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Modi declares victory in India election but party faces shock losses and will need coalition

India’s transformative yet divisive Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared victory in national elections on Tuesday evening, but his goal of winning an unassailable majority was left in tatters after voters delivered a shock result that reduced the extent of his party’s grip on power.

“Today is a glorious day… National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is going to form the government for the third time, we are grateful to the people,” Modi told cheering supporters at his party headquarters in New Delhi, referring to the initials of his political alliance. “This is a victory for the world’s largest democracy.”

Modi is set to form a government with the help of his NDA allies – a third consecutive term and a landmark that makes him one of the most successful politicians in post-independence India.

But Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party fell short of securing the 272 seats needed to win an outright majority in parliament, a stunning upset that leaves them reliant on coalition partners to form a government.

Modi’s NDA alliance won 292 seats combined, out of which his BJP alone secured 240.

This is a personal blow to Modi, who had triumphantly vowed to win a 400-seat supermajority in this year’s election – and romped to victory the last two contests with a simple majority for the BJP, turning his Hindu nationalist right-wing party into an electoral juggernaut.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he arrives at Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) headquarters in New Delhi, India, on June 4. Adnan Abidi/Reuters
Supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) celebrate as they learn early election results on June 04, 2024 in Bengaluru, India. Abhishek Chinnappa/Getty Images

India’s opposition, who had largely been written off in the polls and by many analysts, portrayed the result as a rejection of Modi’s divisive style.

Rahul Gandhi, the leader of India’s National Congress, said early election results showed that the “country has unanimously and clearly” stated that it does not want Modi and his party to run the country.

“We do not appreciate the way they have run this country for the last 10 years so that is a huge message for Mr. Narendra Modi,” he said outside his party’s headquarters in New Delhi.

Congress led an alliance of opposition parties that tried to topple Modi. While they look set to have failed in that task, they have dented his previous aura of electoral invincibility.

Results also show they have chipped away at BJP seats, including in some of the ruling party’s traditional strongholds.

Meanwhile Indian stocks plunged Tuesday as Modi’s dream of a landslide victory slipped away, raising doubts about his ability to push through more aggressive economic reforms.

‘Sent by God’

From April 19 to June 1, more than 640 million people cast their vote at polling stations across the country, from the high peaks of the Himalayas to the remote jungles of the west.

And though turnout slightly dipped from the record levels of 2019, that a democratically elected leader won a third term speaks to his levels of popularity.

To his millions of supporters in the Hindu majority nation, 73-year-old Modi is an icon whose policies have transformed ordinary people’s lives and helped realize the nascent promise of social mobility in a country still riven by class divide.

“No one can do for us what our Prime Minister Modi can,” said BJP worker Rajgopal Kashyap, from the party’s headquarters in New Delhi. “He has come to us as an instrument of God. He will take our country forward and is the only one who can run the country.”

Over the last decade his administration has upgraded the country’s aging transport network, building highways to connect small villages with major cities. He has overseen the development of new power plants and maritime projects and, according to recent remarks from Modi himself, subsidized the construction of some 40 million concrete homes for improvised families

At his rallies, tens of thousands gather in religious devotion to glimpse a man they hope never loses his grip on power. Modi’s face is plastered on buses and billboards across the country, and his voice enters the homes of millions every month via his flagship radio program and increasingly pliant media landscape.

But his decade in power has not been without controversy.

Modi faced widespread criticism early in his tenure when he banned India’s 500 and 1,000 rupee bank notes, deeming them “worthless pieces of paper,” sparking panic in the cash heavy economy.

In 2019, he faced the wrath of angry farmers when they took to the streets to demand guaranteed prices for their crops in the biggest protests the country has ever seen. Two years later, critics blamed him for mismanaging the country’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, which led to more than half a million deaths, according to official figures.

Religious persecution and Islamophobia have also increased sharply on his watch, with critics accusing him of tacitly endorsing sectarianism to bolster his party’s Hindu-nationalist dreams.

They say the prime minister is dragging India away from the constitutionally secular roots and transforming India into a majoritarian Hindu state, an evolution with potentially profound implications in a giant nation with a troubled history of explosive inter-communal violence.

Given India’s strategic position in Asia and its booming economy, Modi’s victory will reverberate far beyond its borders, capturing the attention of the United States, China and Russia in particular.

Washington has long seen New Delhi as a regional crucial bulwark against an increasingly assertive China. But at the same time India remains close to Moscow and has thirstily snapped up cheap Russian oil despite the invasion of Ukraine and western-led sanctions.

Modi now sets his sights on deepening his transformation of India, with the goal of turning the vast country into a developed nation by 2047, the centenary of independence from colonial British rule. He inherited a rising economy and India’s growth remains impressive, filled with a populous young workforce.

But that same workforce is also chronically underemployed, with youth unemployment spiraling and much of the country’s growing wealth distributed unequally.

Despite his reduced mandate, supporters say Modi remains the best person to deliver on those economic promises and cement the country’s rank as a major global player.

“For us middle-class people, (Prime Minister Narendra Modi) is the only one who has done anything, who has shined India’s name abroad,” said Surjeet Singh, a driver in New Delhi.

Political scientist Christophe Jaffrelot says such sentiment “can be seen across the board.”

There’s a feeling that Modi makes Indians “proud again,” said Jaffrelot. “There is a sense in India of vulnerability, lack of self-esteem. So, to be recognized as a great power despite everything is attributed to him.”

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