Indian election result: Narendra Modi wanted a 400-seat landslide but he was handed a victory that feels like a defeat

Indian election result: Narendra Modi wanted a 400-seat landslide but he was handed a victory that feels like a defeat
  • PublishedJune 5, 2024

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi started his election campaign with a roaring slogan: Abki Baar 400 Paar.

It was a confident projection that his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and their allies would win 400 out of 543 lower house seats.

On counting day, the BJP struggled to crack 272 seats — the magic number that would allow them to govern in its own right.

It was a stunning blow for the 73-year-old leader who before now had seemed invincible.

A bearded man throws a peace sign
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed victory in the election but it was not the landslide win he wanted. (Reuters: Adnan Abidi)

The BJP will have to rely on its National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to form government. Together they have won 294 seats.

It’s a victory that feels more like a defeat.

Pre-election surveys and exit polls had projected the NDA would get between 353 and 401 seats while the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) would tally 125-182.

As results trickled in on June 4, INDIA emerged as an unexpected disruptor.

The alliance of two dozen parties led by the main opposition Indian National Congress Party managed to clinch about 222 seats.

Stock markets tanked and opposition parties made grinning speeches.

“We fought this election not just against BJP but also the institutions, the governance structure of the country, the intelligence agencies CBI & EDI, judiciary because all these institutions were captured by … Narendra Modi,” Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said.

After two election landslides for the BJP in 2014 and 2019, this time voters paved the way for non-dominant polity, marking a strong resurgence for the Congress Party.

People dancing inside a building
After winning more seats than expected, supporters of the main opposition Indian National Congress Party began to celebrate. (ABC News: Bhat Burhan)

Losses in Modi’s heartland

The most unexpected upset came from the country’s largest and most politically significant state, Uttar Pradesh.

It’s considered Modi heartland. 

A man holds up his finger outside a polling booth
Voters in Uttar Pradesh, a politically powerful state, did not deliver Modi as many seats as he had hoped. (Reuters: Pawan Kumar)

In 2019 the BJP and its allies won 62 out of 80 seats there. This time they’ve been reduced to 36, as the opposition Samajwadi Party and Congress raced ahead.

Uttar Pradesh is also home to the ancient city of Ayodhya, where the PM inaugurated a grand Hindu temple in January — seen as an event that would secure his legacy and the BJP’s victory.

The temple is widely believed by Hindus to be the birthplace of revered god Lord Ram. 

It was constructed after a bloody and decades-long dispute that saw Hindu nationalists raze the sacred mosque in 1992.

Faizabad constituency elected the BJP’s candidate in 2014 and 2019 when Mr Modi’s party swept the state. 

But this time, they lost the seat to the INDIA candidate.

What went wrong?

Modi initially focused his campaign on his economic achievements over the past decade and commitment to Hindu revivalism.

But he soon switched to targeting the main opposition Congress Party, accusing it of favouring India’s minority Muslims – which the party denies.

A man sits on a table in an empty restaurant looking at his phone
The result came as a surprise to many voters and pundits alike. (ABC News: Bhat Burhan)

The opposition campaigned on welfare programs for vulnerable communities and saving India’s democratic values – which it says have regressed under Modi’s rule – an allegation he denies.

Election analysts said Modi’s at-times divisive campaign didn’t resonate with voters who were hurting from soaring youth unemployment, rising inflation and higher cost of living.

“The silent voter has spoken,” said one television news anchor.

A historic feat

In his first reaction since voting began on June 4, Modi took a more positive approach.

“People have placed their faith in NDA, for a third consecutive time! This is a historical feat in India’s history,” he wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Later in the night he made a speech at the BJP’s headquarters in New Delhi, thanking his supporters.

“I will say to every voter of the country on this moment of victory, I want to bow down and salute them,” he said to a crowd of thousands.

He said the party had made significant gains across the country, including clean or near-clean sweeps in New Delhi, Madya Pradesh, Odisha and Gujarat – totalling 80 seats.

Despite an aggressive campaign, the BJP failed to make significant gains in the south, including the state of Tamil Nadu where they did not win any seats.

In his victory speech Modi promised to “do everything” to eradicate corruption “from the very root” in his third term, and added he would support the defence sector, young people and farmers.

The PM rose from humble beginnings as a tea seller to one of the most powerful leaders in the world by building a cult of personality, spending big on infrastructure and welfare, and cracking down on dissent.

He’s known for his strongman politics, but how that may change in the face of a weakened mandate is uncertain as he relies on a coalition that may not share his Hindu nationalist beliefs.

Two regional partners — both staunchly secular — have suddenly become kingmakers: the Telugu Desam Party from the southern state of Andhra Pradesh and the Janata Dal (United) Party in the eastern state of Bihar. 

Collectively, they hold 28 seats.

These were not the numbers the BJP wanted, but there is no denying this is a historic moment for India as Narendra Modi becomes only the second PM in history to win three terms in power.

People on a street hold a picture of Narendra Modi
Despite a smaller-than-expected victory, BJP supporters still celebrated another term for Narendra Modi.(ABC News: Som Patidar)


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