Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi

• Contrary to exit polls, incumbent govt falls short of predicted ‘landslide’
• BJP-led NDA bloc expected to get 291 seats; INDIA alliance standing at 238
• Opposition calls for PM’s resignation, will meet to set strategy today

NEW DELHI: Indian voters gave Prime Mini­ster Narendra Modi a pyrrhic victory on Tuesday, handing his National Dem­ocratic Alliance (NDA) a clear mandate, but robbing the BJP of a majority on its own.

Modi has been used to ruling willfully with his own ironclad majority; 13 years as Gujarat chief minister and 10 as premier. Contrary to fanciful exit polls that gave him a hum­o­ngous majority, Indian voters have now essenti­ally put the prime minister at the mercy of two allies from Bihar and Andhra Pradesh who head secular parties and do not share his enthusiasm for Hind­utva or his targeting of Mus­lims and other minorities.

The solitary BJP victory in Kerala for the first time is also said to be based on the candidate’s close ties with minorities.

The BJP-led NDA was expecting to win 291 seats, 19 more than 272 needed for majority in the 543-seat parliament. This means that Modi is shored up by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal United and Andhra Pradesh chief minister-in-waiting Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party. To the BJP’s chagrin, both recently acqui­red allies are Muslim-fri­endly leaders who oppose communal dog whistling.

As the leads continued to turn into final results, the BJP on its own was struggling at 238 seats against the 303 it had in 2019 and 282 in 2014. The verdict prompted West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to call for Mr Modi’s resignation.

But the incumbent premier was showered with rose petals like a victor when he arrived at the BJP headquarters in Delhi. He told his cheering supporters that the mandate was for the NDA and the BJP, and described it as a historic occasion for him to lead the government for a third consecutive term.

The INDIA group, meanwhile, was standing at 238, with a hundred seats from the Indian National Congress.

Chandigarh: Congress supporters celebrate their party’s performance in the general election as results poured in, on Tuesday.—AFP
Chandigarh: Congress supporters celebrate their party’s performance in the general election as results poured in, on Tuesday.—AFP

INDIA allies meet today

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge said the verdict was not for Modi and that his INDIA partners would meet today (Wednesday) to discuss whether they should talk to the TDP and JDU to set up an alternative challenge to Modi.

An equally crucial decision they would need to make is to elect a non-BJP speaker for the Lok Sabha. For the two terms under Modi, the BJP has had its own speaker who has played havoc with parliamentary propriety. It was the speaker who threw out nearly the entire opposition from the Lok Sabha, expelled opposition MP Mahua Moitra and cancelled Rahul Gandhi’s me­m­bership until the Sup­reme Court restored it.

Rahul also won massive majorities of hundreds of thousands votes from both the seats he contested, Rae Bareli in Uttar Pradesh and Wayanad in Kerala. He said he would consult the party to make a decision about the seat to be surrendered. It is widely believed that his sister Priyanka Gandhi could be fielded from the vacated seat.

Perhaps the biggest reward for the Gandhi family came with the victory of family loyalist Kishori Lal Sharma in Amethi who defeated high profile cabinet minister Smriti Irani by over a hundred thousand votes. BJP got its worst setback in Uttar Pradesh where it was reduced to 33 against its tally of 62 last time.

The combination of Sam­a­jwadi Party of Akhi­lesh Yadav and Congress, which saw Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi campaigning feverishly, reduced Modi’s victory margin to just one fourth of his previous tally. On several occasions during the counting, it was his Congress opponent who was in the lead. Modi eventually won by over a hundred thousand votes.

Yusuf Pathan
Yusuf Pathan

‘Saved democracy’

The blame game has begun in the BJP about the Uttar Pradesh debacle, and senior journalists close to Modi are pointing the finger at Chief Minister Yogi Adit­yanath. It is no secret that Adityanath has been fighting a turf war with Home Minister Amit Shah and has felt threatened after several BJP chief ministers were removed by Shah.

Adityanath would probably deny any role in subverting BJP’s chances, but his Thakur caste supporters were openly hostile to the BJP in the campaign.

Summing up the verdict, Gandhi said it was the poor masses who rose to the defence of India’s constitution, a copy of which he steadily flashed at all his election meetings.

“It was the Indian voter’s genius that saved the day for democracy.”

The two states other than UP that performed beyond expectation for the INDIA group were Mahara­shtra and West Bengal principally, but they also stole a good number of seats from the BJP bastions of Rajasthan and Haryana.

In Maharashtra, the INDIA group won 29 seats against the 41 NDA controlled last time. In West Bengal, Banerjee’s Trina­mool Congress routed the BJP by snapping 31 seats against its previous tally of 22. The BJP was reduced to looking at 12 from 18 it had last time.

Former cricketer Yusuf Pathan was leading for the TMC against Congress. An­other cricketer Kirti Azad and movie star Shatrughan Sinha were among the winners for the TMC. For the BJP, the tinsel presence would come from movie stars Kangana Ran­aut and Hema Malini who won from Mandi in Himachal Pradesh and Mathura in UP, respectively.

If Modi indeed returns to power again, he would get an opportunity to attend the Ukraine peace conference in Switzerland on June 15. If the INDIA group gets control of the next government, relations with neighbouring countries, soured during Modi’s tenure could pick up steam, possibly loosening the visa regime with Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, June 5th, 2024

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