India begins counting hundreds of millions of votes in its general election on Thursday, with a coalition led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party already preparing to form the next government.
The National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is expected to surpass the 272 seats needed to command a majority in the lower house of parliament, six of seven exit polls showed on Sunday.
Their predicted margin of victory is larger than surveys indicated in the run-up to the vote, when most polls showed the NDA would be the largest alliance but would fall short of an overall majority.
Counting of votes begins at 0800 local time (0230 GMT) and trends are expected to be known by noon because of the use of computerised voting machines. Final results in the polls, in which around 900 million Indians were eligible to vote, are due by the evening.
Modi came into campaigning under pressure, losing three state elections in December amid rising anger over farm prices and unemployment.
But after a suicide car bomb killed 40 Indian police in the contested Kashmir region in February, campaigning shifted towards India’s relationship with nuclear-armed rival Pakistan, to the right-wing BJP’s benefit, analysts said.
“National security became the discussion,” said Harsh Pant, a political analyst at the Observer Research Foundation think-tank in New Delhi. “It allowed the BJP to shirk some issues where it was weak.”
The BJP has also capitalised on the star power of Modi, a frenetic campaigner, as well as superior financial resources.
It outspent the main opposition Congress Party by six times on Facebook and Google advertising, data showed, and by as much as 20 times overall, sources told Reuters earlier this month.
“The longer election certainly helps Modi: he loves contact with the people,” Pant said. “The BJP’s electoral machinery is also much more effective on the ground.”