Narendra Modi is on course to become India’s next leader with exit polls showing his Hindu nationalist party and its allies winning a slim majority and trouncing the ruling Congress in the world’s biggest election.
Exit polls released hours after the final round of voting on Monday showed Modi’s right-wing opposition alliance not only hammered the left-leaning Congress but scraped enough votes to form a new government without needing new coalition partners.
The abrasive Bharatiya Janata Party leader dominated the mammoth election that started five weeks ago, pledging increased development and jobs to boost the flagging economy during mass rallies.
Four out of the five polls showed the BJP-led alliance reached the 272 seats needed to form a majority in the 543-member national parliament. But it may need to reach out to new allies to form a more stable government needed to push through promised reforms.
Predictions for the BJP alliance ranged from 249 to 289, with an average taken of the polls showing it just sneaked a majority with 273 seats.
The predictions, if confirmed, would spell the worst ever result for Congress and be a stringing rebuke to the latest generation of the Gandhi dynasty, Rahul, who has led campaigning nationally for the first time.
Official results are due on Friday.
Modi, who fought the campaign as BJP’s choice for prime minister, reached out to his opponents late on Monday following a contest which has been marred by religious divisions and a vitriolic campaign.
“This is the right time to look ahead. It is a time to connect with each other,” Modi said in a post-election blog.
“Let us place people over politics, hope over despair, healing over hurting, inclusion over exclusion and development over divisiveness,” added Modi who is the son of a tea-stall owner.
Modi, 63, has already indicated he is looking to find further allies among a host of regional parties which would give him a much stronger coalition.
Election Commission officials said the world’s biggest ever election saw 551 million people vote – 130 million more than in 2009 – with a record turnout of 66.38 per cent.
The main contest on Monday was in the sacred city of Varanasi where Modi was standing as a candidate and hoping for a crowning victory on the final day of voting.
Modi’s decision to stand in Varanasi was rich in religious symbolism and seen as reinforcing his Hindu nationalist credentials during a campaign in which he steered clear of his customary hardline rhetoric.
The four-time chief minister of the western state of Gujarat has campaigned on a platform of clean government and development to revive the economy after left-leaning Congress rule.
But he remains a deeply polarising figure over allegations that he failed to curb swiftly deadly 2002 anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat which left at least 1000 people dead shortly after he came to power there.
Modi has derided Rahul Gandhi, whose family has produced three prime ministers, as a reluctant “prince” whose lacklustre campaign has latterly been overshadowed by his sister Priyanka’s electioneering.