‘Modi magic’ continues to enchant Indian voters, exit polls show

Exit polls on Wednesday showed the BJP with either a majority or a significant number of seats in the states of Maharashtra and Haryana - both currently ruled by the Congress party.

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NEW DELHI // India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party looked set to win elections in two state legislatures where it has traditionally been weak, exit polls showed.

At least four exit polls released late Wednesday after polling concluded showed the BJP with either a majority or a significant number of seats in the western state of Maharashtra and the northern state of Haryana. Both states are currently ruled by India’s Congress party.

Victory in the Maharashtra and Haryana will make it easier for prime minister Narendra Modi to launch unpopular reforms to remove price caps on natural gas and diesel – a move economists say will help India balance its accounts and reduce shortages of energy.

All five exit polls said the centre-right party favoured by investors would emerge as the largest player in the two states when results are announced on Sunday. Two of the surveys showed the BJP with a majority, or within a whisker of one, in both states.

Mr Modi, who won a huge mandate in national elections earlier this year, aggressively campaigned in both states.

“Modi Magic continues. It’s a jackpot for BJP in Maharashtra,” said Today’s Chanakya, one of the few pollsters that accurately predicted the BJP’s performance in a general election in May that catapulted Mr Modi to power.

Today’s Chanakya said the BJP would emerge with 31 per cent of the vote and 151 seats in Maharashtra’s 288-member house. In Haryana, the party was headed for 52 seats out of 90 and a 32 per cent share of the vote. The poll had a 3 per cent margin of error.

State elections decide who controls the Rajya Sabha, or upper house of India’s parliament. While the Lok Sabha, or lower house, is significantly more powerful, the upper house can delay legislation’s approval.

A victory in the recent elections would also show that Mr Modi and his right-wing party are continuing to make inroads into regions where the Congress party has held sway.

But in many ways, the results appear more about Mr Modi’s popularity than about his party’s overall appeal.

Mr Modi is widely seen as a leader who can turn around India’s sluggish economy and attract foreign investment. He made dozens of speeches in both states, and advertisements ahead of the polls appealed to voters to cast their ballots for him.

Last month, his party fared badly in by-elections when he was not their star campaigner.

* Associated Press and Reuters