Modi Leads as India’s Congress Set for Worst Showing, Poll Finds

India’s main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party will win the most seats in elections due by May while falling short of a majority, strengthening Narendra Modi’s chances to become prime minister, a poll shows.

The BJP is set to win 188 seats in the 545-member lower house in the vote, surpassing the party’s previous high of 182 seats in 1999, according to a C-Voter poll for India Today published yesterday. The ruling Congress party may get as few as 91 seats versus 210 now, dropping to its lowest on record, the poll said.

“If the BJP wins control by a great deal, and these numbers seem to be indicating so, then Modi will be in a position to do whatever he wants as prime minister,” said Sudha Pai, the author of seven books on Indian politics and a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

The BJP won the most seats in four out of five state elections last month, giving the party momentum before the national polls. Modi has trumpeted his management of Gujarat, a state that accounts for a fifth of India’s exports, while fighting off criticism of his 2002 handling of anti-Muslim riots that has made him persona non grata in the U.S.

The BJP and its allies will win 212 seats, more than the 159 seats they took in the 2009 elections, the C-Voter poll found. A Congress-led alliance would get 103 seats, compared with 259 in 2009. Other regional parties may win 228 seats, up from 125 seats in the 2009 elections, the poll found.

Unstable Government

India Today didn’t specify when the poll was conducted, how many people were surveyed or what the margin of error was.

The BJP will also win the most seats in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, according to a separate poll published yesterday. The party will take 35 of 80 seats in the state, the ABP News-Nielsen national poll said.

The results pose a challenge for Rahul Gandhi, the scion of India’s most famous political family, who is touted to be the country’s next prime minister if Congress wins the most seats. Gandhi has been spearheading the party’s election campaign after being named its vice president last year.

An unstable government will face a tougher time approving policy changes in the nation of 1.2 billion people, where economic growth is forecast to remain at a decade-low for a second straight year and inflation is the fastest in Asia. India’s credit rating may be cut to junk in 2014 unless the general election leads to a government capable of reviving economic growth, Standard & Poor’s said in November.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.