Election workers prepare to seal an electronic voting machine after the final polls closed. Photo: Getty Images
Delhi: Indian markets surged to record highs on Tuesday after exit polls indicated that the pro-business Hindu nationalist coalition led by 63-year-old Narendra Modi would be swept into power after the votes are formally tallied on Friday.
With the last phase of voting finally ending on Monday, five weeks after polling began on April 7, most exit polls predicted that Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition would win between 270 and 289 seats in the 543-seat parliament.
Similarly, most exit polls predicted a crushing defeat for the ruling coalition led by the Congress Party, which has governed India for most of the 67 years since the country gained independence.
Supporters of the BJP hold up a mask of their prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. Photo: AP
Of the two outlier exit polls, one published by the Times of India suggested that the BJP coalition would garner only 249 seats, but that would still be enough seats to form a minority government.
The other outlier poll, published by the NEWS24 channel, suggested that Mr Modi's coalition would win 340 seats, well in excess of the 272 mark needed to form a government.
Due to the size and complexity of the Indian electorate, which comprises 815 million registered voters who speak 18 regional languages across 28 states, exit polls are notoriously unreliable, failing to predict the winner in the last two general elections in 2004 and 2009.
Queues to vote on the final day of polling in Varanasi, India. Photo: Getty Images
India’s betting markets were suggesting the BJP might win up to 244 seats in its own right, and be able to form government with the assistance of its coalition partners known as the National Democratic Alliance.
No single party has achieved a majority in its own right since 1984, when Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress Party won a record 403 seats in the wake of the assassination of his mother, then prime minister Indira Gandhi, several weeks before polling commenced.
For the ruling Congress party, the only comparative good news came from the Times of India poll, which suggested that the Congress-led coalition would win 148 seats. The other polls suggested Congress would end up with between 70 and 110 seats.
Anything less than 100 seats could spell the end of the Nehru-Gandhi family’s grip on the Congress Party, which has struggled in recent years with a legacy of corruption and a sagging economy perhaps best summed up by the party’s failure to create enough new jobs in India’s rapidly expanding labour market, which adds another 12 million new job seekers each year.