October 16, 2014 / 5:08 AM / in 4 years

Modi magic enchants Indian voters in state elections: exit polls

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is set to emerge as the largest party in two state legislatures where it has traditionally been weak, exit polls showed, thanks to intense campaigning by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

A woman shows her ink-marked finger after voting at a polling centre during Maharashtra state elections, in Mumbai October 15, 2014. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

Victory in the Maharashtra and Haryana state elections will make it easier for Modi to launch unpopular reforms to remove price caps on natural gas and diesel, which economists say will help India balance its accounts and reduce shortages of energy.

All five exit polls released late on Wednesday said the center-right party favored 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.

“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 Modi to power.

Today’s Chanakya said the BJP would emerge with 31 percent 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 percent share of the vote. The poll had a 3 percent margin of error.

State elections determine the number of seats parties have in the national upper house of parliament. The party needs to do well in a clutch of state polls until 2017 in order to gain a majority in the upper house.

By expanding the BJP’s reach beyond its traditional strongholds, a strong showing in the current elections will also advance Modi’s goal of replacing the Gandhi dynasty’s center-left Congress party as India’s default ruling party.

Congress party governments currently rule both states and the BJP broke with long alliances to stand alone in the current elections, a sign of its new confidence.

However, the exit polls suggest that voters are drawn more to Modi’s appeal than to the BJP. The party did poorly in by-elections last month where the prime minister did not campaign.

This time he hit the stump hard, addressing dozens of rallies across Maharashtra, home to India’s financial capital Mumbai, and Haryana, where the northern tech-city of Gurgaon is located.

Reporting by Aditya Kalra; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel

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