A policeman keeps watch from the roof of a building during a campaign rally by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Image: AP

Elections Results Demystify India’s ‘Invincible’ Modi

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Less than a month ago, India’s opposition parties were in deep despair. The result of the Parliamentary election, however, brought an unexpected twist: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling coalition retained power but with a slim majority. This surprising outcome has not only invigorated the opposition but also, for the first time in over a decade, made the seemingly ‘invincible’ Modi appear vulnerable.

As he ran for the general election for the third time, Modi’s campaign slogan was ‘Ab ke bar 400 paar’ (this time 400 seats), rallying for 400 seats in the Indian Parliament. Leaders of Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had emphasized to voters that with a two-thirds majority in the Parliament, Modi would have the power to amend the country’s ‘secular’ constitution. Many exit polls also predicted the ruling party would be re-elected with a supermajority.

The results, however, turned out quite contrary to expectation and predictions. Modi did become the prime minister for the third time (only one prime minister before him has been able to do so) but now relies heavily on the smaller regional parties. His ruling BJP secured only 240 seats – a clear distant from 272 seats to form the government. 

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) alliance, led by Modi’s BJP, retained the third term with more than 290 seats in the 543-member parliament.

Unlike in the past elections, this one was unique in that the opposition fought hard against the incumbent party, which many saw as an improvement over prior performances. A few analysts pointed out how factors such as unemployment and poverty influenced the outcome.

The BJP suffered significant losses in the northern states like Haryana, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and especially in Uttar Pradesh. In Uttar Pradesh – the state which sends the highest number of MPs to the parliament – the opposition Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) bloc, led by Congress party, won 43 seats of the state’s 80 seats and the BJP managed to secure victory on 33 seats only. In 2019, the BJP had won 62 of the 80 seats. 

The farmers have also been at the loggerheads with the incumbent government and their anger against the Modi government also contributed to their poor performance. In Punjab, one of the country’s leading rice and wheat growers, the BJP came up empty-handed. In neighboring Haryana, where the BJP won 10 of the 10 seats on offer in 2019, its total was reduced to five this time, with the opposition Congress capturing the remaining five.

Anti-Muslim Fear-Mongering

In the last 10 years of rule in India, Modi’s government has brought strict policies against minorities, especially Muslims, who are the 200 million in the country. Modi and his ministers have stoked anti-Muslim sentiment among the majority, with their public speeches including and accused Muslims of various kinds of Jihads. Like ‘Love Jihad’, an unfounded conspiracy theory accusing Muslims of luring Hindu women into marriage and then forcing them to convert to Islam.

Following Modi’s re-election in 2019, the government’s implementation of controversial policies furthered the marginalization of India’s Muslims. Incidents of violence against Muslims have repeatedly risen under Modi’s leadership.  

In 2023, a report released by India Hate Lab, a Washington DC-based group showed 668 documented hate speech events that targeted Muslims. The report, titled ‘Hate Speech Events in India’, noted that while 255 events took place in the first half of 2023, “the number rose to 413 in the second half of the year, a 62% increase.”

Modi’s election campaign in 2024 was rife with anti-Muslim hate speeches, At a one campaign rally on April 21, 2024, he referred Indian Muslims as “infiltrators.” 

The recent implementation of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) coupled with National Register of Citizens (NRC), analysts have warned, could lead to annulment of Muslims without proper documentation in border states. 

In 2019, the BJP government unilaterally stripped Indian-administered Kashmir of its limited autonomy by imposing a harsh lockdown and jailing thousands of Kashmiris. Modi, in the avatar of a priest, in January 2024 spearheaded the consecration of Hindu temples built on the Mughal era mosque demolished  by a Hindu militant mob in 1992 in Ayodhya. This event was seen as Modi’s start of election campaigning. 

In 2002, thousands of Muslims were killed in communal riots in the eastern state of Gujarat, where Modi was then the chief minister. He was accused of deliberately not directing police to take action to save Muslims. Modi’s popularity surged after this pogrom. 

The 2024 election, however, proved to be different. While Modi had promised that he will take ‘big’ decisions if elected for a third term, his popularity has taken a hit. Analysts believe his divisive policy is failing. 

