India began counting hundreds of millions of votes in its general election on Thursday, with a coalition led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party taking an early lead, TV channels and India’s Election Commision said.
The National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is expected to surpass the 272 seats needed to command a majority in the lower house of parliament, six of seven exit polls showed.
Several opposition leaders attempting to unseat Modi have urged voters to wait for the final results, calling the exit polls “gossip”.
The NDA led in 235 seats, with the opposition United Progressive Alliance ahead in 95, at 9 a.m. local time (0330 GMT), about an hour after the counting of about 600 million votes began, Indian TV channel NDTV said.
Official data from India’s Election Commission showed the BJP ahead in 101 seats, with the main opposition Congress Party ahead in 40. There are 542 seats available.
Police guarded voting centers in West Bengal on Thursday, where campaigning had turned violent as the BJP tried to take seats from the Trinamool Congress, a powerful regional party.