In dead heat, UPA and NDA keep contest alive

The Herculean exercise of a five-phase General Election to Lok Sabha 2009 is over. But the drama will only begin now when the ballots get counted on Saturday and the scramble for numbers begins.

So who’s ahead and who’s behind? Will Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) manage to retain the status quo at the Centre or will the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) spring a surprise and take the reins of power?

CNN-IBN in association with the Centre for Study of Developing Societies conducted a post-poll analysis and the results indicate a close race, ending in a photo finish.

The analysis projects a slender lead for the UPA coalition over the NDA and nearly the same number of seats for Congress and BJP individually. Following is the summary of the findings and the riders.


  • Cong+: 185 to 205 seats

  • BJP+: 165 to 185 seats

  • Third Front: 110 to 130 seats

  • Fourth Front: 25 to 35 seats

  • Others: 20 to 30 seats


  • Cong: 145 to 160 seats

  • BJP: 135 to 150 seats

  • Left: 30 to 40 seats

  • BSP: 25 to 35 seats


  • This is interpretation of the National Election Study. National Election Study or CSDS is not making these projections.

  • Translating votes into seats is tricky. Hence no dis-aggregations have been made.

  • This is a post-poll survey, hence states like Tamil Nadu, Punjab and parts of West Bengal that went to polls for Phase V have not been included. These are projections based on existing data and not.

Explanation: Hence while Congress has a lead, it’s a marginal one and similar is the UPA-NDA balance. Changes that Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and others could affect would be factored in during the final analysis on May 15.


CNN-IBN Editor in Chief Rajdeep Sardesai and Prof Yogendra Yadav of the CSDS debated and dissected the findings with a panel comprising National Affairs Editor, Diptosh Majumdar; Political Editor of Hindustan Times, Vinod Sharma; senior journalist Dilip Padgaonkar; Rural Affairs Editor of The Hindu, P Sainath; author and historian Ramachandra Guha and Editor, Loksatta, Kumar Ketkar.


Dilip Padgaonkar believed that as things stood on May 13, Third Front – with its projected share of 110 seats or so – was a clear magnet, an indication that it could play the kingmaker if it stays together.

“Tamil Nadu election will be crucial because everything depends on the attitudes and the choices that AIADMK makes,” he said.

It’s clear that India is headed for a badly hung Parliament and P Sainath said there were three other factors that were equally clear. “The game remains the same since 1989 – that who is the single largest party and not who gets the majority. Even the bigger fronts are dealing in smaller numbers and a restless electorate is experimenting, going beyond a framework that we are focused on and are voting differently”.


Ramachandra Guha said these elections were different from the 1989 polls for the simple lack of national issue. “In 1989, the issue was corruption of Congress, 1991 – the assassination of a former PM etc. Today even though parties have tried to project, there’s no real national issue”.

So just what hasn’t worked for the UPA? Just a few months ago, political pundits would have given a 230-240 seat share to the ruling coalition but now it’s actually down considerably. So if Lalu and Jayalalithaa do not extend support, it’s back to the Left for the Congress.

On the contrary, the BJP has done reasonably well and NDA cannot be considered out of the race.


Vinod Sharma said the popular sentiment seemed to be “non-Congress, anti-BJP”. Yogendra Yadav said the projection does not rule out the possibility of BJP being a little ahead of Congress in terms of seats. “It’s a very interesting scenario: UPA ahead of the NDA but BJP ahead of the Congress,” Yadav explained.

Kumar Ketkar made an interesting analysis. He said if the Congress-led UPA is getting similar numbers as it did in 2004, then five-year Congress rule hasn’t left people satisfied. “It also says that anti-BJP-ism hasn’t really worked. It’s also necessary to understand that Left have also lost. The gainers have been these stray parties. So if Shiv Sena is losing, it’s the MNS and not Congress that’s gaining,” he said

However, the critical aspect is Jayalalithaa who needs to get at least 30 seats. In that scenario, UPA can form government So if Lalu-Paswan get an equal number and Congress cobbles up somewhere around 203, UPA can form government.

NDA, however would require more support possibly from Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee and possibly even from Jayalalithaa.


A battery of politicians from across the spectrum reacted to the CNN-IBN-CSDS analysis. Congress’ Anand Sharma denied the partymen were getting sleepless nights. “We will be the single largest party and there will be a substantial difference between Cong and BJP. We have traveled extensively and there’s an acknowledgement of all the good work done,” he said.

Ravi Shankar Prasad of the BJP said Congress was in for a shock. “All the allies of the Congress are in for a shock, the current allies of the BJP are doing well. TRS has come with us, Shiv Sena is likely to do well and DMK is doing badly. BJP is rising in all the states, Cong is doing well in only three states. The real story of these elections is going to be Uttar Pradesh. Once we emerge as the single largest party, a large number of parties would want to see a stable government and have a re-look,” he said, when asked how the party intends to cobble up support.

Anand Sharma said Congress has all options open. “We have to look at the final numbers. Since Congress will be the single largest party, all non-BJP secular parties will be obliged to support us,” he said.



  • Cong and its allies get close to 200 seats

  • RJD, LJP and SP add about 40 seats

  • The Left with 35 seats gives outside support

  • UPA+ crosses majority mark

  • Likelihood: Possible


  • UPA gets 180 to 200 seats

  • SP gets 25 seats

  • Nitish Kumar & Jayalalithaa switch sides

  • Smaller parties like BJD, PMK also join in

  • UPA+ crosses majority mark

  • Verdict: Possible



  • NDA gets close to 200 seats

  • Ex-NDA partners AIADMK & TDP return with about 50 seats

  • Mayawati supports with about 35 MPs

  • NDA crosses majority mark

  • Likelihood: Possible



  • Third Front gets about 140 seats

  • Gets Fourth Front support

  • Gets other UPA allies to support it

  • Or gets UPA to lend outside support

  • Likelihood: Unlikely


Clearly, going by these numbers, India is in for a long drawn out process of government formation and all eyes will be on President Pratibha Patil. “Her call will be very difficult because all kinds of claims and counter-claims will be made. If there’s a single largest party, the President – as per tradition – must call the single-largest party. As per Bommai case, the strength has to be proved on floor. It could well be that the BJP or the Cong – as single largest – can’t muster those numbers. But I feel it’s not a three-way contest, it’s a two-way contest,” Vinod Sharma explained.