India’s Modi to Unseat Congress, Exit Polls Show

Exit polls put India’s conservative leader, Narendra Modi, far ahead of the ruling Congress party.

Four exit polls released on Monday showed India’s conservative leader Narendra Modi on track to become the country’s next prime minister. The ruling Congress party, by contrast, could post its worst result in decades.

India’s staged election concluded on Monday with voting in the states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

A CSDS poll conducted for the CNN-BIN television network put Modi’s alliance at 270 to 282 seats while giving between 92 and 102 to the coalition that is led by Congress.

A Nielsen poll for ABP News had the right at 281 seats while a third, by Cicero for the India Today group, predicted Modi and his supporters would take between 261 and 283 seats. 272 seats are needed to form a government.

Polls are notoriously unreliable in the country of 1.2 billion where more than 814 million were eligible to vote. Final results are due to be released on Friday.

Regardless of the final tally, the elections looked certain to result in a massive defeat for Congress which has ruled India almost without interruption since independence and currently has 206 seats in parliament of its own and twenty more from its allies. Now in power for a decade, the party has been discredited by graft scandals and a feeble economic policy.

Whereas outgoing prime minister Manmohan Singh spearheaded India’s economic liberalization as finance minister in the 1990s, he was unable to unite his coalition, which covers the entirety of the left-wing political spectrum, behind a credible reform effort in recent years. Growth was cut in half from an almost 10 percent high before the global financial crisis to under 5 percent in 2012 and last year. Inflation peaked at over 11 percent in late 2013 and now stands at just over 8 percent.

Yet in its election manifesto, Congress promised more of the same statist policies that have held India back in the past, including guaranteed access to health care and housing. Such an expansion in entitlements would risk exacerbating a deficit that is likely to come in at 5 percent of gross domestic product this fiscal year.

Modi, by contrast, held up his record as chief minister of Gujarat, a position he has held since 2001, as a template for the country. Unlike in other parts of India, electricity in the state, which has a population of more than sixty million, runs 24 hours per day. With some forty ports and a prosperous petrochemical industry, Gujarat handles 20 percent of India’s cargo and 80 percent of its oil imports. Its infrastructure is modern and reliable and consistently hailed by businessmen as one of the reasons for investing in the state; the others being its efficient regulatory regime and the absence of major corruption.

Modi downplayed his Hindu nationalism on the campaign trailing, promising “politics of development, not of revenge.” His opponents nevertheless reminded voters that he presided over an outburst of sectarian violence in central Gujarat in 2002 that followed the murder of Hindu pilgrims. Hundreds of Hindus and Muslims were killed in the rampage and while Modi’s government responded by imposing curfews in the cities and called in the army to prevent the crisis from worsening, he was still accused of, at best, doing too little to stop the riots.

The Supreme Court later acquitted Modi of wrongdoing and under his leadership, Gujarat saw no repeat of the communal tension that was once so endemic in the state.