NEW DELHI/KOLKATA: India began counting hundreds of millions of votes in its general election on Thursday, with a coalition led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party taking an early lead, TV channels and India’s Election Commission said.
The National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is expected to surpass the 272 seats needed to command a majority in the lower house of parliament, six of seven exit polls showed on Sunday.
Official data from India’s Election Commission showed the BJP ahead in 324 seats, with the main opposition Congress Party ahead in 107. The non-aligned parties clinched 111 seats. There are 542 seats available.
Trends are expected to be known by noon and final results are due by Thursday evening.
The NDA’s predicted margin of victory is larger than surveys indicated in the run-up to the vote, when most polls showed it would be the largest alliance but would fall short of an overall majority.
Modi was under pressure when he began campaigning, losing three state elections in December amid rising anger over farm prices and unemployment.
However, campaigning shifted towards India’s relationship with nuclear-armed rival Pakistan after a suicide car bomb killed 40 Indian police in the contested Kashmir region in February, to the benefit of the right-wing BJP, analysts said.
“National security became the discussion,” said Harsh Pant, a political analyst at the Observer Research Foundation think tank in New Delhi. “It allowed the BJP to shirk some issues where it was weak.”
The BJP has also capitalized on the star power of Modi, a frenetic campaigner, as well as superior financial resources.
It outspent Congress by six times on Facebook and Google advertising, data showed, and by as much as 20 times overall, sources told Reuters earlier this month.
“The longer election certainly helps Modi: he loves contact with the people,” Pant said. “The BJP’s electoral machinery is also much more effective on the ground.”