AFP – Indian shares hit a record high Monday after exit polls from the country’s marathon election indicated a new term for Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
While opposition parties refused to concede and the country faces a nerve-jangling three day wait until the official count begins, most media polls said Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies would secure enough seats to form a new government after the world’s biggest election.
The seven rounds of voting over six weeks ended on Sunday with about 65 percent of the 900 eligible voters taking part, the election commission said.
India’s share and currency markets soared on the back of the polls.
The Bombay Stock Exchange Sensex index had its biggest one-day gain in nearly six years — 3.75 percent — to close at a record high 39,352 points while the Indian rupee strengthened to 69.63 to the dollar from its Friday close of 70.22.
Traders called the polls boost to Modi a vital sign of stability for one of the world’s fastest growing major economies.
"This ends a significant political uncertainty," said Sujan Hajra, an economist at Anand Rathi securities in Mumbai.
Modi fought an acrimonious campaign framed around his tough national security stance rather than the economy. The opposition had attacked his handling of India’s finances particularly the withdrawal of most cash notes in 2016 and new taxes.
The prime minister and other top BJP leaders made no immediate claim of victory.
But party spokesman G.V.L. Narasimha Rao said the polls "clearly show a huge positive vote for the leadership of Narendra Modi who has served the country with unmatched dedication".
"That people reward good performance has once again been proved by the overwhelming public mandate. This is a slap for the abusive opposition that made baseless charges and spoke lies," he added.
Most polls predicted the BJP would lose some seats but still form a government.
The BJP won 282 seats of parliament’s 543 elected seats in its 2014 landslide triumph and with allies had 336 seats. Leading polls projected the BJP-led alliance winning between 282 and 313 seats this time.
– Modi referendum –
The opposition Congress party was predicted to double its 2014 tally of 44 seats — a historic low since India’s independence in 1947 — but still fall far short of a claim to power. The party pointed to the unreliability of polls in previous elections.
Mamata Banerjee, head of the regional Trinamool Congress party that dominates in West Bengal state, dismissed the forecasts as "exit poll gossip".
While the opposition attacked Modi’s handling of the economy and failure to create jobs, the vote increasingly became a personal referendum on one of India’s most popular and divisive prime ministers ever.
The 68-year-old leader went to scores of rallies across the country to fire up his Hindu base and turn the campaign into a debate on national security following tit-for-tat air raids with Pakistan in March.
Modi and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi traded insults throughout the campaign.
Gandhi, 48, attacked Modi over alleged corruption in a French defence deal and the plight of farmers, as well as on the economy.
Modi’s government has fallen short on creating jobs for the million Indians entering the labour market every month, while the shock introduction of a sudden ban on high-denomination cash in 2016 disrupted business and Indian banks are struggling with huge bad debts.
Hostilities spilt over again on the final day of voting.
Tens of thousands of security forces guarded polling booths in West Bengal state on Sunday where the BJP has made a push against Trinamool Congress.
An improvised bomb was thrown at one Kolkata polling station and security forces intervened to stop supporters of the BJP, communists and other parties from blockading voting booths across the state capital.
In Madhya Pradesh state, in central India, a BJP worker was allegedly shot dead by a Congress official in Indore, police told media.
The Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies estimates that parties have spent more than $7 billion on the election, making it one of the most expensive campaigns in the world.
Much of the cash was spent on social media, where the parties used armies of "cyber warriors" to bombard India’s Facebook and WhatsApp users with messages.