The Indian Election

Narendra Modi was sworn in as Prime Minister of India/Bharat for the third time since 2014, the second leader after Jawaharlal Nehru, the first leader after Indian Independence, to do so. India is easily the largest democracy on the planet – with a mind-boggling 970 million electorate of which 640 million voted. To facilitate the process, there were one million voting booths where the voting took place over seven phases from April 19 to June 1, using electronic voting machines (EVMs). At the end, the results were compiled in four days and the results immediately announced and followed by the swearing-in of the PM and his Cabinet. While we have been perennially complaining that our country is very large and presents logistical challenges to our elections, it is dwarfed by India’s topography where the terrain ranges from the Himalayas through jungles to the sea. India has been using EVMs since 1962 and maybe we should consider introducing them in our country since they facilitate continuous tabulations that are made available to all.
Modi had predicted that his National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coalition would win over 400 seats (“400 paar”) in the 543-seat Lower House (Lok Sabha) improving their 2019 tally of 360 seats, but it was not to be. They actually lost an overall 67 seats and eventually garnered 293 seats – which easily surpassed the 272 seats needed to form a majority and secure the Government and the prime ministership. The Opposition INDIA bloc almost doubled their 2019 tally from 119 to 234, an increase of 115 seats with the moribund Indian National Congress bouncing back with 99 seats. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was responsible for the loss of 63 seats from the NDA, falling from 303 in 2019 to 240 in 2024.
The biggest takeaway from the 2024 India election, according to most analysts, is that it was a win for democracy. With the BJP commanding a majority on its own, Modi was able to make decisions on his own without necessarily consulting his coalition partners. And while this led to decisive actions, it was felt that the danger of authoritarian behaviour was ever-present. Modi now has to depend on the support of regional partners which provided the seats that delivered the majority. The largest are Janata Dal (Union), led by Nitish Kumar, PM of the impoverished state of Bihar, who secured 12 seats, while the Telugu Desham Party (TDP), led by Chandrababu Naidu, brought in 16 from the southern Andhra Pradesh state. The Shiv Sena (SHS) from Maharashtra, led by Eknath Shinde, brought in 7 seats.
The BJP suffered the greatest setback to its expectations in the largest state in the union – Uttar Pradesh (UP) that sends 80 Members of Parliament (MPs) to the Lok Sabha. The BJP could only muster 33 – down from its 62 in 2019. Modi and the BJP had counted that the grand opening of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya in UP – birthplace of Sri Ram – would have enervated the Hindu-majority electors to deliver the knockout punch to secure the “400 paar”. What the analysts have concluded is that the issues of massive unemployment among youths and rampant inflation were more pressing than the emotional satisfaction of having the long-awaited Ram Mandir built.
The same factor played out in neighbouring Bihar where BJP’s ally, JD(U) lost 4 seats even though Chief Minister Nitesh Kumar remains very popular. What all of this boils down to in practical politics is that Modi will have to give in to the demands of regional leaders which centre around bread-and-butter issues more than the glamour of being feted by the world and corporate leaders. The unemployment challenge will have to be addressed and fast. The de-risking by many manufacturing firms from China due to US sanctions and other measures to clip China’s wings offer Modi an avenue to attract more firms to both increase the “Make in India” brand and reduce unemployment.