Exit polls suggest a win for Narendra Modi in world’s biggest elections

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is on course to win a second term after polling in the world’s biggest election came to a close on Sunday, initial exit polls suggest.

Most major exit polls, conducted by local media, put the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Modi, and its National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coalition as winning a clear majority when results are announced on May 23.

Modi’s BJP has been fighting it out for the votes of 900 million people against the main opposition Congress Party, led by political scion Rahul Gandhi, and other big regional players, over the course of six weeks of polling.

A party needs to win 272 seats out of 543 in the Lok Sabha, or lower house of parliament to form a government.

Electoral rules permit the publishing of national exit polls after voting ends on the final day of polling.

In the past, Indian exit polls have proved unreliable in predicting precise seat tallies, both in national and state elections, given the size of the electorate and the regional variations across the country.

In 2014 most polls did, however, correctly put the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) as on track to secure a majority.

The release of the polls came after Modi had spend the day meditating in a Himalayan holy cave and offered prayers at the Kedarnath temple in the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand.

In 2014, Modi’s party stormed to power by winning 282 Lok Sabha seats in what was the biggest majority secured by a single party in 30 years. With its allies, the coalition notched up 336 seats.

For Modi and his Hindu nationalist BJP, the six-week-long election has essentially been a referendum on his policies over the past five years.

Modi’s 2014 victory was in part due to his promises to overhaul India’s economy and generate jobs for young people, around 12 million of whom enter the workforce every year.

Initial exit polls suggest that voters have not been turned off by a worsening jobs situation, a fall in farmers’ wages and a rise in far-right Hindu nationalism. They put Modi’s coalition as winning between 277 and 365 seats.

The polls, if true, would mark something of a surprise. The outcome of the election was expected to be tight, with commentators repeatedly pointing out just how close the contest would be between the incumbent ruling party and various regional challengers.

On Sunday, the BJP tweeted a cartoon showing Modi mowing down his opponents after the seven phases of polling.

But the chief minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee, leader of the All India Trinamool Congress, said on Twitter that she didn’t “trust exit poll gossip” and urged all opposition parties to unite.

“I appeal to all opposition parties to be united, strong and bold. We will fight this battle together,” she said.

Exit polls on average put her TMC party as winning the most seats in the state, ahead of the BJP.

Voter turnout during the final stage of polling was estimated to be 63.98%, according to the Election Commission.