x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The smart money was on Congress

Before the electoral results put speculation to rest, political pundits were predicting a fractured verdict and parties had started forging new alliances.

Congress Party supporters celebrate in front of the party's headquarters in New Delhi yesterday.
Congress Party supporters celebrate in front of the party's headquarters in New Delhi yesterday.

New Delhi // Before the electoral results put speculation to rest yesterday, political pundits were predicting a fractured verdict and parties had started forging new alliances. Along with various television exit polls and opinion polls, the bets favoured Congress and its allied parties to emerge as the single largest grouping. None of them had predicted such a comprehensive victory, however. In fact, projections had showed Congress leading the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) with a margin of just 10 to 15 seats.

The marathon five-phase election saw more than 428 million people exercising their right to vote. The mandate was largely expected to be fractured with a major vote share going to regional parties. Such a scenario would have led to uncertainty. Nearly 55 billion rupees (Dh4bn) was gambled in elections during the two-month election season, most of it placed on Congress. Bookmakers' projections saw Congress winning 145 to 160 seats of the 543 parliamentary seats up for grabs. The bookies offered 60 paise for one rupee spent on Congress, implying that Congress had a better chance of making its seat tally, compared with BJP, for which bookies offered 1.25 to four rupees for every rupee if it secured 145 seats. (One hundred paise equals one rupee.)

"After the fourth phase of polling, it seemed BJP would do well, but the results have been dismal for them. Right after the election dates were declared Congress was ahead of the BJP. Though the margin was not that large, we were expecting a tight fight," said Mr Shah, a bookmaker from Surat in Gujarat state who requested that only his last name be used. The bookies had expected a fractured verdict that would lead to formation of various alliances. "Most of the money was riding on alliance formations. It was certain that parties would form alliances to form government at the centre," Mr Shah said.

Although betting is illegal in India, political parties took the predictions of the bookmakers seriously. Hundreds of bookies kept a constant eye on the changing scenarios in the key states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Delhi, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. This was particularly the case this year because bookmaker odds for various state elections last year were on the mark. According to the bookies, various political parties took a cue from the projections this year to formulate strategies.

Bookies claim their business is based on thorough research and data. In many cases, they say, their projections have proved to be far more accurate and reliable than opinion polls. "It involves research and data collection. Our projections were based on previous election results, polling percentage, voter mood, polling agents, inputs from politicians and psephologists. We collect data from different agencies to formulate our own projections," Mr Shah said.

After the Indian Premier League cricket tournament shifted to South Africa this year, bookies focused on the elections, which proved to be a bigger money spinner than the Indian Premier League. The election betting business proved to be more dynamic than betting on cricket because projections and rates changed constantly, something to be expected in a five-phase election with more than 5,000 candidates in the fray.

The dark horse for bookmakers was the Third Front led by Communist Party of India (Marxist), which trailed the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance and the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance even though political analysts made much of the possibility that the front could emerge if not victorious then at least in a position of strength. The odds on the UPA forming the government were 1.50 to 1 compared with 1.75 to 1 for the NDA.

Almost all the political parties remained tight-lipped about forging alliances, leading to suspense over post-poll alliances that benefited the bookies. The bookmakers said they expected the suspense to remain until the formation of a new government, but results yesterday indicated the UPA would form the government on its own without leaning on the Left. "We hoped for the suspense to continue till June 2, but it seems Congress will not require help from other parties," Mr Shah said.

Betting was not only on how the national parties would fare, but on regional parties as well. Exit polls and opinion polls showed various regional parties strengthening their positions as a threat to the formation of government. Janta Dal (U) from Bihar, for example, demanded special status for its state in lieu of support to any particular party. Both Congress and BJP responded to the demand positively.

Similarly, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, in Tamil Nadu, performed dismally though it had been wooed by Congress and BJP equally. Exit polls had predicted 25 seats out of the 39 seats for AIADMK in Tamil Nadu. Bookmakers were offering 85 paise for every rupee spent. Another regional party, Bahujan Samaj Party, headed by Mayawati, the Dalit Queen, was projected to win 35 seats in Uttar Pradesh. Bettors offered 80 paise on every rupee spent.

According to the bookies, nearly 1billion rupees was placed on the six prime ministerial candidates. Manmohan Singh, the incumbent, was the prime choice of punters and was fixed at 75 paise for every rupee spent. The BJP's L K Advani was a dark horse through most of the five weeks of polling. Bookmakers offered 4.5 to one before the fourth round, lowering to 1.30 to one last week. jandrees@thenational.ae