Indian Elections 2024: Modi claims victory as he heads towards a narrow majority

image source, Good pictures

image caption, Mr Modi thanked supporters for the “historic victory”.

  • author, Simon Fraser
  • stock, Asia Online Editor, London

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has secured a historic third victory in the country’s parliamentary elections, but his ruling coalition appears to have failed to secure the large majority predicted.

Thanking voters, he said he would continue the “good work” of the past decade.

Mr Modi’s BJP-led coalition is leading in more than 290 of the 543 seats, well short of its target of 400.

The Congress and other coalition opposition parties have surprised the audience and are now expected to win by more than 230.

The results belie several exit polls that showed the BJP-led NDA alliance at the weekend on track to secure a two-thirds majority in parliament, which would allow it to make changes to the constitution.

In his first remarks since the election, the Prime Minister was keen to emphasize his historic third win.

“I bow to the people for this affection and assure them that we will continue the good work done in the last decade to fulfill the aspirations of the people,” he said at X.

Speaking to supporters afterwards, he called his win “the biggest win in the world” and was “very happy today”.

But opposition Congress leader Rahul Gandhi told reporters that Mr Modi and the BJP had been “punished” by voters at the ballot box.

Analysts attribute the BJP’s backlash to rising prices, unemployment, the controversial army recruitment reform and Mr Modi’s aggressive and divisive campaign.

image source, Good pictures

image caption, Congress supporters are celebrating in Delhi in protest

Modi had set a target of 370 seats for the BJP and 400 seats for the alliance. This is more than the 303 seats won by the BJP alone in the last 2019 general elections.

However, the BJP is now expected to own the 272 seats required for a majority in the lower house of parliament.

This is a setback for the party and means that – for the first time – Mr Modi will have to rely on smaller parties in the NDA to carry out his agenda.

There is speculation that Mr Gandhi may also try to form the government, but the two main NDA parties have already pledged their support to the incumbent prime minister.

Some of the key developments in the election are:

  • Mr Modi himself retained the Varanasi constituency, but with a slim majority
  • Mr Gandhi won one constituency in Kerala in the south and is expected to win a second constituency contested in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
  • The BJP suffered an unexpected defeat in Uttar Pradesh, where key minister Smriti Irani lost her seat.
  • Another failure in the state was in Ayodhya, where Mr Modi inaugurated a controversial Hindu temple a few months ago

The election, seen by many as a referendum on Mr Modi’s decade in office, during which he has transformed many aspects of life in India, will therefore cause a major upset. BBC correspondents described the mood in BJP offices across the country as “somber”.

In contrast, party workers are celebrating at the Congress headquarters. Meanwhile, Indian markets showed shakiness – down more than 2% – testifying that the ruling coalition does not yet have a runway finish.

Official figures show an average voter turnout of 66%. With nearly one billion registered voters – one in eight of the world’s population – it is the largest exercise the world has ever seen.

Voting was held in seven rounds from April 19 to June 1 for security and logistical reasons. Most of the elections were held in intense and deadly heat as temperatures soared to nearly 50C in some parts of India.

image caption, BJP supporters are still smiling – but the contest is much tighter than expected

The BJP and its rivals have waged a tough — and at times raucous — campaign, with the prime minister denying he is divisive when rivals accuse him of demonizing Muslims.

Mr Modi toured the country, pointing to his achievements in areas such as delivering welfare programs and boosting India’s global profile.

Opposition parties have highlighted cost-of-living problems, high unemployment – especially among young people – and fears that constitutional changes could weaken the disadvantaged. They also promised to stop India’s “slide into autocracy”.

Several opposition leaders and government critics have been jailed in recent years, including Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who was arrested on corruption charges in April but later briefly released to allow him to campaign.

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