New Delhi  -   Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to return to power at the head of a coalition government, with exit polls predicting his Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies will win a majority of seats in India’s parliament.

Many saw the election as a referendum on Modi who won a landslide in 2014.

The polls seemed to indicate that Modi’s campaign strategy had paid dividends. They suggested the BJP and its allies would garner between 287 and 336 seats in the parliament, well above the 272-seat threshold for a majority. Only a single exit poll showed Modi’s coalition falling slightly short of that mark.

The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance will win as many as 306 seats in India’s 543-seat lower house, according to an exit poll from TV channel Times Now.

The opposition Congress-led United Progressive Alliance coalition will win an estimated 132 seats, exit polls said.

Exit polls from Republic TV indicated the count would be 287 seats to Modi’s coalition and 128 seats for the opposition Congress alliance.

Official results are expected on Thursday. Exit polls in India have a patchy track record: Surveys have both underestimated and overestimated the strength of the winning party in the past.

But Sunday’s exit polls suggested that Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies would win a majority of seats in the lower house of parliament.

Modi, the most popular — and polarising — politician in India, ran a campaign highlighting his tough stance on national security and making forthright appeals to patriotism.

Over the last five years, the Modi government instituted a handful of economic reforms, rolled out schemes to assist poor Indians and launched a nationwide cleanliness drive. But it failed to deliver on its core promise to create jobs: The unemployment rate surged last year to a 45-year high.

The polls showed the Indian National Congress, the main opposition party, and its allies winning between 115 and 164 seats. Observers expected that opposition parties would try to cobble together a coalition of their own if Modi’s party stumbled.

 Sunday was the seventh and final polling day in an election with nearly 900 million eligible voters that began on April 11. The battle was bruising, as Indian election authorities repeatedly stepped in to discipline candidates for violating rules on poll rhetoric.

The election began on 11 April and was held in seven phases for security and logistical reasons. With 900 million eligible voters, it is the world’s biggest exercise in democracy.

Political parties have not commented on the projections so far. However as voting ended, there was a flurry of meetings by opposition leaders, sparking speculation.

The economy is perhaps the biggest issue, with farming in crisis, unemployment on the rise and growing fears that India is heading for a recession.

Under Modi, the world’s sixth-largest economy has lost some of its momentum. Growth hovers around 7% and a leaked government report claims the unemployment rate is the highest it has been since the 1970s.

A crop glut and declining commodity prices have led to stagnant farm incomes, leaving many farmers saddled with debt.

Many also see this election as a battle for India’s identity and the state of its minorities. A strident - and at times violent - Hindu nationalism has become mainstream in the past five years, with increased attacks against minorities, including the lynchings of dozens of Muslims accused of smuggling cows.

And national security is in the spotlight after a suicide attack killed at least 40 paramilitary police in Indian-occupied Kashmir in February. India then launched unprecedented air strikes in Pakistan, prompting Pakistan to respond in kind and bringing the two countries to the brink of war.

Markets are likely to cheer signs that Modi will return to power, even if he is slightly more constrained without the single-party majority the BJP won in 2014.