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Modi’s Win Sans Majority Signals Strength for Indian Democracy

Isha Desai | Indo Pacific Fellow

Narendra Modi rallying in Varanasi before the 18th Lok Sabha elections 2024. Image sourced from Prime Minister's Office, Government of India via Wikimedia Commons.


India has just facilitated the largest election in history. Approximately 950 million voters have cast their ballots across the nearly two-month voting period from April to June. During the election, there was contention over whether India would transition to autocratic values over Modi’s Hindu nationalism and potential third term in government. While current Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won a third term, the opposition, the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA), headed by the Indian National Congress won an unprecedented number of seats. The non-majority nature of Modi’s win importantly signals the strength and perseverance of India’s voice and democracy.

 

The BJP won 240 seats, 32 less than the 272 seats needed for decision making control in the lower house. In 2024, BJP have secured 293 seats, however this is comprised of the core BJP and allied parties. Nevertheless, these 293 seats fall far short of the 400 seats that BJP were projected to win. The opposition, INDIA, secured 232 seats in Parliament, marking the first occasion that the BJP could not independently secure a majority.

 

A key election issue this year was India’s capacity to meet the demands of its growing economy, where youth unemployment (concerning those aged 20-24) at the end of 2023 was 44.9 per cent compared with 8.7 per cent for the entire economy. Coupled with rising inflation which stood at 5.09 per cent in February 2024, India remains thoroughly gripped in the cost of living crisis. The BJP have responded to this with a policy of ‘new welfarism’ which includes subsidies for essential goods such as electricity, cooking gas and housing, targeting lower classes, farmers and women in particular. Ultimately, this is a divisive issue. Welfare policy was used in the campaign to garner votes, yet the policies themselves only provide short term relief and fail to address crucial barriers to long-term socio-economic mobility for these demographics.

 

Another divisive election issue has been Modi’s promulgation of Hindu nationalism, which has marginalised Indian Muslims and hearkens back to India’s history of religious conflict. In 1992, right-wing Hindu supporters tore down an ancient mosque they believed was built on the site of the Hindu god, Lord Ram. This sparked violence across the country, resulting in the deaths of more than 2,000 Muslim Indians. Controversially, in January 2024, Modi inaugurated a Hindu temple on this site, delivering on a BJP promise and solidifying nationalist support. Modi’s brand of Hindu nationalism has been a throughline for many policy efforts, including the 2019 Citizenship Amendment Act, which accelerated Indian citizenship for all minorities except Muslim Indians, and stripped the Muslim majority region Jammu and Kashmir of political autonomy.

 

In spite of this, Modi has remained enormously popular by virtue of his cult of personality. This has been achieved, according to Professor Bhattacharyya from Jawaharlal Nehru University, through linking his empowering speeches and economic outcomes to a ‘perceived divinity’, which holds a ‘messianic spell’ over his voter base. This base continues to grow as Modi continues pro-Hindu policy efforts and spouts his intentions to make India great again. Conversely, Modi has been met with some resistance, with protests breaking out in recent years against BJP’s threat to democracy and Modi’s policies, including against the 2019 Citizen Amendment Act. Professor Indrajit Roy at the University of York (UK) describes these Indians as carrying an ‘audacious hope’.

 

TIME Magazine notes that this election is ‘vibrant and paradoxical’. Indian elections often have a high voter turnout with so much as 67 per cent (over 550 million) of the population voting in the 2019 election. Yet the BJP continues to impose barriers for independent media, including spying on and imprisoning journalists. International watchdogs have also changed India’s democratic status to a ‘hybrid regime’, owing to its expressions of authoritarianism in recent years.

 

The 2024 election results leave much to be analysed. On one hand, Modi winning a third term means that the patterns of Hindu nationalism and right-wing patriotism will persist, and push India further down the authoritarian path. However, the fact that Modi’s party does not hold a majority also means that political sentiment in India is changing. Whilst the Indian National Congress didn’t win, they hold the most power that they have had since 2009. The implications of this result remain to be seen. As Modi is still in power, his policies of Hindu nationalism and new welfarism will have more time to take hold. However, there is a possibility that this direction does not retain the same momentum as before, due to the increase in opposition that has been elected into Parliament.

 

As a first-generation Indian Australian surrounded by a general pro-Modi sentiment over the last decade, it is hard not to have conflicting feelings about the results of the election. As a student of politics and someone who is inherently political, I support the change of government as a chance for new faces and parties to help shape the country and retain the integrity of democracy. I believe that Modi fanatics are blinded by Hindu nationalism and are unable to see how his policies harm minorities. As a result, the third term election of BJP is frustrating for me and others which share my views.

 

However, I must acknowledge that this result is different from previous elections. Namely, BJP have not won the sole majority and thus must rely on a coalition, a characteristic of a good democracy. The Washington Post headlines ‘the voters have spoken. They do not want autocracy’. In a climate where Modi’s majority win seemed inevitable, this slight shift serves as a golden reminder that the people of India still hold the ultimate power.



Isha Desai is the Indo Pacific Fellow for Young Australians in International Affairs. She is a graduate from the University of Sydney in Politics, International Relations, and Political Economy.


Isha is an emerging researcher and policy analyst with a keen interest in Australia’s future in the Indo Pacific, climate security and foreign policy. She has worked as a policy researcher for the Australian Humans Rights Commission, the United States Studies Centre and most recently Legal Aid NSW where she co-authored a literature review that was awarded the 2023 Sydney Policy Reform Project Prize.


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