India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi flashes victory sign at the Bharatiya Janata Party headquarters to celebrate the party’s win in country’s general election, in New Delhi on June 4. — AFP
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he arrives at Bharatiya Janata Party headquarters in New Delhi, India, June 4. — Reuters
Supporters of Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister and leader of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) celebrate vote counting results for India’s general election, at BJP party office in Hyderabad on June 4. — AFP
Supporters of Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister and leader of Bharatiya Janata Party, celebrate vote counting results for India’s general election, at BJP headquarters in New Delhi on June 4. — AFP
A man stands in front of a poster featuring India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) election candidate K. Annamalai, outside its party office in Chennai, India, June 4, 2024.—Reuters/Riya Mariyam R
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi waves towards his supporters during a roadshow as part of an election campaign, in Kolkata, India on May 28, 2024. — Reuters

India vote count shows Modi alliance winning surprisingly narrow majority

BJP concedes defeat in Ayodhya where Ram Temple was inaugurated; Rahul Gandhi says voters have "punished" BJP.
Published June 4, 2024

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s alliance was headed for a narrow majority as vote counting in the general election neared completion on Tuesday, with its tally well short of an expected landslide in a surprise setback for the populist leader.

The alliance led by Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) secured a parliamentary majority at the country’s general election, official results showed late in the night.

With a few constituencies still left to declare, it had secured 272 seats, enough for a majority in the 543-seat parliament, results on the election commission website showed.

The BJP itself had won 224 seats and was leading in 16 more for a projected total of 240 — by far the largest party but a significant drop from the 303 seats it won at the last polls in 2019.

The main opposition Congress party had won 88 seats and was leading in 11 for a projected total of 99, nearly double the 52 it secured five years ago.

Having to depend on allies to form the government could introduce some uncertainty into policymaking after a decade in which Modi has ruled with an authoritative hold.

The BJP won a majority on its own in 2014, ending India’s era of unstable coalition governments, and repeated the feat in 2019.

Modi said people had placed their faith in the BJP-led coalition for a third time and it was historic, in his first comments since the counting of votes began.

“The blessings of the people for the third time after 10 years boosts our morale, gives new strength,” Modi told cheering BJP members at party headquarters in New Delhi.

“Our opponents, despite being united, could not even win as many seats as BJP won.”

Promising to work harder and take “big decisions”, Modi listed electronics, semiconductors and defence manufacturing, renewables and the farm sectors as areas of special focus in his third term, without elaborating.

Commentators and exit polls had projected an overwhelming victory for Modi, whose campaign wooed the Hindu majority to the worry of the country’s 200-million-plus Muslim community, deepening concerns over minority rights.

Modi was re-elected to his constituency representing the Hindu holy city of Varanasi by a margin of 152,300 votes — compared to nearly half a million votes five years ago.

Among the independent lawmakers elected were two serving time in jail — firebrand Sikh separatist preacher Amritpal Singh, and Sheikh Abdul Rashid from Indian-occupied Kashmir, who was arrested on charges of “terror funding” and money laundering in 2019.

The elections for the 18th Lok Sabha, spanning seven phases between April 19 and June 1, amid a scorching heatwave, were finally coming to a close today, as the ballots are counted.

  • BJP-led bloc, called the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), is leading with 291 seats at 99pc of the vote count
  • BJP was hoping its alliance would win at least 400 out of the 543 up for grabs
  • Congress-led alliance, INDIA, has defied predictions and has so far secured 191 seats
  • Indian stock markets fall nearly 5pc due to uncertainty

Earlier, when only about 10pc-15pc of the total votes had been counted, the opposition INDIA alliance was leading in over 200 seats, higher than expected.

The early see-saw trends unnerved markets with stocks falling steeply. The NIFTY 50 and the S&P BSE Sensex were both down over 2 per cent at 5am GMT. The Indian rupee also fell against the dollar and benchmark bond yields were up.

