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India’s Congress faces rout in states, exit polls forecast

NEW DELHI: Voters may have handed India’s ruling Congress party a crushing defeat in four states in the heartland while ending its majority in a remote northeastern state, exit polls showed on Wednesday, in a final test of popularity before the 2014 national election.
The Bharatiya Janata Party led by the business-friendly prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi was the biggest gainer in the election, the polls said, lifting Indian shares to a one-month high and the rupee to its strongest level in five weeks.
Both the ruling Congress and its Hindu nationalist rival are hoping to build momentum from the state elections held over the past month in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh as well as in far-off Mizoram as they head into the national election due by May.
Votes for the five state assemblies will be counted on Sunday and Monday.
But most surveys showed that the BJP would oust the Congress in the desert state of Rajasthan, retain its majority in the large state of Madhya Pradesh as well as Chhattisgarh and emerge as the single biggest party in Delhi, though not enough to form a government on its own.
To add its problems, the Congress may lose its majority in tiny Mizoram where it faces regional groups, the surveys run by television channels at the end of voting on Wednesday showed.
Opinion and exit polls, though, have a patchy track record in India. Most surveys forecast the wrong outcome in the 2004 general election. In the past, exit polls have at times failed to capture late trends on voting day.
The latest surveys were carried out on election day with sample sizes ranging from a few hundred to several thousand voters, depending on the size of the states.
Still, the BJP, which is fighting to return to power after 10 years of Congress rule, exulted in the surveys, saying they only showed the depth of people’s anger against the ruling coalition.
“The ground reality is people are upset with the government. There is a growing anti-incumbency against the Congress,” said BJP senior leader Arun Jaitley.
The Congress has faced a string of corruption scandals and a lacklustre economy that has fed discontent in a nation with one of the world’s youngest populations.
In Delhi — which the Congress has ruled for 15 years — the polls showed a strong finish for the Aam Aadmi Party, or the Common Man’s Party, that was born in the crucible of the anti-corruption movement that swept India.
Three polls showed the one-year-old party, which ran a shoe-string campaign funded by ordinary Indians, winning anything from six to 16 seats in the 70-member Delhi assembly behind the BJP and the Congress while a fourth said it might emerge as the biggest party in a hung assembly.