Opposition BJP set to gain power in India

India's opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is poised to sweep to power in New Delhi, exit polls indicated, after a five- week-long election ended with record polling following a presidential-style campaign in the world's biggest democracy.

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by BJP, whose prime ministerial candidate is Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, will gather up to 289 seats in the 543-seat Parliament, according to an exit poll announced by research group C-Voter.

Polls for the India Today group indicated a lower but still overwhelmingly favourable result for the Hindu nationalist party. After roping in allies, the NDA should hold power comfortably.

The least favourable poll for NDA, by research group ORG for Times Now television, projected 249 seats for NDA and 148 for the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance.

People in New Delhi, the seat of government, received the news as light rain fell, signalling the oncoming monsoon, a period of renewal.

The exit polls, if proved accurate when official results are announced on Friday, could give India a stable government with the requisite number to push through important legislation to kick-start its slowing economy, pass unpopular reforms and build up the nation's crumbling infrastructure.

Investors, anticipating BJP's strong showing, have pumped up Indian stocks to unprecedented levels. The benchmark Sensex ended at 23,551 yesterday, beating last Friday's record close by a further 2.4 per cent.

The ruling Congress party, besieged by an anti-incumbency wave brought on by a stagnating economy and widespread perceptions of graft, looks set to be a rump outfit in the populous northern Indian heartland.

Emblematic of its fortunes was national capital Delhi, where it held all seven seats in the outgoing Parliament, and looks set to be voted out in each of them.

The top leadership of the Congress, led by Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, met yesterday evening to discuss its post-election strategy.

The exit polls were announced after the nine-phase election ended with an unprecedented 66 per cent turnout from 814 million eligible voters taking part. Fully 100 million of those eligible were first-time voters.

Observers caution, however, that exit polls have not always proved reliable in recent elections. In 2004, the ruling BJP-led front was projected to win, but eventually lost to a Congress coalition. Then in 2009, the polls failed to anticipate the degree of Congress' success as it retained power by raising its number of seats by a third.

Earlier yesterday, people stood in the searing heat in the plains of northern India to vote, galvanised by the polarising figure of Mr Modi. Nearly two-thirds of those eligible voted, with the thinnest attendance in the Kashmir Valley.

Parts of India saw a turnout of as high as 80 per cent as India's Muslim minority, worried over the prospects of life under a Hindu nationalist, cast their vote. Some 14 per cent of Indians are Muslim, but the proportion is higher in states such as populous Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

While the polls have been relatively peaceful in most parts of India, passions have also run high, thanks to the bitter animosity between the Gandhi family and Mr Modi.

This article was published on May 13 in The Straits Times.

Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.