By Krishna N. Das
NEWDELHI (Reuters) – India’s ruling coalition has promised to rev up growth, double farmers’ income and boost infrastructure spending in the next five years after exit polls showed it would retain power when general election votes are counted on Thursday.
Exit polls have predicted an outright majority for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s alliance in the seven-phase election that ended on Sunday.
Such surveys have proved misleading before, and the main opposition Congress party on Wednesday dismissed them as fake.
The coalition, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which is led by Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), met in New Delhi on Tuesday confident of victory.
“The NDA has resolved to speed up economic growth and fulfil the needs of the people in the next five years of our government,” Home Minister Rajnath Singh, also a senior member of the BJP, told reporters.
“We’re committed to a strong, developed and inclusive India.”
Six of the seven exit polls conducted have predicted the NDA will comfortably exceed the majority mark of 272 seats in parliament’s lower house.
But Congress has dismissed the polls and urged its workers to remain vigilant at centres where votes are being stored before Thursday’s count.
“The next 24 hours are important, stay alert and vigilant,” its president, Rahul Gandhi, said on Twitter on Wednesday, addressing party workers.
“Don’t be scared. You are fighting for the truth. Don’t be disheartened by the false propaganda of fake exit polls. Believe in yourself and the Congress party, your hard work will not go in vain.”
But analysts say another bad showing by Congress would prompt questions over the leadership of the Nehru-Gandhi family, which has dominated politics for decades.
Economic growth eased to a five-quarter low of 6.6% in the three months to December and there are signs it is still slowing. Modi has also faced criticism for weak farm prices and a shortage of jobs.
March industrial output contracted for the first time in nearly two years, and surveys show a slackening in manufacturing and services growth, while car and motorbike sales have tumbled.
Some economists have called for some stimulus.
Singh said plans were ready to meet the BJP’s manifesto pledge to spend 100 trillion rupees (1.13 trillion pounds) on infrastructure in the next five years and 25 trillion rupees on agriculture and rural development.
He also reiterated the BJP goal of doubling farmers’ income by 2022, the 75th year of India’s independence from British colonial rule.
Food Minister Ram Vilas Paswan, whose regional party is part of the NDA, said the election had unleashed a “tsunami” of support for Modi.
Political analysts say the result could cement Modi’s dominant position in politics while undermining the role of Congress and opening up space for newer parties.
“If the exit polls are to be believed, Modi’s image as the incorruptible defender of the faith and nation has triumphed once again,” said Nikhil Menon, assistant professor of history at the University of Notre Dame.
“Narendra Modi may well be leading his party into an era of electoral dominance.”
Nearly two dozen opposition parties have complained to the election panel of attempts to tamper with voting machines in vote-counting centres. It has rejected the accusation.
(Reporting by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Robert Birsel and Clarence Fernandez)