Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses an election rally in Amreli, near Ahmedabad. More than 157 million of the country's 900 million voters are eligible to cast ballots on the second of seven days of voting in the world's biggest election. Photo: AFP

As India’s seven-phased general elections came to a close on Sunday, major exit polls by national media in the country predicted a comfortable majority for the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance NDA. The exit polls have completely gone against earlier predictions about the election’s outcome and fallen in line with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s claim that it will win over 300 seats.

The Lower House of the parliament currently has 545 seats with two reserved for representatives of the Anglo-Indian community who are nominated by the president of India. A party or an alliance needs at least 272 seats to cross the majority mark in the parliament. In 2014, the BJP won a majority by bagging 282 seats on its own and the NDA, a coalition of right-leaning parties led by the BJP, had 336 seats.

Most of the exit polls predicted the NDA will win more than 300 seats this time and the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance would score somewhere below 130. The actual result will be announced on May 23 after counting of all votes.

The highest total of seats the NDA is projected to win is 340 as per the exit poll conducted by Today’s Chanakya while the lowest, predicted by ABP-Nielsen, is 277, which is much less than what the BJP scored on its own in 2014.

Predictions for the Congress-led UPA range downward from 132 seats (the Times Now-VMR exit poll’s figure) to Today’s Chanakya’s projection of a mere 70 seats. Even the lower figure would still represent a gain for the UPA. In 2014 it won only 59 seats, a disastrous showing.

According to the News18-IPSOS Exit Poll predictions, the NDA is again set to win 336 seats, while the Congress-led UPA is predicted to get 82 seats and 124 seats would go to opposition national and regional parties and independent candidates.

Regional heavyweights that have not allied with either BJP or Congress – such as the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, and the Trinamool  Congress – are projected to get between 104 and 135 seats.

The sample sizes of voters for the exit polls varied widely. While the largest polled over 250,000 voters (India Today E-Chunav), the numbers scaled down from there to as few as 40,000 (Times Now-VMR).

The exit polls’ findings are contrary to a pre-poll consensus forecast made by independent voting analysts (termed psephologists in India), according to which the NDA would win only 254 seats.

Analysts, based on the BJP’s performance and voter behavior in 2014, had thought that the party would lose a significant chunk of seats in the Hindi heartland, especially in the state of Uttar Pradesh. The state is considered a kingmaker as it sends the highest number of MPs (80) to the parliament.

But other than a few exit polls – such as ABP’s, which foresee the formidable alliance of SP, BSP and Rashtriya Lok Dal bagging 45 seats out of 80 – most have predicted that the BJP will retain its hold on the state. It got 71 seats in the state in 2014.

According to the News 18 exit poll, BJP will sweep Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Jharkhand and improve its tally in Karnataka and Maharashtra. In Uttar Pradesh, it says, the BJP could end up losing a few seats but that would be offset by significant gains in Odisha and West Bengal.

Although the exit polls have led people to already feel victorious or dejected, they’re being reminded that independent surveys are not always accurate. The voters polled may not always give honest answers to the surveyors.

“Exit polls are not the final decision, but are indications – but, by and large, what comes out in the exit polls also reflects in the results,” said Union Minister and BJP leader Nitin Gadkari.

Many in the opposition are skeptical about the exit poll outcomes. Congress parliamentarian Shashi Tharoor tweeted saying: “I believe the exit polls are all wrong. In Australia last weekend, 56 different exit polls proved wrong. 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.”

Trinamool Congress head and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee tweeted on Sunday saying, “I don’t trust Exit Poll gossip. The game plan is to manipulate or replace thousands of [electronic voting machines] through this gossip. I appeal to all Opposition parties to be united, strong and bold. We will fight this battle together.”

Just after the exit polls came out predicting a comfortable win for BJP-led NDA, stock market indexes reflected the approval of the business world. The Sensex on Monday rose over 1200 points. It crossed the 39000 mark. Nifty, too, rose sharply to 360 points to cross the 11,700 mark. The rupee also jumped 79 paise to 69.44 against US dollar.

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