India polls: Modi calls for India unity as exit polls signal his win

Indian polling station workers take a close look as they seal a box containing an electronic voting machine at the close of polls in the final phase of India's marathon election, in Varanasi on May 12, 2014. A record 551 million voters cast their bal
Indian polling station workers take a close look as they seal a box containing an electronic voting machine at the close of polls in the final phase of India's marathon election, in Varanasi on May 12, 2014. A record 551 million voters cast their ballots in India's general election which also saw the highest ever turnout rate of 66.38 percent, organisers of the contest said. --PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI - Narendra Modi called for unity in India as exit polls signaled his opposition bloc would win a majority in national elections, boosting his chances of taking power in Asia's third-largest economy.

Mr Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies will win 249 to 340 seats, according to six exit polls released on Monday, with 272 needed for a majority. The Congress party and its allies, in power for the past decade, are projected to win 70 to 148 seats. Results will be announced on May 16.

"Let's place people over politics, hope over despair, healing over hurting, inclusion over exclusion and development over divisiveness," Mr Modi, 63, said in a statement sent by the BJP on Monday night. "It is natural for the spirit of bi-partisanship to get temporarily lost in the midst of an election campaign, but now is the time to regain it."

The exit polls, which have overestimated the BJP's strength in the past two national elections, boosted Indian stocks and the rupee as investors bet Mr Modi will turn around an economy with Asia's second-fastest inflation, Bloomberg reported.

The tally indicates the best-ever performance for the bloc led by the BJP, a party rooted in Hindu nationalism that has drawn criticism from opponents who say it will quash minority rights.

"Barring a complete upset that throws our calculations out of gear, they will have sufficiently large numbers as to muscle their way when dealing with coalition partners, if need be," said Sumit Ganguly, the Rabindranath Tagore Chair in Indian Cultures and Civilizations at Indiana University, referring to the BJP bloc. "The lure of political office is so great that parties will flock to the winner."

Nine rounds of voting started on April 7 to pick 543 parliamentary seats across 28 states. Turnout averaged a record 66.4 per cent, the Election Commission of India said, topping the previous high of 64 per cent in the 1984 vote. In the 2009 election, the Congress alliance won 260 seats and the BJP group took 160.

Indian stocks may fall if the BJP-led alliance wins fewer than 230 parliamentary seats, according to a Bloomberg News survey of 19 brokerages and investment advisory firms.