Party of India's Prime Minister Loses Parliamentary Majority After Latest Elections

ON 06/05/2024 AT 02 : 15 AM

Modi will stay in power as prime minister, but his BJP party’s substantial losses will force major changes in his policies and how he leads India.
G21 Chair Narendra Modi speaking on September 9, 2023
Event Chair and India Prime Minister Narendra Modi, delivering the opening remarks for the G20 Summit which was held from September 9-10, 2023, in New Delhi, India.. G20 India Official State YouTube feed, Screen Capture

India’s parliamentary elections this year were some of the most closely watched in history.

The reason is because, although Prime Minister Narendra Modi was anticipated to win a third term as head of state in this densely populated country of 1.44 billion, this was also expected to be the most contentious yet for the controversial leader.

Voting began in the country on April 19. It was carried out in seven phases, concluding last weekend and with vote counting proceeding in earnest on June 4. Because it takes so long for all voters to cast their ballots in a series of seven voting phases in various states and regions, the country and the world had to wait until just now to learn what happened.

As the counting began this week, it initially appeared that Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would once again easily win a majority of seats in the Parliament of India. NDTV’s weekend estimates for the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coalition result, based on exit polls were consistent with this. They pointed to the coalition bringing in a total of 365 seats out of the 543 total in parliament. While that was a shortfall from initial coalition targets of 400 the BJP had set before voting began, it was more than close enough to provide a big win for Modi once again, and easily position him to win a rare but not unprecedented third term as returning prime minister.

As the real vote counts were added up this week, it became clear the exit poll results for the BJP and the NDA coalition were far overstated. As of early morning June 5, local time, current numbers show the BJP itself landed just 240 votes, representing 44.2% of the total and well under a majority on its own. The NDA coalition is expected to bring in just 288 votes, far below the 365 seat projections NDTV had come up with over the weekend.

It is also the first time since Modi became primer minister in 2014 that his BJP party failed to deliver a majority of the seats in the Indian Parliament.

In contrast to the surprisingly poor NDA and BJP results this time, the opposition political alliance known as INDIA delivered an unexpectedly strong electoral result. That alliance, consisting of a coalition of two dozen parties was headed by the Indian National Congress Party, which itself brought in 99 seats. INDIA as a whole delivered a total of 230 of the parliament’s seats this time, far above projections expected as late as last week. Though the BJP may try to dismiss that result as unimportant compared to their win, not only was this a strong showing for a coalition group which set its sights on toppling Modi if possible, but at the very least bringing in enough power in the Parliament that to “save the constitution” from further meddling by Modi and his party.

The INDIA coalition also surprised many political projections by winning back almost half the seats it had lost to the BJP representing the state Uttar Pradesh, in the prior election. A key to this important regional victory was anger over Modi having authorized the destruction of an important Muslim Mosque in the city of Ayodhya in that state. Hindu nationalists operating with Modi’s support authorized that, and in April this year, just as election season was starting in Uttar Pradesh, the prime minister attended the inauguration ceremonies for the Hindu temple which replaced the Mosque.

Another factor which may have energized the INDIA parties against the BJP were some overtly aggressive moves against the opposition Modi launched earlier this year. Those steps included charging and jailing some senior opposition leaders with crimes of corruption and tax evasion, and freezing some financial accounts owned by the opposition. Those were broadly seen by the public as bullying tactics rather than just being “tough on crime” and are believed to have backfired on the BJP.

All this provided INDIA with a much bigger parliament seat count than expected. But in addition to that, the INDIA coalition is also now more united than ever to push back against Modi if he attempts to make any major governmental changes, either by law or in the constitution. That could be enough to slow Modi’s drive to transform India into his vision of what a “developed” nation should be, under the campaign pledges he made prior to this year’s voting.

With the BJP holding 240 votes and the existing NDA coalition having enough to control the majority power in the parliament, the parliament will easily re-elect Modi to the position of prime minister for another five years. But unlike in the past, he is going to have to spend far more time addressing not just an opposition coalition of increasing power, as well as to mend fences within the slightly wounded NDA political alliance.

It is also expected Modi will need to moderate the authoritarian mode of leadership he has become notorious for, or jeopardize losing support not just from the INDIA alliance when he needs it in the parliament, but also from his own NDA coalition partners on some of the more challenging initiatives he may propose.  

Political analysts in India believe Modi’s strongman power presence over the last ten years has been knocked down significantly because of the BJP’s much poorer showing this time. Not only will the INDIA opposition and others opposed to Modi’s legislative agenda fight back more strongly than in the past, but even the judiciary – which despite its supposed independence had very much bowed to Modi’s interests in past court cases – is expected to stand up to him and the BJP more during the coming term.

It all means Modi’s message from television campaign interviews this year that his role as prime minister was God-given will need to be tempered quite a bit to avoid outright chaos as he soon begins his third term in office.

Modi is already scheduling meetings with the other members of the National Democratic Alliance coalition to begin planning his new term. So too are the members of the opposition INDIAN party.