The markets had soared on Monday after exit polls on June 1 projected Modi and his BJP would register a big victory, with its NDA seen getting a two-thirds majority and more.

Indian National Congress (INC) supporters react on the day of the general election results at the party headquarters, in New Delhi, India, June 4. — Reuters
Indian National Congress (INC) supporters react on the day of the general election results at the party headquarters, in New Delhi, India, June 4. — Reuters

The first votes counted were postal ballots, which are paper ballots, mostly cast by troops serving outside their home constituencies or officials away from home on election duty. This year, postal votes were also offered to voters over 85 years of age and people with disabilities to allow them to vote from home.

Counting is expected to last several hours as the large majority of votes polled in electronic voting machines or EVMs are taken up after the first 30 minutes of counting postal ballots.

“These are very early trends, we are going to see better results as the day progresses,” Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera said.

TV exit polls broadcast after voting ended on June 1 projected a big win for Modi, but exit polls have often got election outcomes wrong in India. Nearly one billion people were registered to vote, of which 642 million turned out.

Despite the results so far, Modi claimed victory for a third term in a statement on social media.

“People have placed their faith in NDA for a third consecutive time”, Modi wrote on social media platform X. “This is a historical feat in India’s history.”

Modi said at the weekend he was confident that “the people of India have voted in record numbers” to re-elect his government, a decade after he first became prime minister.

Voters have ‘punished’ India PM Modi’s party: Rahul Gandhi

Top Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi said that voters had “punished” Modi’s BJP after election commission figures showed the government projected to return with a reduced majority.

“Voters have punished the BJP,” Gandhi told reporters. “I was confident that the people of this country would give the right response.”

“The country has unanimously and clearly stated, we do not want Narendra Modi and Amit Shah to be involved in the running of this country, we do not like the way they have run this country,” Gandhi told reporters, referring to Modi’s powerful number two, Home Minister Shah.

“That is a huge message.”

Gandhi said Congress would hold talks with its allies on Wednesday and decide on the future course of action when asked if the opposition would try to form a government.

Gandhi was also re-elected to India’s parliament by a margin of more than 364,000 in the southern constituency of Wayanad, election commission figures showed.

Gandhi ran for two seats in this year’s poll, a strategy legal under Indian election law, and also had an unassailable lead of more than 389,000 votes for the seat of Rae Bareli in the country’s north.

‘400 paar’ dream shattered as BJP concedes defeat in Ayodhya

Analysts say that despite the BJP’s “roaring” “400 paar” slogan, the “persisting depression in demand in the hinterland, where most Indian voters live, could have cast a shadow” on Modi’s success, according to the Economic Times.

Other factors may also have come into play: a united opposition comprising large and small opposition putting aside their differences to form the INDIA bloc, which appears to have garnered minority votes, could have made a difference, according to the analysis.

Furthermore, Gandhi had reportedly made tempting offers — like large cash handouts — to the marginalised and various caste groups.

The BJP also conceded defeat in a constituency where the inauguration of a grand Hindu temple just months ago by Modi was seen as an event that would cement his legacy and the party’s poll victory.

The BJP looks set for heavy losses in the bellwether northern state of Uttar Pradesh, as the opposition Samajwadi Party and Congress race ahead in more than half of its 80 seats, including in Ayodhya city in the Faizabad constituency where Modi inaugurated the temple in January.

“I could not protect your and Ayodhya’s dignity, there must have been some shortcoming in me,” Lallu Singh, the BJP’s incumbent lawmaker from Faizabad, told party workers, according to footage shared by the Indian Express daily.

“There must have been some reason that we couldn’t win in the Ayodhya parliamentary region.”

Faizabad constituency elected Singh twice to the parliament, in 2014 and 2019, when Modi’s party swept 71 and 62 seats in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state.

Latest trends from the Election Commission showed the BJP’s tally trimmed to 33 seats in the state, which has drawn the focus of analysts to the issues of unemployment and high inflation — two key concerns of voters that surveys showed trumped religion.

