India shares hit record high over Modi election victory forecasts

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance is projected to win anything between 339 and 365 seats in the 545-member Lower House of Parliament. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI (REUTERS, AFP) - Indian shares hit a record high on Monday (May 20), a day after exit polls predicted a new term for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) prepared to meet coalition partners to discuss a new government.

While opposition parties refused to concede, most media polls said the BJP and its allies would secure enough seats to form a new government after the world's biggest election, which began on April 11 and ended on Sunday.

Modi's BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is projected to win anything between 339-365 seats in the 545-member lower house of Parliament with the Congress-led opposition alliance getting only 77 to 108, an exit poll from India Today Axis showed on Sunday. A party needs 272 seats to command a majority.

The predicted BJP margin of victory is bigger than opinion polls indicated in the run-up to the vote, when most surveys showed the NDA would be the largest alliance but would fall short of an overall majority.

Votes will be counted on Thursday and results are likely the same day.

Indian stock markets and the rupee were sharply higher on expectation the business-friendly Modi would stay on at the helm. The Bombay Stock Exchange Sensex index had its biggest one-day gain in nearly six years - 3.75 per cent - to close at a record high 39,352 points while the Indian rupee strengthened to 69.63 to the dollar from its Friday close of 70.22.

The prime minister and other top BJP leaders made no immediate claim of victory.

But party spokesman G.V.L. Narasimha Rao said the polls "clearly show a huge positive vote for the leadership of Narendra Modi who has served the country with unmatched dedication".

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said he was confident in the exit polls. "When multiple exit polls convey the same message, the direction of the result broadly would be in consonance with the message," Mr Jaitley said in a blog post on Monday.

Most polls predicted the BJP would lose some seats but still form a government.

Sources told Reuters the BJP would hold talks with coalition partners on forming a government on Tuesday afternoon at its headquarters in New Delhi. The talks will be led by the party's president, Amit Shah, one of the party sources said.

The sources declined to be identified as they are not authorised to speak about the meeting. Nalin Kohli, a spokesman for the BJP, declined to comment.

The BJP won 282 seats of parliament's 543 elected seats in its 2014 landslide triumph and with allies had 336 seats. Leading polls projected the BJP-led alliance winning between 282 and 313 seats this time.

The opposition Congress party was predicted to double its 2014 tally of 44 seats - a historic low since India's independence in 1947 - but still fall far short of a claim to power.

The party pointed to the unreliability of polls in previous elections.

Congress spokesman Sanjay Jha said on Twitter he believed they were wrong. "If the exit poll figures are true then my dog is a nuclear scientist," Jha said, adding he expected the next prime minister would come from outside the BJP alliance.

Mamata Banerjee, head of the regional Trinamool Congress party that dominates in West Bengal state, dismissed the forecasts as "exit poll gossip".

Modi and his BJP faced criticism in the run-up to the election over unemployment, in particular for failing to provide opportunities to young people coming onto the job market, and for weak farm prices.

But Modi rallied his Hindu nationalist base and made national security a central theme of the campaign after a surge in tension with Pakistan in February following a suicide bomb attack in Indian-controlled Kashmir by Pakistan based militants.

Modi ordered air strikes on a suspected militant camp in Pakistan, which led to a surge in tension between the nuclear-armed neighbours. But many Indians applauded Modi's tough stand and he was able to attack the opposition for being soft on security.

Ram Madhav, a senior leader in the BJP, told Reuters partner ANI the results would be even better for the party than the exit polls were suggesting, particularly in West Bengal state.

West Bengal has the third largest number of members of Parliament and has been hotly contested between the BJP and the Trinamool Congress, one of the most powerful parties in the coalition trying to unseat Modi. "Bengal will surprise all the pollsters, we are hoping to do extremely well there," Madhav said. "Everyone has seen the tremendous support for PM Modi and the BJP in Bengal."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.