Cherylann Mollan,BBC News, Mumbai

Getty Images NEW DELHI, INDIA - MAY 22: Prime Minister Narendra Modi during an election rally in Dwarka for the BJP Lok Sabha candidates, on May 22, 2024 in New DelhiGetty Images

Mr Modi’s BJP is on course to win the election, exit polls say

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to win a third consecutive term in office, exit polls suggest.

Analysts warn the polls, released by various news agencies, have often been wrong in the past and are not impartial.

However, they have placed Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as the frontrunner in the general election.

The BJP, the main opposition Congress party and regional rivals battled it out in a fierce campaign over seven phases of polling.

Results will be announced on June 4.

A party or coalition needs 272 seats in parliament to form a government.

The BJP led-coalition, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), will cross this target – according to exit polls.

If Mr Modi wins, he will be only the second prime minister in India to hold office for three consecutive terms. The first to do so was Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first PM.

grey placeholderGetty Images VARANASI, INDIA - FEBRUARY 17: India's Congress Party leader Rahul Gandhi (sitting atop a vehicle, wearing white) takes part in a roadshow as part of his 'Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra' (India Come Together Anew Tour) on February 17, 2024 in Varanasi, IndiaGetty Images

India’s main opposition Congress has accused the BJP of silencing opponents, which the BJP denies

What are the exit polls saying?

Prime Minister Modi came into this election with resounding popularity, but his main rival – the leader of the Indian National Congress, Rahul Gandhi – and a coalition of opposition parties gathered significant momentum through the course of the lengthy election campaign.

Now an aggregate of six exit polls forecasts big wins for the BJP-led NDA, but such surveys are not always reliable.

Although the individual numbers vary, they predict that the NDA will get 367 seats.

The INDIA bloc is expected to get 143 seats.

On its own, the BJP may win 327 seats, not quite meeting its 370-seat target.

grey placeholderGetty Images Supporters of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hold cut-outs of India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi during an election campaign rally in New Delhi on May 18, 2024, ahead of the fifth phase of polling in the ongoing country's general election.  (Photo by Arun SANKAR / AFP) (Photo by ARUN SANKAR/AFP via Getty Images)Getty Images

Mr Modi is one of the most popular leaders that India has seen in recent decades

A really big choice

India is the world’s most populous country, with 1.4 billion people, and holding a nationwide election is nothing short of a Herculean task.

Some 969 million citizens were eligible to cast their ballot, which is equal to the populations of the US, Russia, Japan, Britain, Brazil, France and Belgium.

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What made headlines this election?

Polling for the election, which concluded just hours ago, began on 19 April.

The season was marked by fiery speeches by politicians (some of them controversial), numerous rallies, diatribes, jibes and propaganda as political parties looked to outsmart their opponents – on the ground and even online.

And there wasn’t a dearth of headline-making incidents. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s arrest in a liquor policy case Days before polling began drew sharp criticism from opposition leaders and even sections of the media.

Opposition leaders accused the BJP government of trying to silence rivals and deny them a level playing field – which the BJP denies.

A court granted Mr Kejriwal bail on 10 May to campaign for the elections. However, he has to return to jail on June 2.

The election was also overshadowed by reports of politicians and party workers tampering with voting machines, Muslims being denied their right to vote in some areas and parties flouting the Model Code of Conduct – guidelines issued by the Election Commission of India (ECI) to ensure free and fair elections.

Opposition leaders also accused the commission of not acting on their complaints against the BJP – an allegation the ECI has denied.

grey placeholderGetty Images NEW DELHI, INDIA - MAY 25: Voters seen standing in queues to cast their votes during the sixth phase of Loksabha Elections at a polling station at Rajiv Nagar on May 25, 2024 in New Delhi, India.  Polling for the sixth phase of general elections concluded in 58 constitutions across six states and two Union territories, including all seven seats in Delhi.  Voter turnout across six states and two Union Territories during Phase 6 polling has been recorded at approximately 58.84 per cent, according to the Voter Turnout App of the Election Commission.  (Photo by Sanchit Khanna/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)Getty Images

Polling in India is a mammoth exercise as millions queue up to vote in each phase

What did people vote for this election?

The inauguration of the Ram temple, which was one of the BJP’s biggest poll promises this election, and the government’s welfare schemes are expected to benefit the ruling party.

But the high unemployment rate and price rises, especially of food and fuel, were also at the top of many voters’ minds.

The election also came amid allegations from the opposition, activists and global rights organizations that Indian democracy is under threat. It is an issue that may have influenced the way people cast their votes.

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