India election: Exit polls see Modi win as vote ends
A number of exit polls are suggesting that Narendra Modi, the leader of India's main opposition BJP, is on course to win the general election.
The BJP dominated the campaign but analysts warn that exit polls have often been wrong in the past.
The main contest in the vote is between the ruling Congress and the BJP. Votes will be counted on 16 May.
Polls ended on the final day of voting on Monday. The Election Commission said voter turnout was a record 66.38%.
The figure beats the previous record set in 1984.
The election began on 7 April and has been held in nine phases for security and logistical reasons. With 814 million eligible voters, it is the world's biggest exercise in democracy.
If the exit polls turn out to be accurate when the votes are counted on Friday, they will point to a dramatic turnaround for the BJP and a massive defeat for the Congress.
Three out of four major exit polls in India suggest that the BJP and its allies will get an outright majority, while one says it will fall short by a little over 20 seats.
If accurate, it will also explain the record turnout in these elections. And it will suggest that the BJP's gamble of building its campaign entirely around Narendra Modi, an often divisive figure, has worked in its favour.
But exit polls are not always taken very seriously in India because of their poor track record. They were dramatically inaccurate in the past two elections in 2004 and 2009, vastly over-estimating the BJP's performance.
Exit polls being released by Indian media organisations on Monday evening all showed the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) well ahead in terms of predicted seat wins, and the governing Congress trailing badly.
According to the India Today-Cicero poll, the NDA is expected to win between 261 and 283 seats. TimesNow-ORG predicts 249 seats for the opposition alliance.
The IBN Network18-CSDS poll predicts the NDA will get between 270 and 282 seats and expects the BJP to win between 230 and 242 seats. It points to a dismal showing for the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), which it expects it to get 92 to 102 seats.
The ABP-Nielsen exit poll gives 281 seats to the NDA and 97 seats to the UPA.
A party or coalition needs 272 to form a government and analysts say unless the BJP wins a clear majority, the vote counting on Friday may be followed by days of bargaining with potential allies.
Correspondents note that exit polls are notoriously inaccurate in India, partly because of the size and complexity of the electorate. In the last two elections, they were inaccurate and over-estimated the BJP's gains.
On Monday, as polling came to an end, Election Commission officials said more than 551 million voters had to cast their ballots, higher than any turnout in the country's history.'Ballot for progress'
On the final day of the election, millions turned out in the sacred city of Varanasi, a key battleground, where Mr Modi is being challenged by anti-corruption campaigner Arvind Kejriwal.
Voting was also held in 40 other seats in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal states.
In the run-up to Monday's vote, Varanasi had been the scene of frenzied political campaigning.
"Varanasi will finally see some change and development. I am glad to have lived for the day," Ramavati, 93, said.
One woman told the BBC that she had cast her ballot "for the person who will bring development and progress".
In a city imbued with symbolism, Monday's poll battle is also deeply symbolic: a political duel between the powerful and the underdog”
"The main issues are inflation, corruption and unemployment."
Pitted against Mr Modi in Varanasi is Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party, whose army of volunteers has campaigned extensively for weeks before polling.
There are a total of 42 candidates in the fray in the seat, including the Congress party's Ajay Rai, a local political leader.
Uttar Pradesh, where Varanasi lies, returns more MPs than any other state and is often dubbed India's battleground state.