As the long drawn-out elections in the world's largest democracy inched towards closure on Sunday, TV news channels in India were already speculating on what the results could be. While the actual results will be out on May 23, exit polls carried out by news networks across the political spectrum seem to have given Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling BJP a heavy mandate in the polls.
According to the Times of India, the polls forecast BJP and its coalition partners to win anywhere between 277 to 352 seats in the 543-seat Lok Sabha or the lower house of the Indian Parliament. A total of 272 seats is needed to form the government, with the BJP single-handedly managing to win 288 seats in the 2014 polls, giving the party its most glorious victory since its formation in the 1980s. The exit polls also predict a dismal showing for the main opposition, the Indian National Congress and its leader Rahul Gandhi, a member of one of India's most important political families and a descendant of the first Prime Minister of India. Polls show that the Congress will win anywhere between 38 to 87 seats in the elections.
While representatives of the ruling BJP could not hide their excitement as they appeared late on Sunday night to discuss the future of Indian politics, experts warned that the exit polls results must be taken with a pinch of salt, as a number of post-poll surveys have been shown to be inaccurate in the past.The current elections have been seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a deeply divisive figure in India, who campaigned on the promise of economic development during the last polls. However, after failing to provide India's population with an economic reprieve over the last few years with catastrophic reforms such as demonetization and a new tax law, the BJP campaigned more blatantly on its Hindutva nationalist agenda. The BJP maintains that it sees the future of the world's largest democracy as a secular force, but the actions of its leaders, coupled with their rhetoric and constant persecution of critics, do not seem to inspire confidence in India's minorities, especially the Muslims, but also the Dalits (lower-castes), Christians, and other religious minorities.
However, since India has a multi-party system, regional parties could still hold the cards if neither of the national parties score decisive victories on their own. Even so, the likelihood of Narendra Modi returning to power remains much higher, with the BJP expected to outperform Congress in key states.