NEW DELHI - Exit polls predicted Prime Minister Narendra Modi will return to power in a landslide win as curtains came down on the largest democratic exercise in the world.
Voters in 59 constituencies voted on Sunday (May 19), ending the seven-phase elections in which 900 million people were eligible to vote.
At least four exit polls, which were released half an hour after the voting ended, showed between 286 to 306 seats for the alliance led by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
They predicted a range of 122 to 132 for the Congress-led alliance.
Elections were held for 542 seats in the lower house of Parliament, with results set to come out on May 23 (Thursday). The halfway mark needed by a party or a coalition to win is 272. Voting in one seat in, Vellore, Tamil Nadu, was cancelled.
Today’s Chanakya, a leading opinion poll firm, predicted a landslide win for the BJP with 291 seats while predicting 57 seats for the Congress.
The Times Now-VMR poll predicted the BJP alliance would win 306 while the Congress led alliance would win 132 seats.
Exit polls have been proved wrong in some past elections, however, like in 2004.
In the politically important state of Uttar Pradesh, some exit polls suggested that an alliance between the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which was expected to blunt the BJP charge, had failed to make much impact.
But one exit poll, ABP News-Nielson, predicted 56 out of 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh for the BSP-SP alliance and 22 seats for BJP. The BJP won 72 out of 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh in 2014.
Opposition leaders were quick to tweet their reactions, expressing scepticism about the exit polls.
“I don’t trust exit poll gossip. I appeal to all Opposition parties to be united, strong and bold. We will fight this battle together,” said Ms Mamata Bannerjee, the leader of the Trinamool Congress and West Bengal chief minister.
Mr Omar Abdullah, the leader of the National Conference, an opposition party, said: “Every single exit poll can’t be wrong! Time to switch off the TV, log out of social media & wait to see if the world is still spinning on its axis on the 23rd.”
Mr Modi came to power on a landslide victory five years ago, riding a popularity wave in a country upset with corruption scandals during the Congress rule.
The BJP won 282 out of 543 seats in the lower house of Parliament, becoming the first party in 30 years to win a majority. Congress was reduced to 44 seats, its worst showing in decades.
Mr Modi remains the country’s most popular leader in spite of growing unemployment and a debt crisis gripping farmers. The BJP pinned its campaign on the issue of national security following the outbreak of hostilities with Pakistan over the killing of 40 Indian soldiers in Kashmir in April.
The Congress party, which had a minor resurgence following victory in state level election in December, was unable to rally the splintered opposition and tie up alliances in states like Uttar Pradesh and Delhi.
The campaigning often descended into name calling and personal attacks. Congress president Rahul Gandhi accusing Mr Modi of being a “chor” or thief, alleging impropriety in a defence deal. Mr Modi called Mr Gandhi’s father Rajiv, a former prime minister who was assassinated on the campaign trail, India’s most corrupt man, accusing him of using a warship on a family holiday.
Analysts said that this was the most negative campaign in recent years.
“I think it was a very acerbic and a very negative campaign. We have moved away from issues to individuals. We also moved away from focusing on what is important for people to highlighting the negatives of others,” said Dr Sandeep Shastri, a political analyst and pro-vice-chancellor of Jain University.
“This was the most disturbing part of the campaign largely because, be it the BJP or opposition parties, they are not able to focus positively on what they have to offer the people.’’