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India election

Modi's BJP to reinforce coalition ties before election vote count

Opposition rebuffs exit polls, raises concerns over security of voting machines

Supporters of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party gather before a rally in Kolkata on May 16. (Photo by Kosaku Mimura)

NEW DELHI -- Bolstered by exit polls that have predicted the return to government of India's ruling coalition, the National Democratic Alliance, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party is set to meet its allies on Tuesday in what might be an attempt to further consolidate their partnership.

BJP President Amit Shah is hosting a dinner for NDA allies in New Delhi at which they are likely to chalk out a strategy for the coalition, according to sources. Shortly before the dinner, Modi is expected to hold a meeting with his Cabinet ministers at BJP headquarters.

India held its seven-phase general election between April 11 and May 19 to elect 543 of the 545 members of the lower house of parliament, known as Lok Sabha, to which two members are nominated by the country's president. All votes will be counted on May 23.

After the voting ended on Sunday, an aggregate of exit polls broadcast by local TV channels suggested the BJP-led NDA would win a comfortable majority, after winning more than 300 seats. A party or coalition needs at least 272 seats to form a government.

But it is uncertain whether the BJP has achieved a majority on its own. If not, the party's coalition allies will be crucial for Modi to retain power.

The BJP won 282 seats in the last general election in 2014, becoming the first party in three decades to achieve a majority single-handed and taking the tally for the NDA coalition to 336.

The Rahul Gandhi-led Indian National Congress -- the party that ruled the country for 55 of the 72 years since independence from British rule in 1947 -- secured just 44 seats in 2014. The United Progressive Alliance, led by the Congress party, secured 60 seats. While it could double its tally this time, it will likely still be far from a majority, according to exit polls.

Many opposition parties have rubbished the exit polls, with some citing the outcome of the recent Australian election. "I believe the exit polls are all wrong. In Australia last weekend, 56 different exit polls proved wrong," Congress leader Shashi Tharoor wrote on Twitter.

"In India many people don't tell pollsters the truth fearing they might be from the government. Will wait till 23rd for the real results," he added.

"I don't trust exit poll gossip," tweeted Mamata Banerjee, West Bengal state's chief minister and leader of the All India Trinamool Congress. The game plan of the BJP "is to manipulate or replace thousands of EVMs [electronic voting machines] through this gossip," she added.

She also appealed to all opposition parties to be united, strong and bold. "We will fight this battle together."

Her party was among 21 opposition parties, including Congress and regional groups such as Telugu Desam Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party, who on Tuesday met in New Delhi to raise their concerns over alleged manipulation of the electronic voting machines.

In a blog post, Modi's Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said on Monday that exit polls had shown the direction of voting. "Many of us may continue to squabble over correctness and accuracy of the exit polls. The hard reality is that when multiple exit polls convey the same message, the direction of the result broadly [will be in line] with the message."

Attacking the Gandhi family, which has been at the center of Indian politics for decades and holds the helm of the Congress party, Jaitley said, "I re-assert my earlier hypothesis that in the Congress [party] the first family is no longer an asset but an albatross around the neck of the party."

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