India: elections in temperatures of 50 degrees



The main result of the world’s largest voting can be considered the victory of Indian democracy

As we remember, on the eve of the parliamentary elections in India, i.e. before April 19, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the Indian People’s Party (Bharatiya Janata Party, BJP) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi uncompromisingly claimed an overwhelming majority in Parliament (about 370 seats). And Modi himself set an even more ambitious goal of winning an absolute constitutional majority of 400 seats (out of 542). He was seeking a symbolic repeat of his opponents’ success in 1984. And to form a government, a political party needs to win 272 seats in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament, the balance of power in which determines what matters most: the composition of the government and who becomes prime minister. India is a parliamentary republic with a federal system. (There is a president, but he is chosen by the electoral college and does not play the same role as the prime minister).

However, according to the latest data from the Election Commission of India, the NDA, led by Narendra Modi’s Indian People’s Party, did not even come close to the prime minister’s setup, and won only 292 seats in the lower house of parliament. Compare that to 352 seats in the previous 2019 elections. 292 is not bad either, as it is more than half and gives the right to form a government. However, Modi’s party BJP itself won only 240 seats, losing its absolute parliamentary majority (last election it was 303 seats). This deprives Modi of the ability to implement laws and overall policy without regard to coalition allies and the opposition.

The opposition I.N.D.I.A. alliance, which includes 28 parties, won 234 seats. It is noteworthy that exit polls predicted no more than 130. The Indian National Congress (INC), the oldest political party in the coalition, won 99 seats, almost doubling its representation. The INC had only 53 seats at the end of the last election.

Modi himself tried to pretend that nothing had happened. «This is the third time in a row that the people of the country have expressed confidence in the NDA. This is an unprecedented moment in India’s history. I assure my countrymen that we will move forward with new energy, new enthusiasm and new solutions to fulfill their aspirations», he said. For his part, I.N.D.I.A. leader Rahul Gandhi, who comes from the most famous political clan of Nehru-Gandhi, has no doubt that the elections were a victory for the opposition and showed that «voters do not want Narendra Modi to rule the country». He thanked Indians for «the first step in defense of democracy and the constitution».

The latter statement is closer to reality. As we remember, the election campaign was accompanied by a series of scandals: arrests and detentions of opposition leaders, blocking of bank accounts of opposition parties, confiscation of funds intended for bribing voters, use of administrative resources.

According to experts, this could additionally affect the mood of voters. Although, as GEOFOR wrote earlier, the Indian society has accumulated fatigue from staying in power of one and the same party and one and the same prime minister for 10 years. Although it seems that the majority was inclined to turn a blind eye to «individual shortcomings», but, as we see, not so much to forgive everything. And there are many problems, including unemployment among young people (according to a 2023 government study, the rate among Indians aged 20 to 24 is 44.9 percent, compared to an overall unemployment rate of 8.7 percent). And then there is the continuing property stratification, the government’s protection of mainly big business interests, inflation, rising prices, and problems in agriculture that have caused mass protests by farmers. Apparently, the BJP’s and Modi’s extreme nationalism, which advocates the defense of Hindu values and has elevated religion to the rank of state policy, also had an impact. This was seen to please the majority but alienate national minorities.

The ruling coalition’s election campaign was largely based on the glorification of Modi’s figure. They wrote and talked incessantly about his off-the-charts approval ratings, allegedly approaching 80%. His personal blog has over 98 million subscribers and he has given up his personal life for the sake of the country and the people (Modi officially has no family). And so on and so forth.

Modi himself spoke at nearly 200 rallies in the three weeks before the election, promising in his third premiership to increase GDP to $5 trillion by 2027 and turn India into the world’s third largest economy. In the run-up to the vote, Modi, apparently finally detached from reality, personally urged citizens to go to the polls under the slogan «Over 400 this time!». The point is that the authorities wanted to get more than 400 seats in the lower house and rule without any competition. The prime minister made no secret of the fact that he wanted to be on a par with Jawaharlal Nehru, who has so far been the only politician to hold the post of the head of the republic’s government three times in a row. Just before polling began, Modi in an interview declared his divine purpose: «I am convinced that God has sent me for a specific purpose and when that purpose is achieved, my work will be complete».

The authorities remained in this state of euphoria until the results were announced. Within 24 hours, a dozen polls conducted by influential TV channels and newspapers (mostly close to the government) predicted a decisive victory for the ruling party and a crushing defeat for the opposition. But the reality, as we see, turned out to be quite different.

And the main outcome of the elections can be considered a victory for Indian democracy as a whole, which is head-to-head superior to the Western ones. Compared to the 2019 elections, the turnout is slightly lower — 66.3 vs. 67.4%. At the same time, the absolute number of people who came to the ballot boxes was a record — about 642 million people. The head of the Indian Election Commission Rajiv Kumar emphasized that this figure exceeded the total number of voters in the G7 countries by 1.5 times and made the Indian elections the largest in the world.

But democracy’s victory was not easy. During the voting, a temperature record was registered. On May 29, thermometers showed plus 52.9 degrees Celsius in Delhi, and on the last day of voting, June 1, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh alone, more than 30 polling staff and one voter died because of the heat. But it was in this, India’s largest state, that Modi fell short by a significant number of votes.

Despite the sacrifices made by Indian society, they are worth it. So far, we are not talking about an electoral political coup akin to the one that brought down the Indian National Congress’ stock in 2014, bringing Modi and company to power. But the sharp decline in the popularity of the BJP and Modi himself, convinced of his electability, is evident. Consequently, the authorities will listen more to the aspirations of different segments of the people and the parties representing them. Let us recall that 2,700 such entities participated in the elections.

Observers question whether Modi will be able to work at all in such a situation, within the framework of the coalition. It is believed that he is a very tough and even authoritarian politician, accustomed to governing alone, although many in India do not like it. But if the prime minister and his coalition do not draw conclusions from what has happened and continue to believe in their exclusivity, they will face a further decline in confidence and problems even before the next parliamentary elections. However, if the government admits its mistakes and really considers other opinions, it will be good for the country and its development.