India exit polls show Modi in close fight in state elections

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses an election campaign rally ahead of the Karnataka state assembly elections in Bengaluru, India, February 4, 2018. REUTERS/Abhishek N. Chinnappa/Files

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party’s popularity is in doubt as exit polls for elections that ended Friday in five states showed inconclusive projections before general elections next year.

Six major exit polls showed Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party and the opposition Congress party neck-and-neck in the states of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Three polls showed BJP ahead, while the rest gave Congress a slight edge in the two states.

At least four exit polls predicted the Congress will be able to wrest power from the BJP in the western state of Rajasthan. In Telangana in the south, regional party Telangana Rashtra Samithi will retain power, the polls show. One exit poll predicted the Congress and a regional party are in a tight race for the northeastern state of Mizoram. The winners will be declared when ballots are counted on Tuesday.

Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan are considered strongholds for Modi’s BJP with their large agrarian electorates. The three contributed significantly to Modi’s win in 2014 as the BJP got 62 of 65 parliament seats, while the Congress won 3. The five states represent one-sixth of the country’s voters.

Modi, who won the biggest electoral mandate in three decades, may struggle to replicate his 2014 victory as recent opinion polls suggest his standing in the electorate appears to be weakening. A loss in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh will expose Modi’s vulnerability.

The BJP is trying to retain power for a fourth term in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh and for a second time in Rajasthan. The Telangana Rashtra Samithi, which is in the running for a second term in Telangana, is facing a tough challenge from a Congress-led alliance.

Today’s Chanakya, which predicted Modi’s landslide win in the 2014 general elections, predicted in Friday’s exit poll that Congress will win in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

A better result for the Congress will be a morale booster for the main opposition party. It will help to boost Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s political weight in federal elections that are likely to take place in April.

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