“We are very happy with the temple but people were fed up with the BJP,” said Rakesh Yadav, the chairperson of the Ayodhya Vyapar Mandal, a traders body.

He said there was anger among small business owners for getting lower than expected compensation when their shops were demolished during Ayodhya’s redevelopment ahead of the temple inauguration.

“People will not always fall for the caste or temple-mosque politics. They also want to see development which is why the results may surprise us all,” he added.

Vitriolic campaign

Observers believe his appeals to growing Hindu nationalist sentiment will give him a third term in power.

Modi’s opponents have struggled to counter the campaign juggernaut of his BJP, and have been hamstrung by infighting and what they say are politically motivated criminal cases aimed at hobbling challengers.

US think tank Freedom House said this year that the BJP had “increasingly used government institutions to target political opponents”.

Investors have already cheered the prospects of another Modi term, expecting it to deliver further years of strong economic growth and pro-business reforms, while a possible two-thirds majority in parliament could allow major changes to the constitution, rivals and critics fear.

“The next government’s main task will be to set India on the path of getting rich before it ages,” the Times of India newspaper said in an editorial on Tuesday, referring to the young, working age population in the world’s most populous nation. “The clock’s ticking.”

On Sunday, Arvind Kejriwal, chief minister of the capital Delhi and a key leader in an alliance formed to compete against Modi, returned to jail.

Kejriwal, 55, was detained in March over a long-running corruption probe, but was later released and allowed to campaign as long as he returned to custody once voting ended.

“When power becomes dictatorship, then jail becomes a responsibility,” Kejriwal said before surrendering himself, vowing to continue “fighting” from behind bars.

In the lead-up to the election, many of the 200m-plus Muslim minority grew increasingly uneasy about their futures and their community’s place in the constitutionally secular country.

Modi himself made a number of strident comments about Muslims on the campaign trail, referring to them as “infiltrators”.

Logistics of vote count

The polls were staggering in their size and logistical complexity, with voters casting their ballots in megacities New Delhi and Mumbai, as well as in sparsely populated forest areas and in the high-altitude territory of Kashmir.

 Polling officials are seated at a counting centre in New Delhi on June 4, 2024 as counting began for India’s general election. — AFP
Polling officials are seated at a counting centre in New Delhi on June 4, 2024 as counting began for India’s general election. — AFP

Votes were cast on electronic voting machines, so the tally will likely be rapid, with results expected within hours.

Counting began on Tuesday morning in key centres in each state, with the data fed into computers.

“People should know about the strength of Indian democracy”, chief election commissioner Rajiv Kumar said on Monday, vowing there was a “robust counting process in place”.

India’s major TV networks will have reporters outside each counting centre, competing to flash results for each of the 543 elected seats in the lower house of parliament.

In past years, key trends have been clear by mid-afternoon with losers conceding defeat, even though full and final results may only come late on Tuesday night.

“Mandate with destiny”, the headline of the Hindustan Times read on Tuesday. Celebrations are expected at the headquarters of Modi’s BJP if the results reflect exit poll predictions.

The winning post is a simple majority of 272 seats, and the BJP won 303 at the last polls in 2019.

Heatwave voting

Election chief Kumar on Monday proclaimed the 642m votes cast a “world record”.

But based on the commission’s figure of an electorate of 968m, turnout came to 66.3 per cent, down roughly one percentage point from 67.4pc in the last polls in 2019.

Final voter data is yet to be released as repolling took place in two stations in West Bengal state on Monday.

Analysts have partly blamed the lower turnout on a searing heatwave across northern India, with temperatures in excess of 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit).

At least 33 polling staff died from heatstroke on Saturday in Uttar Pradesh state alone, where temperatures hit 46.9°C (116.4°F).

Polling should have been scheduled to end a month earlier, Kumar acknowledged. “We should not have done it in so much heat”, he said.