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Perspectives

The failure of ‘Abki baar, 400 paar’: a roundup of India’s 2024 Lok Sabha elections

Published June 9, 2024
India’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader, Narendra Modi gestures to the gathering before taking the oath of office for his third term during the oath-taking ceremony at presidential palace Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on June 9, 2024. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi was sworn in on June 9, for a third term after worse-than-expected election results left him reliant on coalition partners to govern. Photo: AFP
India’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader, Narendra Modi gestures to the gathering before taking the oath of office for his third term during the oath-taking ceremony at presidential palace Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on June 9, 2024. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi was sworn in on June 9, for a third term after worse-than-expected election results left him reliant on coalition partners to govern. Photo: AFP

The results of India’s 2024 Lok Sabha elections spread over six weeks, are finally out, defying predictions. It was an intense process and had all the melodrama of a Bollywood movie. The ruling dispensation, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had the upper hand, since it had control over the state machinery, the election commission, media and the judiciary, yet the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA), comprising 26 opposition parties put up a good fight.

When the votes were counted, in contrast to the previous two elections of 2014 and 2019, when the BJP won clear majorities on its own in a house of 543 seats, it ended up with 240 seats this time around. The halfway mark is 272 seats.

By contrast, the opposition INDIA – led by the Congress party – won 232 seats, significantly higher than exit polls had predicted.

The exit polls – released on June 1 after the final phase of India’s election cycle – had suggested that the BJP would outdo its 2019 tally of 303 seats. The BJP itself had raised the campaign slogan, “Abki baar, 400 paar” (This time, more than 400), set a target of 400 seats for its alliance, and 370 seats for the BJP itself. The magic figure of 400 seats has been achieved only once in India’s 77 years as an independent nation. In 1984, the now-in-opposition Congress Party – in the aftermath of the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi – riding on a wave of sympathy for the fallen leader, crossed the tally of 400 seats.

Resultantly, Modi and his party will be able to form India’s next government – but they will be constrained to use the crutches of allies whose support they will need to cross the 272-seat mark. The BJP with its allies, in a coalition known as the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), won 293 seats. Any follower of Indian politics can perceive that the BJP’s allies will call for the proverbial “pound of flesh” whenever the opportunity will present itself.

A brief look at the election campaigns run by both the BJP and INDIA indicates that Modi conjured every trick in the book to secure a third term in office as Prime Minister: manipulating the election commission; achieving control of the media to ensure positive coverage and browbeating the opponents through false charges and incarcerating them.

Modi went to the extent of using the religious card by performing the Pran Pratishtha (ritual of putting the soul inside an idol) of Lord Rama at the temple in Ayodhya in the North Indian State of Uttar Pradesh (UP). Modi did not stop at promoting Hindutva extremism alone. In an exclusive interview with NDTV, he claimed to have been sent by Parmatma (God) for a purpose. He expressed, “I believe God has given me abilities, inspiration, and good intentions for a purpose…I am nothing but an instrument.”  

He was hoping that Indians would cast their vote for him. When BJP sleuths, with their hands on the pulse of public opinion, secretly feared that the BJP could fall short of its target, Modi played the card of fear mongering over an alleged plot by the opposition to hand over the nation’s resources to Muslims, at the cost of its majority Hindus.

INDIA tried to corner Modi on his government’s economic track record. Although the country is the world’s fastest-growing major economy, the spectre of high inflation and unemployment was raised as a major concern if the BJP was voted back into power.

Moving forward, the key to Modi’s reclaim of the Prime Minister’s mantle is held by two regional parties: Janata Dal-United [JD (U)], led by Nitish Kumar in the state of Bihar, and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), led by Chandrababu Naidu in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh. The TDP won 16 seats and the JD (U) 12. Both the parties have also previously been in alliance with the Congress party.

In UP, India’s biggest state, which plays a prominent role in determining the ruling dispensation in the centre, the BJP faced an upset by losing in the Faizabad parliamentary district, home to the controversial Ram Temple, built on the ruins of the 16th-century Babri Masjid. As mentioned earlier, Modi had consecrated the temple in January, 2024 with great fanfare.

Ironically, BJP also lost the key seat of Amethi, which used to be Rahul Gandhi’s favourite hunting ground till he lost in 2019.

This year, Gandhi contested from neighbouring Rae Bareli constituency, winning the seat by a margin more than twice the size by which Modi won his seat, Varanasi, also in UP. In the final consideration, the BJP won just 33 seats out of UP’s 80, a significant drop from the 62 it won in 2019 and its tally of 71 from 2014. The regional Samajwadi Party, a part of the opposition INDIA, won 37 seats, while the Congress won six others. The BJP also suffered losses in Maharashtra, India’s second-most politically critical state. Significantly, INDIA bagged 30 of the state’s 48 seats.

In a nutshell, the composition of the post 2024 polls Lok Sabha will be significantly different from 2024 and 2019, where people with moderate views will have a voice and the BJP’s past clout of framing laws sans discussion or debate will be missed. The extremist duo of Modi and his radical deputy Amit Shah will lose the comfort of coming down hard on the opposition or the minorities in an unbridled fashion. 

Non-BJP parliamentarians will have a say in the feedback and decentralisation of the power, which is a healthy sign for India climbing into the democratic indices, where New Delhi has slid significantly in the past.

It is essential to assess what the results of the 2024 Indian elections will mean for India’s neighbours. In all probability, Indian foreign policy will remain unchanged. Political observers in Pakistan watched the election proceeds with keen interest as the BJP’s campaign promised a tough stance on terrorism, citing the 2016 surgical strike and the 2019 airstrikes to demonstrate its hardline stance towards Pakistan. The danger of Yogi Adityanath, UP’s Chief Minister’s bold assertion that if Prime Minister Narendra Modi secures a third term, Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK) will become an integral part of India within six months has possibly been averted.

Pakistan’s hopes of a rapprochement with India may still be a pipe dream. The only hope is that a jingoistic BJP will have to go through a rejuvenated opposition in the Lok Sabha before it can launch any ambitious operation targeting Pakistan.

From the Pakistani point of view, no talks with India can take place until the Indian government restores the pre-August 5, 2019 statehood of Jammu & Kashmir. Pakistan has its own constraints. The Kashmiri lobby and opposition parties would render any political government and the military highly unpopular among the public’s eyes should Pakistan move forward to normalize ties without progress on the Kashmir issue.

While the results of India’s election have largely been welcomed by India’s other neighbours, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, whose leadership has been invited to Modi’s swearing in, the situation with Pakistan remains complex. Nepal and Bhutan remain wary of New Delhi. Arch rival China extended congratulations to Modi and emphasized the importance of maintaining “healthy and stable” relations between the two countries.

However, longstanding issues and unresolved border disputes have led to deep-rooted mutual distrust in Sino-Indian relations. Since a violent clash in 2020 that resulted in the death of 20 Indian soldiers and four Chinese soldiers, tensions have remained high. Both sides have stationed tens of thousands of troops along the disputed border. Sino-Indian ties will remain strained because of the US lobby against China.

All in all, the surprise results may reduce India’s Islamophobic stance and there may be hope for betterment in India as well as the region as the genie of fanaticism may not have been put back in the bottle but definitely restrained.

The article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Recorder or its owners

S. M. Hali

The writer is a retired Group Captain of PAF, and now a security analyst

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