The fear in many quarters that equitable, non-discriminatory democracy was being slowly strangled has eased. A large cross section of Indian voters used the ballot box to reject the divisive, anti-Muslim Hindutva politics that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) champions.
Modi’s supporters were no doubt shocked by the final election tally after most exit polls and mainstream media projections suggested an emphatic victory for the BJP. Instead, the ruling party secured just 240 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha and must rely on smaller, regional allies to form a government.
The BJP obtained about 37 per cent of the vote share, which was a similar figure to the 2019 election but did not translate into as many seats. The party took home 303 seats in the latter election and could form a government on its own.

03:14

Modi’s BJP claims ‘historic’ victory in Indian election despite smaller majority

Modi’s BJP claims ‘historic’ victory in Indian election despite smaller majority

Modi projected himself as the face of the BJP for this election. His campaign was enabled in large measure by a subservient mainstream media – derisively referred to as godi, or lapdog, media – creating a larger-than-life perception of the prime minister.

Collectively, the media, influencers, pollsters and Modi’s cyber militia exuded misplaced certitude that the two-term prime minister was much loved and admired, had a divine mission to lead India to lost glory and that the voters would endorse him en masse. This did not happen, and the BJP is now in the unenviable position of having to cobble together a coalition government.

This coalition is likely to be sworn in this week. The BJP is part of the National Democratic Alliance, two of whose members – the Telugu Desam Party and Janata Dal United – are regional parties emerging as kingmakers. Coalition governments are not new to Indian politics, and previous prime ministers such as Narasimha Rao, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh have led such governments in a reasonably satisfactory manner.
Indian prime minister Narendra Modi (left) greets former prime minister Manmohan Singh at a ceremony to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in the 2001 attack on India’s parliament in New Delhi on December 13, 2017. Photo: AP
The biggest political takeaway from the election is the Indian voter definitively pricking the much-hyped Modi bubble. In recent weeks, the prime minister began describing himself as a divine emissary and suggested his birth was not biological. Even Ayodhya, where Modi consecrated an ornate temple to the Hindu god Ram, rejected the BJP candidate at the polls.
India’s much-derided opposition showed commendable determination and pre-election planning, with Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi playing a significant role. He has been portrayed as an inept princeling too politically naive to be a match for Modi, yet his cross-country Bharat Jodo (Unite India) marches reinvigorated a poisoned national polity.
The reiteration of the need for Indian society to renew its bonds of fraternity, religious tolerance and compassion was a welcome sociopolitical antidote to the Hindutva agenda and helped blunt the Modi juggernaut. Regional leaders also played a vital role in herding the anti-BJP vote and galvanising the opposition, a much-needed entity in any healthy democracy.
Hopefully Indian politics will now revert to a more traditional path, with the Modi myth tempered by the stark socioeconomic realities of the last decade. While India’s macroeconomic indicators are encouraging, wealth inequality has worsened.

12:50

World’s largest population: why it could be a headache for India

World’s largest population: why it could be a headache for India

The ill-conceived demonetisation policy enacted by Modi’s government in 2016 helped push many Indians into dire poverty, their struggles exacerbated by the effects of the lockdowns during the Covid-19 pandemic. That the government has to continue its free grains programme for those living below the poverty line is testimony to this reality.
Accusations of crony capitalism have been a regular feature of the last decade during Modi’s tenure. Unemployment remains widespread, but India’s demographic advantage means it still is likely to become the world’s third-largest economy after China and the United States. Barring unforeseen events, this could happen as early as 2027.
When Modi begins his third term as prime minister, there is likely to be continuity in India’s external relations and security policies as he seeks to enhance the country’s profile on the global stage. Much will depend on how the relationship between India and China unfolds in the next few years, as well as the manner in which China manages its relationship with the US.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Astana, Kazakhstan, in July will be an opportunity for Modi to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping, but whether anything of substance will come of that is unclear. Both leaders have domestic political considerations to navigate and long-term aspirations yet to be realised. How they harmonise these divergent influences will shape geopolitics in Asia and beyond, but for now June 4 will be remembered as the day when the sagacious Indian voter restored hope in the democratic process.

Commodore C. Uday Bhaskar is director of the Society for Policy Studies (SPS), an independent think tank based in New Delhi