India's ruling party will make gains in a key election to rule the southern state of Karnataka but fall short of a majority, an opinion poll showed, which could force it to form an alliance to overthrow the Congress party from its last big state.
A win in Karnataka, the first of three major states to vote this year ahead of a general election in 2019, would give Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a foothold in the prosperous southern region of the country, apart from bolstering his chances of securing a second term.
The BJP could more than double its tally to 89 in the 224-seat assembly in May's state election, but fall two seats short of what India's main opposition Congress party, which governs the state, is likely to get, according to the opinion poll by TV station Times Now and VotersMood Research aired late on Monday.
Regional party Janata Dal (Secular), together with smaller ally the Bahujan Samaj Party, is likely to win 40 seats and emerge as the kingmaker in an assembly that needs 113 seats for a majority, the poll showed.
Another opinion poll conducted for India Today news channel earlier this month also predicted that, on their own, both the Congress and BJP would fall short of the majority mark.
A spokesman for the Janata Dal did not respond to requests for comment. Local media quoted its Karnataka head as saying this week that the party had no "secret pact" with the BJP as suggested by Congress leaders in the state.
Top leaders of both the BJP and Congress have campaigned extensively ahead of the May 12 election in Karnataka, whose cosmopolitan capital Bengaluru is known as the information technology hub of India but has struggled to cope with its overstretched infrastructure. Results will be out on May 15.
Karnataka is the only south Indian state that the Hindu-nationalist BJP has ever ruled for a full five-year term on its own, following a surprise victory in 2008.
Elsewhere, however, the BJP has been riding high on Modi's popularity despite concerns about a lack of jobs. The party or its partners currently rule 21 of India's 29 states, up from just seven when Modi took office in 2014.