Asia-Pacific

More than 900 million Indian voters await the result of the world's largest election

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More than a month after polls closed in the world's largest elections, India is about to learn who their next prime minister will be.

Results were due Thursday from India's election, with exit polls pointing to a victory for Prime Minister Narendra Modi but the opposition still clinging to hopes of a surprise win.

After an exercise not short of staggering statistics, the roughly 600 million votes cast in the world's biggest and purportedly most expensive election were set to be counted in just one day.

If there is a clear trend, this should be evident by around 4.30pm AEST. But if the result is close, India's 1.3 billion people may have to wait a lot longer for the outcome.

In 2014 Modi, and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept to power with 282 seats in the 545-seat parliament, the first time a single party had won a majority in 30 years.

Kites featuring Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi.
Kites featuring Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi.
AAP

It then cobbled together an alliance with 334 seats, and exit polls suggested the coalition this time will win anywhere between 282 and 313, enough to remain in power even at the lower end.

However, Rahul Gandhi of the Congress party, hoping to become the fourth member of the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty to lead India, dismissed the projections.

"Don't get disappointed by the propaganda of fake exit polls," Gandhi told the party faithful on Twitter.

Indian exit polls are notoriously unreliable. In 2004, they pointed to a BJP victory, but the results told a different story, bringing a Congress-led government to power.

Results in several regions such as Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state which formed the core of Modi's support in 2014, and West Bengal in the east, will be key.

Insults and fake news

The vast size of India stretching from the Himalayas to the Tropics, taking in polluted mega-cities, deserts and jungles, meant the election stretched over six weeks.

The campaign was awash with insults - Modi was likened to Hitler and a "gutter insect" - as well as 'fake news' disseminated around social media.

Narendra Modi's party is expected to win India's general election but the question is by how much.
Narendra Modi's party is expected to win India's general election but the question is by how much.
AAP

Gandhi, 48, tried several lines of attack against Modi, in particular over alleged corruption in a French defence deal and over the desperate plight of farmers and the lacklustre economy.

Unemployment is reported to be at a 45-year-high with Asia's third-biggest economy growing too slowly to create jobs for the million Indians entering the labour market every month.

Modi's shock cash ban in 2016 - not even his cabinet were informed before his televised address to the nation - disrupted livelihoods. Foreign investment has, however, increased.

Lynchings of Muslims and low-caste Dalits for eating beef, slaughtering and trading in cattle have risen, leaving some of the country's 170 million Muslims anxious for their future.

Vinod Bansal, a spokesman for the Hindu nationalist Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), said he wants a "complete ban" on the slaughter of cows, sacred to most Hindus.

56-inch chest

But Modi, 68, managed deftly to turn the election into a referendum on his rule while depicting himself, often in the third person, as the only one able to defend India.

In this he was given a major boost when a suicide bombing, claimed by a Pakistan-based militant group, killed 40 Indian paratroopers in Indian-administered Kashmir on February 14.

Indian voters hold their voting slips as they stand in a queue to cast their votes.
Indian voters hold their voting slips as they stand in a queue to cast their votes.
AAP

Doubts abound about the efficacy of India's subsequent air strikes on Pakistan, but the action enabled Modi to style himself the "chowkidar" (watchman) with the 56-inch chest.

"Wherever the terror groups and perpetrators may hide, our security forces will flush them out and punish them," he thundered. "Every drop of blood of our slain soldiers shall be avenged."

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