Analysts feel by approving these policies discontentment among India’s minority has shown up in the past, which  “would hit a roadblock for now as the parties support to form government had to rely on secular parties like Telugu Desam Party (TDU) and Janata Dal (united), JDU,” said Asim Ali, a political analyst from India. 

He believes while there will be countervailing pressures from these parties as BJP would not be able to bring bills like CAA, “the party will have to project secularism but ground level anti-Muslim mobilization won’t stop.” 

BJP’s Failed Coup in Kashmir 

The Indian Parliamentary polls were the first major election after Modi’s stripped the highly contentious region of its autonomous status in 2019 that deprived Kashmiris of their special rights in relation to land and jobs. The decision was one of Modi’s long-standing pledges and was widely appreciated across India, especially among his Hindu right wing supporters. But the decision angered the locals, as per reports. There are several reports which shows governments “intensifying crackdown on separatist voices, civil society and media.”

The repression of local and independent media has also been widely reported. Many Kashmiri journalists had to either leave their jobs or shift to Delhi to avoid intimidation and surveillance from local administration.

In India, most of the mainstream media has become part of Modi’s public relation mission and works under his thumb. Few remaining independent media organizations have faced harassment, raids and had to navigate a tightrope.

Few observers underscore that even though India has a coalition government now. There is not much hope for independent media.

“Last 10 years have seen how the Modi government has controlled the media—by intimidating media owners or using laws. Independent media was the only hope but it has come under strict laws and I am skeptical if NDA partners are really committed to the idea of free press,” said senior Indian journalist and author Kalpana Sharma. 

During the recent election campaigning, BJP was going all out to expand its reach in Kashmir by opening offices and increasing membership of its party. Anticipating loss in the region,  it did not contest any of the three seats in Kashmir valley. 

India’s Home minister and right-hand man of Modi, Amit Shah said ‘the party is deciding to build up the organization on ground (in Kashmir) and then field a candidate.’ 

But others were skeptical about the party’s claims and political tactics. It was being claimed that BJP is supporting “proxies” as it openly had told Kashmiris not to support “prominent dynasty leaders” from  the valley. 

While BJP managed to retain two seats in the Hindu-majority Jammu, the picture was different. The parties which had some kind of overt or covert allegiance to the BJP performed badly in the polls. Even the People’s democratic Party (PDP), which actually aligned with BJP in regional assembly in 2016 and is being accused of making inroads for Kashmir faced a humiliating defeat, even when its leaders were guns blazing against the BJP this time. 

Most surprising result came from the northern seat of Kashmir valley, where former chief minister Omar Abdullah and former minister in BJP-PDP government, Sajad Lone, had to face a humiliating defeat from Ab Rasheed Sheikh, popularly known as Engineer Rasheed.

Rasheed, a firebrand politician, is in India’s high profile Tihar jail for the last five years under a terror-funding case. A two-time legislator from Langate area of northern Kashmir, Rasheed is known for openly advocating for the plebiscite in Kashmir. His win by over two-hundred thousand votes — higher winning margin than Modi — reflects the sentiment in Kashmir that continues to remain on the side of those who call for the resolution of the dispute. 

“Voters of Kashmir and Ladakh have overwhelmingly rejected the stance of BJP and its proxies. They have penalized dynasty politicians for their collaboration (with India),” said Sheikh Showkat, a political analyst from Kashmir. 

The question of Kashmir remains hanging even with the new coalition government as the valley goes through new security challenges for the Indian government every day. 

But in India, the surprise outcome has limited Modi’s ability to make unilateral decisions that could have far-reaching consequences. He will not be able to make major decisions without first gaining the trust of his coalition partners. 

India’s opposition MPs have doubled in number, giving them a larger say and influence over how the government operates. The latest election results are far from keeping the divisive leader of the BJP, led by Modi, in check, but they have undoubtedly deprived them of their brute strength.

Quratulain Rehbar

Quratulain Rehbar is an Independent Journalist based in Kashmir. In a career spanning over six years, she has covered critical issues from the region and across India on human rights violations, women's rights, health, anti-Muslim hate, and climate change. Her work has appeared in many foreign and Indian publications

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