Modi Set to Retain Power in Key State of Gujarat, Exit Polls Show

(Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party looks set to retain power in the key state of Gujarat after regional elections, exit polls predict, indicating strong support for India’s premier 18 months before a national vote could return him to office for a third term.

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Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, could sweep Gujarat and win two-thirds of the seats in an 182-member assembly, according to at least seven exit polls conducted after the final phase of voting. The BJP has controlled Gujarat’s government for the six previous terms.

In the northern state of Himachal Pradesh, the BJP may face a tougher battle, with eight exit polls predicting the party will win elections in the 68-member assembly and one poll giving an edge to the Congress Party. Several polls put the average margin of victory at just a few seats. Vote counting in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh will take place on Thursday.

The BJP’s repeat victory in Gujarat points to Modi’s enduring popularity ahead of 2024 national elections. Modi was the star campaigner for his party and addressed dozens of rallies. Wins this month would follow a March election victory for the party in Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most populous state.

Shumita Deveshwar, senior director of India research at TS Lombard, said a strong performance reinforces an “air of invincibility” for the BJP. “The results signal broad political stability, which will be welcomed by investors, despite economic challenges such as high inflation, slow job creation and incremental reforms,” she said.

Gujarat, with a population of more than 60 million, is a crucial state for Modi, who served there as chief minister for over a decade before leading his ruling Hindu-nationalist party to victories in the 2014 and 2019 national elections.

Meanwhile, the main opposition Congress Party may win fewer seats in Gujarat than its tally in the last elections. The party has struggled to reclaim lost ground after suffering its worst-ever defeat in 2014.

Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party, which governs Punjab and the capital New Delhi, is likely to finish third, despite its aggressive campaign in Gujarat, the exit polls signal.

Exit polls, though a good barometer for popular opinion in India, are still sometimes patchy in massive states like Gujarat, where a complex mix of caste, religion, and development issues guide voters’ choices.

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