The 2024 Lok Sabha Election was nothing short of a Bollywood film, filled with emotional dramas, exchange of strong rhetoric on both sides, and blame-gaming, among others. Shortly before the commencement of the general election, the opposition joined hands to form the INDIA Alliance in an attempt to save democracy and the constitution, which they claim suffered badly at the hands of the incumbent BJP-led government. Moreover, they collectively blamed the latter for hijacking independent institutions like the ED and CBI to threaten and jail political opponents and misusing the Election Commission (EC) to rig the election in their favour. 

While the opposition pitched their campaigning around the subjugation of independent watchdogs of the constitution and posed as a saviour of the downtrodden, the BJP, on the other hand, kicked off their campaigning with the slogan ‘Abki baar 400 paar’ (this time, more than 400 seats). So confident in PM Modi’s appeal and his famous ‘Modi ki guarantee’ slogan that after five phases of the election, Amit Shah claimed that Modiji has already secured 310 seats and the Congress will fail miserably. But the election results painted a starkly different picture. From 400 seats, the BJP had to settle for 240, falling 32 seats short of an absolute majority. The major blow received by the BJP in the Hindi heartland, notably in Uttar Pradesh, as well as the considerable reduction in Mr. Modi’s vote share from 63.6% to 54.2% in Varanasi warrant a closer analysis of what went wrong for the BJP this time. While this election showcased a thrilling competition, it also offered several key takeaways and lessons for the upcoming NDA government and the opposition.

Firstly, in the months nearing the commencement of the 18th Lok Sabha election, several opposition leaders expressed concerns about the integrity of the functioning of the EVMs and labelled the ECI as a puppet of the NDA government. The Lokniti survey conducted by CSDS, the biggest pre-election poll in India, also noted a marked decline in the trust of the Indian electorate in the EVMs and the EC. However, these election results have sent a strong message: where the institutions fail, the course correction will be done by the public. Although there were instances where the ECI took a partisan stand in favour of the BJP and was reluctant to act on opposition petitions, it should be noted that the institutions were not hijacked to the extent where the democratic fabric of the country has been deeply wounded. Whether it is Indira Gandhi or Narendra Modi, the elections in India proved again and again that the voter is the king, and they sent a strong message to the political leaders when they went beyond their remit. The voters want the institutions to retain neutrality, independence and honesty, which are the bulwarks of any democracy. The voters will keep the leaders under scrutiny for their commissions and omissions. 

Secondly, the election results in Uttar Pradesh came as a shock to the BJP, where they faced significant losses, winning 62 seats in 2019 to a mere 33 seats. It was also striking that the BJP candidate in Faizabad constituency, where the famous Ram Mandir stands, suffered a significant loss. UP, which has the largest number of LS seats of 80, has been hailed for the ‘good governance’ showcased by the ruling BJP government under the party’s much-worshipped Hindu monk and politician, Yogi Adityanath, who failed to benefit the BJP in this election. Nevertheless, the defeat of the BJP in UP must be understood beyond mere poll arithmetic and chemistry. The BJP’s internal power tussle, the top brass’s decision to field candidates of their choice without acknowledging the grassroot leaders, and the RSS cadre comprised their winning probability in 10-15 seats. Furthermore, the Mahapanchayat organised by the Rajput community in western UP against demanding further representation, as well as the party’s choice to field several sitting MPs (47 out of 62), fueled the anti-incumbency sentiments and cost them a lot. Therefore, it is quite safe to say that UP’s election result is beyond mere anti-Modi wave because, had it been there, it would have been reflected in the nearby states of Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand, where they bagged all seats in this election. 

Thirdly, while extending due credit to the opposition on their win, it is also time for them to reflect on the party’s organisational capacity in the states where they have emerged victorious. When the coalition era emerges and the common ground that brought these parties together—the fight against a common opponent—fades, do they have the robust organisational structure to retain the win, demanding urgent attention? Though the Congress, riding on the shoulders of their allies, won seats in states like Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh, the party should not get into the comfort zone but should actively engage in reviving the grass-roots organisational structure. 

Fourth, the emergence of coalition politics will undoubtedly change the political landscape of the country. The absolute authority enjoyed by Modi in the NDA is now a thing of the past. The day has come where regional parties like the TDP and JD(U) assume the role of kingmakers, who could leverage opportunities to maximise their political fortunes and the appetite for power as and when opportunities arise. Under the current circumstances, the need for competent architects to navigate the political coalition on both sides is paramount. The parties will cross over from one side to the other, and they will find many ways to justify their cause. The captains of both the ships shall be skilled enough to save the ship from wreckage. 

Lastly, the performance of Modi 3.0 will be compared to Vajpayee’s third term in office (1998-2004). Being a coalition government, the role of the RSS and Sangh Parivar’s relationship with the government and the leadership will be tested, which in turn will decide the successors of Modi in subsequent years. The various reform agendas and the political economy questions would be different in a coalition government led by the BJP, whose leadership is not much liked by the RSS for the upper hand enjoyed in absolute majority years. 

With the conclusion of the largest democratic exercise in the world, India has time and again proven itself as a vibrant democracy. Moreover, the power of the common man in defining the trajectory of the country has been strongly reflected in the election results.

Views expressed by the author are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of the Centre for Public Policy Research.

Chairman at Centre for Public Policy Research

Dr Dhanuraj is the Chairman of CPPR. His core areas of expertise are in international relations, urbanisation, urban transport & infrastructure, education, health, livelihood, law, and election analysis. He can be contacted by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @dhanuraj.

Sreelakshmi holds an MSc in International Development from the University of Birmingham and BA Honors Economics from Lady Shri Ram College for Women, University of Delhi. She has worked as Academic Coordinator at a Cambridge International School.

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