India has snubbed the BJP and sent Narendra Modi a clear message

Modi will return as the prime minister but he will not have the mandate that he wanted, writes Vijay Prashad [photo credit: Getty Images]

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the leading party in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, expected to win a thumping majority in the 18th Indian parliamentary election.

Having been Prime Minister since 2014, Modi and the BJP expected to win over 400 seats in the 543-seat parliament. As it turned out, the BJP won 240 seats — down by 63 — and its alliance won 293 seats.

To form a government, the largest party or bloc needs 272 seats, which meant that the BJP needed its allies and was – after some drama – able to secure the fealty of the largest blocs from the states of Andhra Pradesh and Bihar.

Earlier a rumour spread that these regional leaders would make their support contingent on the removal of Modi himself, but in the end, it seems that they failed to make their case to the BJP. Modi will be the prime minister for a third consecutive term.

The fact that Modi’s BJP did not secure an absolute majority, and certainly nothing near 400 seats, and that the opposition INDIA alliance won 234 seats, including making significant dents in the BJP’s base areas in northern and western India, created a schizophrenic reaction across the country.

Modi and the BJP get a rude awakening

Modi won, but his supporters seemed to treat the victory as a defeat. The opposition could not form a government, but its buoyancy suggested that its defeat was closer to victory.

At one point during the slow release of results, both the BJP and the Congress Party, which forms the heart of the INDIA alliance, celebrated their achievements. The failure of the BJP to realise its expectations is decisive. It is why the BJP will both retain control of the government and why its supporters are deflated by the results.

The scale of the Indian election makes snap judgments about this or that aspect of the electorate impossible. The Election Commission held the voting between 19 April and 1 June over seven phases.

A remarkable 968 million voter cards had to be printed. In the end, 642 million people voted, about two-thirds of eligible voters,  half of them being women — the highest-ever participation by women voters in a single election.

“Modi won, but his supporters seemed to treat the victory as a defeat. The opposition could not form a government, but its buoyancy suggested that its defeat was closer to victory”

Votes were cast in 543 separate parliamentary contests, in which there were several candidates and a complex number of local and national issues at play.

In 2019, when Modi was re-elected, his followers spoke of a ‘Modi wave’, but this time they say that the parliamentary elections are local affairs. Modi won his seat in 2019 with a margin of 450,000 votes, but this time won with a much-reduced margin of 150,000.

Fifteen incumbent members of Modi’s cabinet lost their seats. Modi’s political tradition had put an enormous amount of energy into building a temple to Ram in the town of Ayodhya, and during the past year, Modi had personally overseen the start of the construction; Lallu Singh, the BJP candidate for that constituency of Faizabad – where Ayodhya is located – lost to the Samajwadi Party candidate Awadhesh Prasad by 54,000 votes. Each of these losses is a blow to the prestige of Modi.

Are the cracks beginning to show?

While it is true that India’s economy has a high growth rate, this growth is not evenly distributed. The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy shows that India’s youth — between the ages of 15 and 24 — are faced with a double whammy of low and falling labour participation rates and shockingly high unemployment rates.

Unemployment rate among youth stood at 45.4 percent in 2022-23. This is an alarming six times higher than India’s unemployment rate of 7.5 percent. Amongst India’s working-class and peasant populations, young people remain at home and their dilemmas become part of the sensibility of the entire family.

So, if almost half of the youth are facing underemployment, precarious employment or unemployment, then it is credible to say that more than half of India’s families struggle with the blight of high youth unemployment.

That this did not translate into a more robust anti-incumbency wave shows the limitations of the opposition, which – while it did better than expected – should have wiped out the NDA government from power.

Modi saw his own majority slashed from 450,000 to 150,000 [photo credit: Getty Images]

A study by Lokniti and the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, published in mid-April, showed that nearly two-thirds of the people surveyed believed that the key issues were employment and inflation.

Jobs, say city-dwellers, are getting harder and harder to find. Those candidates of the BJP that emphasised religious majoritarianism did not prevail or won by reduced margins.

The electorate this time did focus on these bread-and-butter issues, but this did not mean that they voted out the BJP and its allies.

While the BJP lost out in parts of its base areas in the north, it was able to make gains in other parts against other incumbents such as in Odisha, where the Biju Janata Dal was wiped out.

Modi will return as the prime minister. But he will not have the mandate that he wanted. The Left returns to parliament with a small cohort, but amongst them are key leaders of the farmers’ movement – such as Amra Ram of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

Space has opened up in India now to fight against the attrition of democratic institutions. This provides an enormous opportunity within India for the political opposition and civic groups to expand social democracy. While Amra Ram speaks for the farmers inside the parliament, the farmers themselves will continue to march to meet the needs of India’s peasants and workers.

Vijay Prashad is the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is the editor of Letters to Palestine (2014) and his most recent book is (with Noam Chomsky), On Cuba (2024).

Follow him on X: @vijayprashad

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff, or the author’s employer.

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