Rather than an outcome of 'pro-incumbency', the exit poll results betray a completely lackadaisical approach of the Opposition parties.
While a new kind of politics was on display for the past five years, they were still mired in their old-style methods which will cost them the election, predicts Utkarsh Mishra.
I freaked out several of my friends on a Sunday morning when I posted on Facebook that the Bharatiya Janata Party would most likely win 350 seats.
While some were upset and telling me about 'disenchanted voters', others took a swipe, saying the BJP is doing quite well in Pakistan too!
After the exit poll results emerged in the evening, silence prevailed.
I've been firm in my opinion since December last year that the BJP would score a triple century.
But whenever I said that Narendra Damodardas Modi would return with an even greater majority than in 2014, it startled even BJP supporters, my kith and kin included.
Everyone asked me about the basis of my belief, and I explained a lot of factors.
But I issued a caveat with all my observations that if it all turns out be a charade on May 23, no one would be more pleased than I.
However, as it seems, the picture isn't going to be much different.
So what led to this wave of -- if we can borrow a phrase from Mr Modi -- 'pro-incumbency'?
I suggest that rather than being an outcome of 'pro-incumbency', these results betray a completely lackadaisical approach of the Opposition parties.
They were not fighting to win this election. Even the Congress fought so half-heartedly.
While a new kind of politics was on display for the past five years, the Opposition parties were mired in their old-style methods.
Here are some reasons that may have facilitated 'Phir ek baar, Modi sarkar'.
Lack of ground work by the Opposition
While many mocked Modi for not taking questions at his first press conference on May 17, 2019, few paid attention to the details Amit Anilchandra Shah put out at the media interaction.
The BJP's national president not only explained the dramatic increase in the number of recruited workers, but also gave details about booths and polling stations which were covered by the party, tracking down beneficiaries of government schemes and making them put a BJP flag atop their houses, establishing 161 call centres where over 15,000 callers spoke to 240 million people about government schemes and their experiences.
And they have been doing it for the past two years, slowly building the ground for their party's victory.
No such effort was seen on the ground by the Congress or any other Opposition party.
The only time I heard Congress President Rahul Gandhi talking about a policy failure was when he spoke about the fraudulent beneficiaries of the Janani Suraksha Yojna in Uttar Pradesh.
This should have been done more, backed by regular press conferences and social media disclosures.
There was no large-scale follow-up on any big government scheme to reveal the reality.
Rahul focussed too much on Rafale, to which the average voter could hardly connect, especially when the government had a favourable Supreme Court order and Comptroller and Auditor General report to flaunt.
His rallies were also full of too much of 'chowkidar chor hai' and 'made in here', 'made in there' while he could have spoken more about rural housing, farmers issues with the market and the Congress's flagship scheme NYAY.
Moreover, nothing much is known about the booth-level presence of the Opposition parties. Why didn't the Congress do it in the three or four major states where it is in power is unclear.
Despite Modi's popularity, the BJP left no effort to pull voters. I am not aware of any such effort by any Opposition party, much less the Congress.
Scant presence in media
Rahul could have addressed a lot more press conferences on a range of issues.
But important matters such as the bankruptcy of the Gujarat State Petroleum Corporation and alleged false information on land ownership Modi provided in his election affidavit were left to leaders like Jairam Ramesh or Randeep Surjewala to explain to the media.
They were also not followed up. Naturally, few paid attention.
If Rahul himself had come out and spoke on this, it would have attracted more coverage.
Now I know people would say that Rahul need not address all press conferences. But one has to go extra miles when competing with such a formidable opponent.
Let's be honest, the media covers Rahul and Priyanka Vadra and not the Congress. So if they said anything, it would have been discussed more.
Similarly, the unemployment report was also not taken up in a big way. They could at least hit the roads with a demand to publish unemployment data, which the government has not been doing since 2016.
The BJP often parades 1984 victims in front of the media. Who stopped the Congress from finding families of those who died in the queue of banks and ATMs after demonetisation and parade them in front of the media on every anniversary of the note ban?
So much could have been made out of the failure of note ban or the hardships caused by the goods and services tax.
Relentless raising of these issues would have pushed the BJP on the back foot, and they could have committed mistakes.
Rahul's TV interviews
The Congress president started giving interviews only when half the election was over. I can't fathom why he could not do it earlier.
A television interview in 2014 was responsible for decimating his image, so he could have improved it with many others.
Not only to friendly media houses, but the party should also have approached anchors who are perpetually critical of him. It is not hard to guess what they would ask, so all answers could have been prepared and rehearsed.
It would have helped in dismantling many a misconception. Rahul could have just ask them to show one statement where he or any other from the Congress demanded proof of the surgical strikes or grill them for being over-friendly towards the government. The PM often does this.
We in the media may find it appalling, but the people love it.
It also helps in establishing one's image as a strong leader.
When Priyanka's entry to politics was announced, she should also have given interviews to all major news channels.
This would have helped the Congress score a few points. So far they have been playing the BJP game.
