New Delhi: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling alliance is likely to win a clear majority in parliament after a mammoth general election that ended on Sunday, most 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 for youth and for weak farm prices and the election race was thought to be tightening with the main opposition Congress party gaining ground. But he rallied his Hindu nationalist base and turned the campaign into a fight for national security after tensions rose with Pakistan and attacked his main rival for being soft on the country’s arch foe.

190519 bjp polls
Image Credit: Muhammed Nahas/©Gulf News

How many seats will Modi win?

Modi’s National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is projected to win 287 seats in the 545-member lower house of parliament followed by 128 for the Congress party-led opposition alliance, CVoter exit poll showed.

According to another exit poll from Times Now, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance will win as many as 306 seats in the lower house, while the opposition Congress-led United Progressive Alliance coalition will win an estimated 132 seats. Polls were released on Sunday evening after the last of India’s 900 million registered voters cast ballots in a gruelling six-week-long election that started on April 11. To rule, a party needs the support of 272 lawmakers.

Why is the election seen as a referendum on Modi?

The election is seen as a referendum on Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The BJP’s main opposition is the Congress party, led by Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has produced three prime ministers. “Conventional wisdom suggests the BJP will return to power, albeit with a less strong showing than in 2014, and many exit polls will reflect that projection,” said Michael Kugelman, senior associate for south Asia at the Washington, DC-based Woodrow Wilson Centre. Still, he said: “Indian electoral politics are famously unpredictable.”

I did not ask for anything. I don’t believe in asking because God only wants us to give. all I want is ‘Baba’ Kedarnath bestows his blessings not just upon India but entire mankind.

- Narendra Modi | Prime Minister of India

Are exit polls always accurate?

Exit polls, though, have a mixed record in a country with an electorate of 900 million people. Votes are to be counted on Thursday, with results expected the same day. Indian television channels have had a mixed record in the past in predicting election results. Most exit polls in 2014 accurately predicted the BJP’s single-party victory. However, they wrongly estimated the BJP would win re-election in 2004 and significantly underestimated the scale of the Congress-led coalition victory in 2009.

Congress party spokesman Sanjay Jha said on Twitter the exit poll results were “almost laughable,” suggesting many voters were too afraid to tell pollsters their real choice in such “an ugly polarised election”.

Why has this election been so divisive?

Critics say Modi has stoked fear among the country’s Hindu majority of the potential dangers posed by the country’s Muslims and Pakistan, and promoted a Hindu-first India. The opposition, led by the Congress party and its leader Rahul Gandhi, have accused him of pursuing divisive policies, neglecting the economy and leaving many farmers in ruin. But Modi’s supporters say the prime minister and his allies are simply restoring Hinduism to its rightful place at the core of Indian society.

The Election Commission has a different set of rules for the Prime Minister and the BJP and different rules for other opposition parties. The biasness of the Election Commission is visible.

- Rahul Gandhi | Congress president

Modi and Gandhi have hurled insults at each other on a near daily basis with the prime minister calling his rival a “fool” while Gandhi derides Modi as a “thief”.

How has the Congress party reacted to the exit polls?

Reacting to the various exit polls, Congress leader Pramod Tiwari said that these seem to have been designed to promote the Modi government.

“We do not know form where the pollsters have got these figures. We have travelled extensively during elections and the ground realities are different. We would prefer to wait for the results before commenting because exit polls have gone horribly wrong in the past,” Tiwari said.

How did the BJP react to the exit polls?

Uttar Pradesh BJP spokesman Rakesh Tripathi said the exit polls were reflective of the opinion polls.

“The Congress should understand that their Rafale issue has flopped. The BJP will do better than what the exit polls are showing,” said Tripathi. The regional Samajwadi Party’s spokesperson Juhie Singh said the exit polls were giving out contradictory figures,” because “we know the SP-BSP alliance has done exceedingly well.”

How are markets expected to react to the polls?

With the majority of the polls indicating a clear majority for Modi’s alliance, Indian equity markets are expected to rally sharply on Monday, while the Indian rupee is also likely to strengthen again the US dollar, according to market insiders.