NEW DELHI: Leaders of India’s Hindu nationalist opposition huddled in meetings Wednesday to discuss strategy after exit polls forecast a sweeping victory for the party when results of the marathon election are announced in two days.
Bharatiya Janata Party leader Narendra Modi, who campaigned on a pledge of development, investment and jobs, is expected to become India’s 14th prime minister at the head of a BJP-led coalition after the official results Friday. Senior party figures Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari and Sushma Swaraj, who are all expected to hold major cabinet positions, met in New Delhi.
“We’ve got lots to discuss,” said Singh, referring to post-poll scenarios and strategies. Singh, currently the BJP president, was mum on who would get which senior jobs. But media reports suggested Swaraj, currently the BJP leader in the parliamentary lower house, might get the external affairs portfolio while veteran BJP leader Arun Jaitley would become finance minister.
Singh might end up with the home ministry, the reports added. Singh was more forthcoming on the outcome of the election, insisting that “the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance is getting a clear majority”. “One thing is sure is that Narendra Modi is becoming the next prime minister of India,” Singh told reporters after arriving in Ahmedabad, the main commercial city of the western state of Gujarat, for another set of planning meetings with Modi and other BJP leaders.
Modi, son of a tea-stall owner who rose steadily through party ranks, has been chief minister of the thriving state for the past dozen years. The BJP is forecast to win the most seats in the 543-seat parliament but India’s exit polls have been proved wrong in the past. Rahul Gandhi, who headed a lacklustre campaign for Congress which has held power for a decade, has denied that his party is staring at almost certain defeat — despite voter unhappiness at a sharply slowing economy and widespread corruption.
Gandhi, scion of the powerful Nehru-Gandhi dynasty which has produced three prime ministers, was derided throughout the campaign by Modi as a reluctant “shehzada” (prince). Regional parties hinted they might join Modi’s coalition after the final results are declared. Attention was specially focused on the powerful AIADMK party headed by J. Jayalalithaa, which rules the southern state of Tamil Nadu and is expected to win about 20 seats in the national parliament. K. Malaisamy, a senior AIADMK leader, said Modi “is a great friend of Jayalalithaa” even if “they may differ politically”.
“If he becomes prime minister, then madam (J. Jayalalithaa) would like close ties,” Malaisamy told NDTV’s television news. Jayalalithaa, a former movie star, was more circumspect, telling reporters: “Let’s wait for the results.” Regional parties often bargain hard for cabinet portfolios or special financial assistance in return for supporting a national government. Amit Shah, Modi’s closest aide who has predicted the alliance will win 290 to 305 seats, said the BJP will “accept support from any party even if it has just one elected MP if it believes in our agenda”.
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