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Exit polls point to BJP defeat in Delhi

Amy Kazmin in New Delhi
Former Delhi chief minister and AAP candidate from New Delhi constituency, Arvind Kejriwal.
Ajay Aggarwal | Hindustan Times | Getty Images

India's Aam Aadmi (Common Man) party appears poised to retake control of New Delhi, after the city's voters apparently rebuffed Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party, according to multiple exit polls.

If confirmed when the votes are counted on Tuesday, the results would be a major upset for the BJP's electoral juggernaut, which has secured power in three big state elections since Mr Modi's parliamentary election in May, and spent heavily to try to secure control of the capital city too.

It would also be a stunning political resurrection for Arvind Kejriwal, leader of the two-year old AAP, after his act of near political suicide a year ago, when he resigned from his position of Delhi's chief minister, at the head of a minority government, after a turbulent 49-day stint.

Mr Kejriwal's resignation provoked charges that the former tax official turned anti-corruption crusader was not up to the task of governing Delhi, an unwieldy city of nearly 17m people facing problems with water, power, housing and transportation.

However, Mr Kejriwal argued there was no point trying to run a minority government that lacked the necessary numbers in the state legislature to push ahead with reforms, such as creation of a special agency empowered to investigate official corruption.

The exit polls suggest that Delhi's residents, nearly 67 per cent of whom voted on an Saturday in an unprecedented poll turnout, were willing to give Mr Kejriwal a second chance, after a year of the city's direct rule by the central government.

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The polls point to a virtual collapse of voter support for the Congress party, whose traditional core supporters, including the poorest of the poor and religious minorities, apparently turned to the AAP en masse, fancying its chances of beating the BJP far more than those of the enfeebled Congress.

Mr Kejriwal hailed the apparent outcome, tweeting: "My gratitud 2 Delhiites for their support. U r so amazing. U rejcted politics of caste n religion.Hope final results r as per exit polls".

If the AAP does indeed take power in the capital city, the party — and its fiery leader — will be elevated to a leading voice of opposition to Mr Modi's national administration, given the weakness of the Congress party under the leadership of dynastic scion Rahul Gandhi.

Analysts said the exit polls reflected the appeal of the AAP's promise of clean politics, and its expected tough stand on the petty official corruption that blights the daily lives of millions of Indians in their encounters with any aspect of the state, from police to government clerks.

Analysts say it is also an early warning sign of eroding popular enthusiasm for Mr Modi, who rode to power on a promise to unleash economic growth but whose administration has also seen the rise of communal polarisation by rightwing Hindu groups.

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However, Amit Shah, president of the BJP, has urged the party's supporters to ignore the exit polls, describing them as the work of organisations that can be "bought".

With its deep pockets and strong corporate backing, the BJP spent heavily and visibly in a bid to defeat its upstart rival, taking large and even full-page ads on the front pages of nearly all the capital's newspapers in the run up to the vote.

The AAP, which relies mostly on individual donations and had limited financial resources, relied by contrast on enthusiastic campaigning by Mr Kejriwal and grassroots volunteers.

The BJP may also have suffered from Mr Shah's last-minute decision to parachute Kiran Bedi, a total party outsider, into the fray as its chief minister candidate, which angered the party's rank and file workers.