The Congress also needed to do on a large scale what Raj Thackeray was doing in Maharashtra, showing old videos of Modi and invoking the BJP's 2014 manifesto time and time again at rallies.
But almost everywhere, Rahul spoke about Anil Ambani and how a 'chowkidar' is a 'chor'.
Giving Modi a walkover in Varanasi
While everyone expected a Priyanka-Modi battle in Varanasi, the Congress developed cold feet. It was made worse because the party itself had hinted at such a possibility.
The spectacle Modi put up while going to file his nomination was in anticipation of such a move by the Congress. But with Priyanka out of the race, Modi did not even find it necessary to go and campaign in his constituency.
People say Priyanka would have lost that seat anyway and it would have been political suicide to begin one's career with a loss.
But I know many people in Varanasi who voted for Modi only because they didn't have a winnable alternative.
Priyanka could have been declared a consensus Opposition candidate in Varanasi. If the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party can leave Amethi and Rae Bareli, they could have surely left this seat too.
And with their support secured, the Congress could have got Mayawati and Akhilesh to campaign for Priyanka in Varanasi.
It would have completely pitted the Muslim, Dalit, OBC and Yadav vote behind her. She would have also got votes of all disgruntled Brahmins and other upper castes.
The trader community around the Vishwanath temple is largely unhappy with the Kashi Vishwanath corridor. I have met people who told me that while many are unhappy, few have the courage to come out and speak.
The Congress could have lent its voice to such people, raised these issues and gathered support.
True, it would have still lost the seat. But it would have heavily reduced Modi's victory margin. It would have also pinned him and the BJP down to Varanasi and the pressure on Bengal would have eased.
Moreover, the confidence it would have enthused among party workers in all of east and central UP would have benefitted the Opposition parties in at least 20 other seats.
Similarly in Bhopal, they fielded a former CM, a spent force in state politics against a polarising figure.
To defeat Pragya Thakur, the Opposition needed someone like a Jyotiraditya Scindia.
They should have gone out of their comfort zones as this was an unprecedented election.
No propaganda machine
The country sent a moon mission, became a nuclear State and an IT hub before Modi rose to power. Still, the BJP could convince the average Indian that 'nothing has happened in 70 years'.
There is so much misinformation in the public domain about the Congress and its past, and the party made no effort to bust it.
It was left to a couple of fact-checking Web sites that don't even have a quarter of the following that pages spreading such false news have.
The Congress should have spread more messages and videos through WhatsApp and other platforms not only to defend it, but also to present a clear picture.
A video of a village showing poor implementation of schemes, or videos of something like an orchestrated nukkad debate where people playing BJP supporters use dumb arguments which are then defeated by those playing Congress supporters, would have also helped.
Being the nice guy doesn't always help, especially when your opponent certainly isn't one.
In his interviews too, Rahul often reiterated how he spreads love while PM spreads hate. This may win him adulation among what the PM calls 'Khan Market gang', but it hardly impresses voters.
All the BJP needed to do was to list out critical or abusive words Congress leaders used against the PM and say 'Look, this is their love'.
Besides, in politics people love to see opponents ripping each other apart. They like the fake machismo.
In a recent interview, when Rahul was asked why his party didn't make an issue out of the intelligence failure in Pulwama, he said he didn't like to 'politicise these issues like the BJP'. He also gave the example of Modi's press conference outside the Trident hotel in Mumbai when Operation Black Tornado was still on during the 26/11 attacks.
But why didn't he feel the need to do so when the PM was seeking votes exclusively on national security is anybody's guess.
A disunited Opposition
Nobody expected the Opposition parties to put up one consensus candidate against a BJP candidate in all the seats. But they could have easily done it in a fairly large number of seats.
But everyone wanted to play their own politics and was eyeing their own gains, completely ignoring the force they have been put against.
While the SP, BSP and the Aam Aadmi Party tried to increase their base at the expense of the Congress, the Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar did not back Kanhaiya Kumar to avoid creating a more powerful youth voice than Tejashwi Yadav.
Many experts may argue otherwise and would insist that in parliamentary elections one need not declare a PM candidate, but it cannot be denied that the lack of a consensus leader has gone against the Opposition and helped the BJP.
People would have liked to see a committed coalition to vote for.
I believe that in this election, apart from Pragya Thakur's diatribes, no incident was unpredictable for the BJP and that would be the cornerstone of their improved tally.
It was Modi who set the agenda every time and others just played around it.
I see several experts claiming that the Congress did all it could, but the government has bent institutions like the Election Commission in its favour and large-scale tampering of EVMs cannot be denied.
While I am not discounting any of these arguments, but they only imply that they do not expect a government, much less a BJP one, to do that. And they will now depend on BJP playing fair.
In such a case they won't win an election ever, because they are against such a force whose objective is to win at all costs.
I would like such commentators to show if the Congress or any Opposition party put in more effort in pulling in the average voter and not merely relying on the turn of events to do that.