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India election

Modi poised to retain power, India's exit polls show

Congress looks to make gains as nation awaits election results on May 23

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made nationalism and national security the focus of his campaign. (Photo by Kosaku Mimura)

NEW DELHI -- Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling coalition are expected to drop seats but secure a second five-year term, according to exit polls released by local media after voting ended on Sunday evening.

The official results of the seven-phase general elections will come out only after ballots are counted on Thursday. Exit polls can be unreliable, but the National Democratic Alliance led by Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party is projected to end up with 306 seats, down from the 336 it won in 2014, according to broadcaster Times Now.

The United Progressive Alliance, led by the biggest opposition party Indian National Congress, could see its tally rise to 132, after winning just 60 seats in 2014.

Another TV station, Republic TV, is projecting the National Democratic Alliance's seat total at 287, while assuming 128 for the United Progressive Alliance.

About 900 million people in the country of 1.3 billion were eligible to vote for 543 seats in the lower house of parliament, known as the Lok Sabha. Turnout was estimated at over 60%.

Last time around, the BJP and its allies secured 336 seats and formed the National Democratic Alliance government, toppling the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance. Modi, who had been chief minister of the western state of Gujarat before he was named the BJP's prime ministerial candidate, persuaded many voters, especially younger ones, that he was the man to take the country forward socially an economically.

He pledged to eradicate corruption, boost employment and improve the lives of the poor, farmers and other disadvantaged groups.

This time, the prime minister appeared vulnerable to criticism over insufficient job creation and accusations that his government fudged data to suggest the economy performed better during his term. The BJP suffered major losses to Congress in regional elections late last year.

But a flush-with-funds BJP and its star campaigner -- Modi is generally regarded as a skilled orator -- pulled out all the stops to reach voters. The effort included personal interactions and social media campaigns along with radio and television appearances.

Modi made nationalism and national security the main planks in his campaign. And he saw his popularity rise after he ordered air strikes on militant bases in neighboring Pakistan, in response to a deadly suicide attack in the Indian part of the disputed Kashmir region.

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