NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is to meet coalition partners to discuss a new government, two BJP sources said on Monday, after exit polls predicted a clear general election victory for the party led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to the delight of Hindu groups.
The talks will be on Tuesday at the BJP’s headquarters in New Delhi and will be led by the party president, Amit Shah, one of the party sources said. The sources declined to be identified as they are not authorized to speak about the meeting.
Nalin Kohli, a spokesman for the BJP, declined to comment.
India’s seven-phase general election, billed as the world’s biggest democratic exercise, began on April 11 and ended on Sunday. Votes will be counted on Thursday and results are likely the same day.
Modi’s BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is projected to win anything between 339-365 seats in the 545-member lower house of parliament with the Congress-led opposition alliance getting only 77 to 108, an exit poll from India Today Axis showed on Sunday.
A party needs 272 seats to command a majority.
The predicted BJP margin of victory is bigger than opinion polls indicated in the run-up to the vote, when most surveys showed the NDA would be the largest alliance but would fall short of an overall majority.
Arun Jaitley, finance minister in the BJP government, said he was confident in the exit polls.
“When multiple exit polls convey the same message, the direction of the result broadly would be in consonance with the message,” Jaitley said in a blog post on Monday.
Indian stock markets and the rupee were sharply higher on expectation the business-friendly Modi would stay on at the helm.
The benchmark NSE share index closed up 3.8%, its best single day since September 2013.
“I expect another 2-3% rally in the market in the next three to four days based on the cue,” said Samrat Dasgupta, a fund manager at Esquire Capital Investment Advisors.
Congress spokesman Sanjay Jha cast doubt on the exit polls, saying on Twitter he believed they were wrong.
“If the exit poll figures are true then my dog is a nuclear scientist,” Jha said, adding he expected the next prime minister would come from outside the BJP alliance.
Predicting the results of an election with around 900 million voters is notoriously difficult.
In 2004, exit polls expected an NDA government, only to see a Congress-led alliance sweep to power when votes were counted days later.
Pollsters said they were confident they had picked the correct result this time around.
“We expect change within the margin of error, but as all polls are in one direction, it is unlikely the results will be completely in reverse,” Bhawesh Jha, the founder of polling company CNX, told Reuters. His firm expects the NDA to win 290-310 seats.
NATIONALIST FIGHT BACK
Modi and his BJP faced criticism in the run-up to the election over unemployment, in particular for failing to provide opportunities to young people coming on to the job market and for weak farm prices, all of which will be pressing issues for any new government.
But Modi rallied his Hindu nationalist base and made national security a central theme of the campaign after a surge in tension with Pakistan in February following a suicide bomb attack in Indian-controlled Kashmir by Pakistan based militants.
Modi ordered air strikes on a suspected militant camp in Pakistan, which led to a surge in tension between the nuclear-armed neighbors.
But many Indians applauded Modi’s tough stand and he was able to attack the opposition for being soft on security.
Hindu groups, which largely reined in their rhetoric during the campaign, are now expected to press the BJP for several demands, including a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Ram on a disputed site, life in jail for killing cows and ending the autonomy of India’s only Muslim-majority state.
“We did not want the opposition to make it an issue against the BJP, so had stopped our agitation,” Mahendra Rawat, the Delhi head for the BJP’s parent organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, told Reuters on Monday. “The Ram temple is the biggest issue for us Hindus.”
Ram Madhav, a senior leader in the BJP, told Reuters partner ANI the results would be even better for the party than the exit polls were suggesting, particularly in West Bengal state.
West Bengal has the third largest number of members of parliament and has been hotly contested between the BJP and the Trinamool Congress, one of the most powerful parties in the coalition trying to unseat Modi.
“Bengal will surprise all the pollsters, we are hoping to do extremely well there,” Madhav said. “Everyone has seen the tremendous support for PM Modi and the BJP in Bengal.”
Reporting by Alasdair Pal and Nigam Prusty, additional reporting by Krishna N. Das in NEW DELHI and Arnab Paul in BENGALURU; Editing by Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie
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