The Warning

Triumphalism about the humbling of Modi is short-sighted

Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Centre) poses for a group picture with Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, among other alliance members. The pre-poll National Democratic Alliance—cobbled together by the Bharatiya Janata Party weeks before polling began—had crossed the majority mark. ANI
Elections 2024
30 June, 2024

A sense of relief was palpable on 4 June. India had survived the general election and, to many, the results were proof that democracy was still alive and kicking. Narendra Modi, elected to a third term as prime minister, appeared subdued, while his supporters looked and behaved as though they had lost. The opposition parties, on the other hand, appeared jubilant, strutting about like winners. To an observer from another planet, this would have seemed incongruous if they had looked at the hard numbers. The pre-poll National Democratic Alliance—cobbled together by the Bharatiya Janata Party weeks before polling began—had crossed the majority mark, while the opposition Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance had fallen short. Modi, who has placed himself front and centre in every campaign or advertising opportunity, was suddenly modifying his slogans to say “NDA ki guarantee” and “Teesri baar, NDA Sarkar”—an NDA government for the third time.

Modi now follows in the footsteps of his party’s Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was also sworn in as prime minister three times—in 1996, 1998 and 1999. But the record Modi wants to compete with is that of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s iconic leader and hero of the freedom struggle. Nehru had been pivotal in leading the Congress to a major win in the 1946 elections, under the British Raj. He was later sworn in as vice-president of the viceroy’s executive council—the de-facto prime minister—in 1946. On 15 August 1947 and 26 January 1950, he again took the oath as India’s prime minister, a feat he repeated after leading the Congress to huge wins in the 1952, 1957 and 1962 general elections.

Modi stands morally and politically diminished by the election results. His adopted state of Uttar Pradesh, from where he has thrice been a member of parliament, handed the BJP a stunning defeat. Modi’s own victory margin in Varanasi is one of the lowest of any sitting prime minister to win an election. (Chandrashekhar was a caretaker prime minister when he won with a lower victory margin.) The BJP was also defeated in nine of the 12 Lok Sabha seats in the Varanasi region. According to a post-election survey by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, 36 percent of the respondents in Uttar Pradesh wanted Rahul Gandhi as prime minister while only 32 percent wanted Modi.

The real humiliation came in Ayodhya, where Modi inaugurated the half-constructed Ram temple—at the site of the Babri Masjid, destroyed by Hindutva goons in 1992—this year, with an eye on encashing the Hindu vote. The BJP lost the Faizabad seat, in which Ayodhya falls, to a Dalit candidate from the Samajwadi Party, and it also lost many of the seats in neighbouring Ayodhya. The Ram temple was supposed to be Modi’s big achievement, his calling card for victory in the 2024 polls.