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India election results: A setback for PM Modi?

Murali Krishnan in New Delhi
June 4, 2024

Despite having won a third-consecutive term, Modi’s BJP party had failed to win a majority of its own and needs to rely on coalition partners to be in power.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi holding his party's manifesto
The BJP's performance was likely hit by the party's poor showing in the country's most populous state, Uttar PradeshImage: Imtiyaz Khan/AA/picture alliance

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's coalition won a majority of seats in India's general election, official results from the country's Election Commission showed on Wednesday. 

But the tally for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was well short of an expected landslide, dealing a surprise setback for Modi.

Unlike the last two elections, the BJP needs its alliance partners to cross the 272 majority mark in the 543-seat lower house of parliament.

Modi had set a target of more than 400 seats for the NDA. But the alliance secured victory in only about 290 constituencies.

The BJP itself won just 240 seats, compared with 303 at the last election in 2019.

"People have placed their faith in NDA (National Democratic Alliance) for a third consecutive time," Modi wrote on social media platform X, formerly Twitter, on Tuesday after the election outcome became clear. "This is a historical feat in India's history."

Opposition upbeat

A smaller-than-expected mandate means Modi will have to lean more on his allies — like regional leaders N. Chandrababu Naidu in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh and Nitish Kumar in Bihar in the east — for support, unlike in the past.

Naidu's Telugu Desam Party and Kumar's Janata Dal (United) said they would endorse Modi for prime minister.

Meanwhile, supporters of the principal opposition Indian National Congress appeared upbeat despite the party losing the election.

They chanted slogans praising Rahul Gandhi, the most prominent leader of the party. He is also the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that played a dominant role in Indian politics for generations.

Speaking at a press conference with party President Mallikarjun Kharge, Gandhi said he saw the figures as a message from the people.

"The poorest of this country have defended the constitution of India," he said.

The Congress has also said the election had been a "moral and political loss" for Modi.

"This is public's victory and a win for democracy," party President Kharge told reporters.

Strong hit in India's most populous state

The BJP's performance was likely hit by the party's poor showing in the country's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, which sends 80 lawmakers to parliament.

The party was leading in 33 seats in the state, down from the 62 it won there in 2019.

The BJP had campaigned on India's rapid economic expansion and its growing international stature, as well as tried to appeal to the Hindu majority.

But analysts said issues like the unemployment crisis had been higher on people's minds.

A grand temple to Hindu god-king Lord Ram that Modi inaugurated in January had also not boosted the BJP's fortunes as it was expected to, they said.

"The BJP lost 30 seats, including the seat where the Ram temple is located. This is a strong signal that communal politics might have reached its limits, even though it would be premature to say that it has been completely rejected," Halim Khan, a social activist from Bandah city in Uttar Pradesh, told DW.

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'A personal setback for Modi'

Zoya Hasan, a political scientist, told DW that the opposition's performance had been "extraordinarily well."

"The worst has been averted and democracy and the Indian constitution will survive. The idea of India will raise its head again. It was such an unequal and unfair election with BJP's complete stranglehold over money, media and institutions," she said.

Hasan added that the outcome was a rejection of the BJP's political dominance and policies. "It has vindicated our faith in the good sense of the Indian voter and in the future of our great democracy."

Gilles Verniers, a political scientist and senior fellow at the Center for Policy Research, a think tank, shared a similar view.

"Even if the BJP manages to form the government, this election is a personal setback for the prime minister," he told DW, pointing to the BJP not winning a majority of its own and having to depend on coalition partners to be in power.

"Given that the BJP made Modi the sole argument of their campaign, he bears personal responsibility for his party's performance," he said.

"This is uncharted territory for the new BJP, who will be confronted with two choices: either convert to the art of political conciliation or press down further the path of autocracy. The future will tell us which way the PM will choose, a choice that will define India's standing and trajectory."

This article was updated on June 5, 2024, after the announcement of the final results.

Edited by: Srinivas Mazumdaru

Murali Krishnan
Murali Krishnan Journalist based in New Delhi, focusing on Indian politics, society and business@mkrish11