Modi’s coalition will sweep to victory in India, exit polls show

The polls should reassure investors amid worries that the Opposition would pull off an upset in India

By BLOOMBERG

NEW DELHI • Exit polls showed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s (picture) ruling coalition is poised for victory in India’s general election (GE), which would give it another five years running the world’s fastest- growing major economy despite a jobs crisis and struggling rural sector.

The polls released on Sunday night showed his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) will win between 267 and 350 seats in India’s 543- seat Parliament, with most well above the 272-seat majority mark.

The Opposition Congress- led United Progressive Alliance coalition will win an estimated 82-132 seats, the polls forecast. Votes will be counted on May 23.

“If these predictions hold, the BJP will benefit in a big way in that it will have a strong electoral mandate and ample policy space to once again tackle the economic reform plan that it struggled with during its previous term,” said Michael Kugelman, senior associate for South Asia at the Washington, DC-based Woodrow Wilson Centre. “But the pressure will be on to get it right this time around.”

The polls should reassure investors who pulled back in recent weeks amid worries that the Opposition would pull off an upset in a nation that has seen election surprises in the past.

The S&P BSE Sensex rallied 3.8% to a new high yesterday, its second in little over a month, following the exit polls.

A gauge of stock market volatility slumped, the rupee rose the most since December and the yield on benchmark 2029 bonds slid eight basis points.

The exit polls have comforted investors concerned by Modi’s ability to repeat his landslide 2014 win amid a resurgent Opposition, farm distress and a job crisis.

For Modi, victory would allow him to push forward an agenda that includes a boost in infrastructure spending, support for farmers and measures that appeal to Hindu nationalists.

“The exit poll results will put to rest any concerns about the present government not coming back,” said Paresh Nayar, Mumbai-based head of currency and money markets at FirstRand Ltd, adding that India’s stock, rupee and bond markets were expected to gain yesterday.

The polls were released after the last of India’s 900 million registered voters cast ballots in a gruelling six-weeklong election that started on April 11.

They have a reputation for being notoriously inaccurate: They wrongly estimated the BJP would win re-election in 2004 and significantly underestimated the scale of the Congress- led coalition victory in 2009. However, most accurately predicted Modi’s landslide win in 2014.

Congress party spokesman Sanjay Jha said on Twitter the exit poll results were “almost laughable”, suggesting many voters were too afraid to tell pollsters their real choice in such “an ugly polarised election”.

In the 2014 GE, the BJP won 282 seats on its own, enough to form a government with the first single-party majority in 30 years. Although the ruling NDA coalition has lost some allies, it had a comfortable majority of 339 before voting began.

The Congress party — which has ruled India for most of its independent history — stumbled to its worstever election result in that contest, winning just 44 seats and forming an alliance that is now 66 seats strong.

The focus will now turn to whether Modi can kick-start consumer spending, alleviate farm distress and create employment opportunities, said Ajay Bodke, CEO of portfolio management services at Prabhudas Lilladher Pte Ltd.

“Markets will heave a big sigh of relief as it favours continuity and familiarity in terms of the rollout of policies,” Bodke said. — Bloomberg