Modi, of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), electrified the lengthy
contest that ended on Monday, with a media-savvy campaign that
hinged on vows to kickstart India's economy and create jobs.
Yet much depends on Modi winning enough seats to form a stable
government that can push through promised reforms.
Indian elections are notoriously hard to call, and polls taken
before and after voting have a patchy track record at best. Results
of the ballot are due to be announced on Friday.
A Modi victory would be a blow for campaigners who have long
maintained he is an autocratic Hindu supremacist responsible for an
outbreak of religious riots in his home state, Gujarat, in 2002 in
which more than 1,000 people died, mostly Muslims.
Modi, who rose from humble roots as a tea vendor's son, was shunned
by Western nations for years after the bloodshed in Gujarat, where
he has been chief minister since 2001.
However, his rise on the national stage forced a rethink among the
European Union and the United States, whose ambassadors have met him
to patch up relations.
Modi denies the accusations against him and a Supreme Court inquiry
found no evidence to prosecute him.
A majority of 272 seats in parliament is needed to form a
government, although that is often achieved with outside support
from regional parties.
India's staggered voting, spread over five weeks to reach the
country's 815 million voters and move security forces around its
varied terrain, ended at 1800 IST (1230 GMT) on Monday.
CONGRESS FACES HUMILIATION
The BJP-led alliance is forecast to win 270-282 seats, according to
a poll conducted by research group CSDS for the CNN-IBN television
It forecast just 92-102 seats for the coalition led by the Congress
party, which would be worst ever result for the ruling party led by
the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.
Congress spearheaded India's independence movement and has governed
the country for over 50 years since freedom from British rule in
If the BJP and its pre-election allies can win an outright majority,
it will be the best showing by a single group since Congress and its
allies won 414 seats in 1984, when the assassination of then-prime
minister Indira Gandhi created a swell of public sympathy for the
Several national exit polls over-estimated the BJP's seat share in
the last two general elections in 2004 and 2009. The Congress party
went on to form coalition governments on both occasions.
"We will only know if this 'Modi wave' has really happened after the
election results," said Praveen Rai, a political analyst at CSDS who
recently published a report on exit polls. "It still might be more
of a media wave, a manufactured wave."
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Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state and a crucial political
battleground, is particularly tricky for pollsters to forecast
because it is a caste-sensitive state where some voters are afraid
to speak frankly about who they chose, said Rai.
released on Monday, by Nielsen for ABP News, showed the BJP-led
alliance hitting 281 seats. A third, by Cicero for the India Today
group, predicted Modi's alliance would take between 261 and 283
seats, and pollster C-Voter forecast a tally of 289.
One outlier poll, by Today's Chanakya, showed the BJP emerging with
enough seats to rule on its own.
India's election reached a climax on Monday as Modi sought to secure
his ticket in Varanasi, a holy city for Hindus on the river Ganges
in Uttar Pradesh.
India's stock markets have in recent days hit record highs on hopes
that the exit polls would show the BJP and its allies winning a
majority, boosted by both Modi's pro-business image and the prospect
of an end to the coalition governments that have slowed the pace of
reform in recent years.
The Nifty index breached the psychologically key level of 7,000
points for the first time on Monday, breaking a record high of
6,871.35 that it hit on Friday.
The benchmark BSE Sensex hit an all-time high and the rupee touched
its strongest levels in 10 months on Monday. Several analysts
expected the rally to continue through the week.
"The implications of a strong NDA government at the centre is that
the quality and composition of the capital flows will improve," said
Rupa Rege Nitsure, chief economist at Bank of Baroda. The BJP and
its allies are known as the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
Should Modi fall short of a majority when the results come in on May
16, he will need to strike a coalition deal with some of India's
increasingly powerful regional parties.
(Additional reporting by Aditya Kalra in NEW DELHI; Editing by John
Chalmers and Mike Collett-White)
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