Indian PM Narendra Modi likely to win general election, exit polls predict

Indian Prime Minister Modi and his allies are on course to a win a majority in parliament after a mammoth general election, according to exit polls. The election was billed as a referendum on Modi's government.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is likely to win at least 287 seats in the 545-member lower house of parliament, followed by 128 for the Congress party-led opposition alliance, exit polls showed on Sunday.

India's Times Now television claimed that Modi's alliance is likely to get 306 seats, a clear majority in parliament. One poll by Neta Newsx, however, forecast the NDA falling 30 seats short of a majority.

A total of 272 seats in parliament are required for a party to form a government.

Exit polls, though, are not completely accurate and have a mixed record in a country with an electorate of 900 million people. Official results are expected on Thursday.

Dubbing exit polls "gossip," Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of the West Bengal province and a Modi critic, said she doesn't trust surveys that are used for "manipulation."

Mammoth elections

Voting ended on Sunday in the seventh and final round of India's national elections, wrapping up a six-week long electoral process.

Modi's constituency of Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh — India's renowned Hindu holy city — was one of 59 where voting took place on the final day of polling. Voting also took place in the states of Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Chandigarh on Sunday. 

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DW News | 19.05.2019

Angry voters in Indian PM Modi's constituency cast ballot

Some 900 million people were eligible to vote in what is considered the world's biggest democratic process. 

Read more: India elections — Narendra Modi's fandom persists despite spotty record

Tense election

The election was billed as a referendum on Modi's government, which has implemented some policies that proved unpopular, including the demonetization of high currency bank notes.

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Opposition parties have also accused Modi's right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of aggravating ethnic and religious tensions in India by propagating a Hindu nationalist message.

In a message on Twitter, opposition politician Rahul Gandhi criticized the Election Commission (EC), saying the election schedule was manipulated to help Modi's party.

"The EC used to be feared and respected. Not anymore," Gandhi said, without giving any details.

Observers expect Modi's BJP to stay in power but with fewer seats than it picked up in the 2014 general election.

India's electoral commission said voter turnout was around 66%, slightly higher than 58% during the previous election.

Read more: India elections: Will women voters be a game changer?

India's security challenges shape society and politics

Caste conflicts

The caste system is an ancient social hierarchy that still influences social norms in India. It is technically outlawed by the Indian constitution, but political parties often take advantage of caste differences. Low-caste Dalits comprise 15-20% of India's population. Many political parties claim to stand for Dalit rights, although attempts at social reform often fade once leaders are elected.

India's security challenges shape society and politics

Religious intolerance

Although India is a secular state, Hindus and Muslims clash over several issues. Under the current government, fringe groups have often invoked India's Islamic history and the consumption of beef as a reason to instigate violence against low-caste Hindus and Muslims. Pictured here are members of a right-wing Hindu group calling for a temple to be built on the former site of a mosque.

India's security challenges shape society and politics

Violence in Kashmir

India and Pakistan both claim the Kashmir region in full but rule it in part. Since 1947, they have fought three wars over the region. Since 1989, separatist groups have been fighting Indian forces in India-administered Kashmir. The latest attack, in February 2019, unleashed new tension between the neighbors. Critics accused Indian PM Modi of using the incident for political gain.

India's security challenges shape society and politics

Maoist insurgency

Left-wing Maoist rebels in India's tribal areas accuse the government of selling off land belonging to indigenous tribes. Under a banner of social injustice, they form militias and attack state security forces and political leaders. Rebels often disrupt elections with attacks. On Tuesday, rebels killed a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislator in rural Chhattisgarh state with a roadside bomb.

India's security challenges shape society and politics

Demographic tension in the northeast

For decades, India's northeastern states have dealt with illegal immigration. In Assam state last year, a citizenship list reportedly excluded 4 million people who were unable to provide valid documents. In January, a bill that would grant immigrant Hindus citizenship in Assam unleashed protest and was criticized by local politicians as a political ploy by the BJP to boost its Hindu voter base.

India's security challenges shape society and politics

Border dispute with China

China lays claim to parts of eastern India, and the two countries had a border standoff in 2017 over Chinese road construction. Nevertheless, Indian PM Modi has wanted to replicate China's model of development for India. But despite China's rising influence, relations with Beijing are not an election issue, at least not for Modi who prefers to ride on nationalist sentiments.

India's security challenges shape society and politics

India's suffering farmers

India's farmers have long suffered from sinking crop prices and plummeting agricultural growth. Last year, after thousands of farmers demonstrated in New Dehli, PM Modi announced new schemes for the rural sector in his 2019 election manifesto. However, analysts say farmers feel betrayed by Modi's government and this could damage him politically.

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shs,ls/sms (AP, dpa)