Exit polls give BJP lead
Television exit polls gave BJP-led coalition a healthy lead after the first phase of voting for Lok Sabha election in 13 states and 3 Union Territories on Tuesday.
Polls conducted by various television channels predicted BJP and its allies would win between 78 and 93 of the 140 seats contested in Tuesday's voting.
Sahara TV's exit poll predicted 82 seats for BJP-led coalition while Congress was seen getting just 55 seats and others 3.
Zee TV predicted 69 to 71 seat for the BJP and 41 to 45 seats for the Congress.
Star TV gave BJP and its allies 78 seats, while Congress-led alliance 55 seats.
Aaj Tak predicted big lead for BJP with 93 seats, while Congress was seen getting 44 seats only.
Exit polls have a mixed track record in India, but if confirmed, the coalition's performance would roughly be the same as in 1999, when they won 88 seats in the same areas.
A loose opposition alliance led by the Congress party was seen trailing well behind with between 44 and 55 seats, the exit polls predicted.
"The exit polls are more or less in line with the national scenario already predicted in pre-poll surveys," said N. Bhaskar Rao of the Centre for Media Studies.
Before the election, most opinion polls predicted the BJP-led coalition would maintain a narrow majority in Parliament. Even if it falls short, it should be able to attract smaller parties to form a government, analysts say.
A party needs a simple majority of 273 to rule. The election takes place in five stages up to May 10 and counting is set for May 13 and results expected the same day.
BJP is campaigning on a feel-good platform of strong economic growth, good governance and improved peace prospects with nuclear-armed rival Pakistan.
The Election Commission said turnout was between 50 and 55 per cent, compared to just under 60 per cent overall in the 1999 election.
Reporters said turnout seemed relatively high in parts of the remote northeast despite the threat of attacks by separatist rebels, but hot weather and a lacklustre election campaign seemed to have kept voters indoors in other parts of the country.
"I don't think this lower turnout will influence the outcome in a big way," senior BJP campaign manager and union minister Arun Jaitley told reporters in Ahmedabad.
"The primacy of the BJP over Congress will remain intact."
Two policemen, four soldiers, a journalist and her driver were killed in sporadic violence across Jammu and Kashmir, the troubled northeastern state of Manipur and the impoverished eastern state of Jharkhand.
"I voted for the BJP because the Vajpayee government has done a lot of good work improving roads, water and electricity," said a retired textile worker in Ahmedabad. "Development is the most important thing. The Congress did nothing during their rule."
Spurred by a good monsoon last year, Asia's third-largest economy is now one of the fastest growing in the world. Cheap loans have also brought houses, cars and Western consumer goods within reach of an expanding middle class.
"My preference is stability," said 25-year-old Jayant Sashikumar, a software engineer in Bangalore. "Things are going fine as they are. The past government has been doing well."
Despite a multi-million dollar advertising campaign to promote "India shining", the BJP has been unable to spread economic success much beyond the cities and the middle class.
Congress says the average Indian has not benefited from economic liberalisation. It has also long accused the BJP of a deep-seated bias against the country's 120 million Muslims and says the party remains a threat to India's secular character.
"I hope a change in government will benefit the poor and jobless," said 72-year-old former textile worker Syed Usman after voting in the Muslim-dominated old quarter of Ahmedabad. "Only the rich have benefited during BJP rule."
But Sonia Gandhi's foreign birth has proved a major handicap that the BJP has successfully exploited.
"I can't vote for a party which is led by an Italian housewife whose qualifications are her surname," said Anjali Naveen, wife of a coffee grower in Bangalore.