Modi could sweep away Congress in Indian election, says survey

By Krishna N. Das

NEW DELHI (Reuters) -A coalition led by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party could win nearly three-fourths of the parliamentary seats in elections starting this month, according to a survey, while the main opposition Congress could hit a record low.

The immensely popular Modi is riding high on the back of strong economic growth, handouts and the January inauguration of a Hindu temple on a contested site in the Hindu-majority country, despite his poor job-creation record and widening disparity between the rich and poor.

Elections for a five-year term will be held in seven phases between April 19 and June 1 and votes will be counted on June 4.

Modi's National Democratic Alliance coalition could win 399 of the 543 seats in the lower house of parliament while his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alone is projected to win 342, according to an India TV-CNX opinion poll published on Wednesday. The majority mark is 272 seats and Modi's target for his alliance is to win more than 400.

Opinion polls have a mixed record in the diverse country of 1.42 billion people.

Five years ago, the BJP won 303 seats and its alliance more than 350.

Congress could fall to 38 seats, a record low, from 52 in 2019 and the previous low of 44 in 2014, according to the survey conducted in March that covered nearly 180,000 people. It is the first major opinion poll since election dates were announced last month.

The party's "INDIA" coalition partners that have agreed to jointly contest the elections are expected to win a total of 94 seats, according to the survey. Big regional party Trinamool Congress, which is part of "INDIA" but declined to jointly contest with Congress in the eastern state of West Bengal, could win 19 seats.

Like in the previous two elections, the BJP is expected to do very well in the country's most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, winning 73 of the 80 seats there.

In the prosperous south of the country, where the BJP has struggled to make much headway, the party could see good numbers from Karnataka, the only state in the region it has ruled locally and where Congress is now in power.

The opposition, meanwhile, is struggling to stay united and its leaders are facing multiple corruption charges that they say are politically motivated. Modi says investigation agencies are independent.

"This fight is to save democracy and the constitution," said Congress leader Rahul Gandhi after filing his nomination papers.

Helping Modi is the economy that is expected to have grown by about 8% in the last fiscal year ended March 31, the fastest among major countries. Fruits of the booming economy, however, are more visible in the cities than in the vast countryside.

To help them cope with rural distress and high prices, the government has been giving free rations to 814 million Indians since the COVID-19 pandemic.

And it is not just handouts that could help the BJP.

Modi in January led the consecration of a grand temple to Hindu God-king Ram on a site believed to be his birthplace, fulfilling a 35-year-old promise of the Hindu-nationalist BJP. A Hindu mob in 1992 pulled down a 16th-century mosque on the site, which many Hindus believe was built over a demolished Hindu temple under the Mughal ruler Babur.

(Reporting by Krishna N. Das in New Delhi; Editing by Devika Syamnath, Alexandra Hudson)