Modi heading for reduced majority

Simon Fraser,Asia online editor, London

EPA Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters celebrate at BJP headquarters in Bangalore, India, 04 June 2024.EPA

BJP supporters hold a cut-out of the PM – Mr Modi is still on track for a third term in a row

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s alliance might be heading for victory, but it is expected to fall well short of the landslide exit polls predicted.

Mr Modi’s BJP-led alliance is leading in more than 290 of 543 seats up for grabs, but for the first time in a decade the party looks set to fail to reach an outright majority by itself.

Many observers have been surprised by the strong opposition showing so far. The Congress and other allied opposition parties are projected to win more than 230.

A slew of exit polls at the weekend showed the BJP-led NDA alliance on course for a super majority of two-thirds of parliament, which would have allowed it to make changes to the constitution.

Rahul Gandhi – of the opposition Congress party – told reporters on Tuesday that Mr Modi and the BJP had been “punished” by voters at the ballot box.

Mr Modi, who has retained his seat in Varanasi as he eyes a historic third consecutive term in office, had set a target of 370 seats for the BJP and 400 seats for his alliance. This was up from the 303 seats won by the BJP alone in the last general election in 2019.

Exactly how much of the vote has been counted so far remains unclear. However, as it stands, the BJP is not expected to get the 272 seats on its own that are needed for a majority in the lower house of parliament.

This means – for the first time – Mr Modi would have to rely on smaller parties in the NDA to push through its agenda.

The election was seen by many as a referendum on Mr Modi’s decade in office, during which he has transformed many aspects of life in India, so this would be a major upset. The mood in BJP offices around the country has been described by BBC reporters as “sombre”.

In contrast, at Congress headquarters, party workers have been celebrating the early results. The Indian markets, meanwhile, have been showing jitters – falling more than 2% – testifying to the fact that it’s not been a runaway result so far for the governing alliance.

Getty Images Congress supporters celebrate in DelhiGetty Images

Congress supporters in Delhi have been celebrating the strong opposition showing

An average 66% of voters took part in the election, official figures showed. It was the biggest such exercise the world has ever seen, with nearly a billion registered voters – about one in eight of the global population.

Voting was staggered over seven rounds between 19 April and 1 June for security and logistical reasons. Much of the election took place in extreme and deadly heat as temperatures in parts of India soared to nearly 50C.

EPA Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters celebrate as they watch election election results on a television screen at BJP headquarters in Bangalore, India, 04 June 2024. EPA

BJP supporters are still smiling – but the race is much tighter than expected

The BJP and its rivals fought a fierce – at times vitriolic – campaign, with the prime minister denying that he was being divisive when he was accused by rivals of demonising Muslims.

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

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

A number of opposition leaders and government critics have been jailed in recent years, including Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal who was taken into custody on corruption charges in April but later briefly released to allow him to campaign.

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