Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to return to power with an even bigger majority in parliament after a mammoth general election that ended yesterday, exit polls showed, a far better showing than expected in recent weeks.
Modi faced criticism early on in the campaign for failing to create jobs and for weak farm prices, and analysts as well as politicians said the election race was tightening with the main opposition Congress party gaining ground.
But he rallied his Hindu nationalist base and turned the campaign into a fight for na-tional security after tensions rose with Pakistan and attacked his main rival for being soft on the country’s arch foe.
Modi’s National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is projected to win anything between 339-365 seats in the 545-member lower house of parliament with the Congress party-led opposition alliance at a distant 77 to 108, India Today Axis exit poll showed.
To rule, a party needs to win 272 seats. Modi’s alliance won 336 seats in the 2014 elec-tion. The exit polls showed that he not only held to this base in the northern Hindi belt but also breached the east where regional groups traditionally held sway.
Only the south largely resisted the Hindu nationalist surge, except for Karnataka, home to software capital Bengaluru.
Counting of votes recorded in hundreds of thousands of computerised machines will begin early on Thursday and results are expected by noon.
According to another poll released by Todays Chanakya, Modi’s alliance is likely to get around 350 seats. One poll by Neta Newsx, though, forecast Modi’s group falling 30 seats short.
The poll of polls, an aggregate of exit polls, gives the NDA 302 of 543 seats and the Congress and its allies 122.
The poll of polls indicates that the BJP, as it had calculated, will make up for its losses in Uttar Pradesh with a surge in Odisha and West Bengal.
In Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress will get 26 of 42 seats and the BJP will move to double digits at 14 - from two the last time, predicted exit polls.
Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal (BJD) will be neck and neck with the BJP, the poll of polls showed. That is a huge improvement for the BJP, which won just one of the state’s 21 seats in 2014.
The gains in the two states will offset what the BJP is predicted to lose in Uttar Pra-desh, where it scooped 71 of 80 seats in 2014. The poll of polls predicts 49 seats for the BJP. The Mayawati-Akhilesh Yadav combination is given 29 seats while the Congress is set to do no better than it did in 2014 - two seats, if exit polls prove correct.
The poll of polls also indicates that the Congress will crash in the three big heartland states it won in December, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.
“The exit polls results are according to our expectations,” BJP national vice president Vinay Sahasrabudhe told NDTV.
Voting in one of India’s most acrimonious elections in decades ended yesterday after seven rounds held over a month-and-a-half.
Exit polls, though, have a mixed record in a country with an electorate of 900 million people - around two-thirds of whom voted in the seven-phase election. They have of-ten gotten the number of seats wrong, but the broad direction has generally been cor-rect, analysts say.
In 2014, the poll of exit polls - an aggregate of various exit polls - gave the BJP-led Na-tional Democratic Alliance (NDA) 288 seats in parliament and the Congress-led UPA 102.
The gap turned out to be far wider. The NDA won 336 seats while the UPA, which had been in power for two straight terms, was reduced to 59.
With the predicted result, Indian equity markets are expected to rally sharply today, while the Indian rupee is also likely to strengthen versus the US dollar, according to market participants.
A clear win would mean Modi can carry out reforms investors expect to make India an easier place for doing business, they said.
But a big win for Modi would fan fears that Hindu hardliner groups would be further emboldened to pursue partisan programmes such as punishing Muslims for the slaughter of cows, considered sacred by Hindus, rewriting school textbooks to reduce India’s Muslim history and attack liberals.
Critics say Modi sought to win votes by stoking fear among the Hindu majority of the potential dangers posed by the country’s Muslims and Pakistan, and promoted a Hin-du-first India.
But his supporters say Modi and his allies are simply restoring Hinduism to its rightful place at the core of Indian society. Muslims make up about 14% of India’s 1.3 billion population.
Dilip Agrawal, 46, who runs a mill in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, said he had voted for Modi, despite the difficulties faced by farmers.