The Home Ministry has alerted the State Chief Secretaries and Directors General of Police regarding possibility of eruption of violence in different parts of the country in connection with the counting of votes tomorrow, the statement said.
The Ministry said the States and UTs have been further asked to take adequate measures for the security of strongrooms and venues of vote-counting.
This is in the wake of calls given and statements made in various quarters for inciting violence and causing disruption on the day of counting of votes, it said.
The central security agencies have received inputs that some organisations and individuals, particularly in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar and Tripura, have given certain statements which may lead to violence and disruption during the counting process, an official said.