After a month of polling in four Indian states and one Union Territory, exit polls have now been released. They show that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will retain their governance in the Indian state of Assam, with the opposition Indian National Congress (INC) expected to make gains but not enough to win the election. The Communist Party of India (M) (CPI(M)) will also retain their governance in the Indian state of Kerala. The INC are once again expected to make gains according to a few exit polls, but not enough to form a majority in the Legislative Assembly.
Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, which was in the opposition in the previous term, is expected to gain enough seats to form a supermajority in the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly. In the Union Territory Puducherry, the BJP is expected to gain enough seats to form a majority in the Legislative Assembly. In West Bengal, most exit polls show that AITC will stay in power, with a few showing BJP might defeat the regional party and form a majority in the state’s Legislative Assembly. Though AITC’s victory has been foreshadowed, it is still uncertain until the votes are counted on Sunday, when the election results are officially declared.
Tamil Nadu is a state in the southern region of India. Though Hindi is the national language of India, it is not spoken in Tamil Nadu, and instead, they speak their regional language, Tamil. There are two dominant regional political parties in the state: AIADMK and DMK. This election was different, however. The chairwoman of the AIADMK, J. Jayalalithaa, died in 2016 and the chairman of DMK, M. Karunanidhi, died in 2018. This state legislative election witnessed the absence of these two individuals, who were popular faces in Tamil Nadu’s elections.
According to the exit polls, DMK is expected to win a huge majority in the Legislative Assembly, with AIADMK losing many seats losing their governance power in the state. Besides the exit polls, this does not come as a surprise; in the 2019 Indian General Elections, the DMK party won 23 out of 39 seats in the state while the AIADMK, which had won all 39 seats in the 2014 Indian General Election results, lost all but one seat in the most recent general election. In addition, DMK is the third largest party by the number of seats it has in the lower house of the Indian Parliament (Lok Sabha), so their victory does not come as a surprise. It’s likely that the DMK leader, M.K. Stalin, will become the new Chief Minister of the state. The state’s economy has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and both political parties have made promises of creating new jobs and economic reform.
Kerala, along with Tamil Nadu, is also a state situated in the southern region of India. The two political parties that dominate the state’s politics are the CPI(M) and the INC. For the last four elections, no political party has served a second consecutive term, and power alternates back and forth between INC and CPI(M). However, the exit polls suggest that the CPI(M) will be able to retain their power and will serve a second consecutive term for the first time in decades. The BJP has made attempts to win the southern region of India, which includes the state of Kerala, and the exit polls show that they may grab a couple more seats but will form a small minority in the State Legislative Assembly. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the CPI(M), INC, and the BJP have made promises of welfare programs in the state. It should be noted that Kerala as of now is the last state in India to be under a communist-run government.
Unlike Tamil Nadu and Kerala, Assam is a state in the northeastern region of India. Unlike the rest of India, the northeastern region is unique because the people that reside there belong to Tibeto-Burmese groups; north India is dominated by Indo-Aryan peoples and the south is dominated by Dravidian peoples. Northeast India in the last century has witnessed an insurgency and instability. However, the situation in this century has improved considerably, especially in the state of Assam.
The issues that dominated Assam were the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) as well as the National Register of Citizens (NRC). The CAA is a bill that was passed into law in December 2019 which allowed refugees from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan to get citizenship, but it excludes Muslims. The NRC is meant to document citizens of India and identify and deport illegal immigrants. Assam has a Hindu majority, with a significant Muslim minority who form ~30% of the state’s population. Many Muslims there have migrated from neighboring Bangladesh and the BJP government has taken steps to curb this illegal immigration by passing laws like CAA. This has sparked huge and violent protests in the state, killing at least five people. Assam for many decades has been dominated by the INC, but recently, the BJP has swept many seats in the previous legislative elections as well as the last general elections. Exit polls show INC will gain some seats but BJP will retain its majority in the state.
Puducherry is not a state. Instead, it is Union Territory of India in the form of small enclaves. A state in India can make its own laws and to a certain degree has its own autonomy in self governance. A Union Territory, however, is usually a small land that is directly ruled by the National Government of India. Though India was under British rule, Puducherry was ruled by the French, and it was eventually transferred over to India in 1954. Puducherry is located in south India, along with Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Since its merger with India, the INC has dominated Puducherry, with the regional parties AIADMK and DMK occasionally winning elections. However, according to exit polls, the BJP is expected to win a majority in the Union Territory’s Legislative Assembly, which once again marks a humiliating defeat for the INC and yet another string in a series of losses in national and state level elections since 2014.
Of the five Legislative Assembly Elections that have taken place, all eyes are on West Bengal. The dominant political party in the region is AITC. They came into power in 2011 and defeated decades of rule by the communist government. In the 2019 general election, the BJP aimed to grab seats from West Bengal and won 40% of the state’s vote. In addition, there have been members of the AITC and INC in the state that have defected to the BJP. In the 2016 Legislative Elections, BJP won 3 seats, but through defections, they now have ~30 seats in the Legislative Assembly.
The issues that impacted the election were the COVID-19 pandemic; cases have considerably increased in West Bengal. The BJP and ATIC have both blamed one another for the state’s increases in COVID-19 cases, and towards the end of campaigning, all of the political parties decided not to hold rallies because of the increasing cases in the state and throughout India. Another issue in this election was the CAA and the NRC. Like Assam, West Bengal has a Hindu majority but also a significant Muslim minority that comprise ~27% of the state’s population. Many of the Muslims are also immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh who have settled in the state just like Assam. After the passage of the CAA, huge protests broke out in West Bengal with AITC strongly opposing the CAA and promising not to implement it in West Bengal.
It is very uncertain who will win according to the exit polls. Some exit polls have said BJP will form a majority, while others suggest AITC will hold a narrow majority. Whatever may be the case, it is very likely that BJP will gain a lot of seats from this election.