Coalition tipped as campaigning ends
As campaigning in 150 constituencies across India ended at midnight last night, two days before the first round of voting in general elections, opinion polls predicted the near certainty of a hung parliament.
No single party is expected to win a majority 272 seats in the 545-member Parliament and assume office.
All pre-election polls put the opposition, the Hindu fundamentalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies in the lead with about 190 seats, followed by the ruling Congress (I) Party with 145-150 seats.
The centrist Janata Dal-Left Front party combine was placed third, expected to marginally improve its seat tally to about 140.
The surveys, carried out by The Times of India and Hindu newspapers and the widely circulated Week magazine, indicated no big wave of support for any party in any of India's 25 states before the first round of polling.
The situation is likely to remain unchanged even for the second round of voting in 202 constituencies on May 2, and the third and final one for 187 seats, five days later.
Counting of votes begins on May 8, most results will be declared two days later and the new government, in all likelihood a coalition, formed by mid-May.
'It can be said with confidence that a clear majority for any party is impossible,' said the Hindu newspaper based on its opinion survey. Other surveys said a coalition seemed inevitable.
The Times of India poll predicted a two per cent voter swing favouring the BJP in the 'cow belt' northern states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan as well as the western states of Gujarat and Maharashtra.
The popular vote for Congress, spread rather thinly across western, central and southern India, is expected to decline to 31 per cent, its lowest ever, dropping even below its performance in 1977 when it was voted out of office for the first time since India's first elections in 1952.
Most polls, however, say that the crucial difference on polling day will not be not between the committed or undecided voters but between those who will ultimately be mobilised to exercise their franchise.
In this respect cadre-based parties like the BJP and the Left Front, comprising India's two communist parties, are ahead of the others.