Votes have been tallied in India’s extensive seven-phase election cycle. While Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party is on track to secure a historic third term as the country’s Prime Minister, the BJP has unexpectedly lost its outright parliamentary majority.

An alliance of parties led by the BJP has crossed the 272-seat threshold required to form a government but the BJP has fallen far short of its ambitiously touted “Abki Baar 400 Paar” slogan (meaning that they were confident of winning more than 400 of the 543 seats in parliament).

Following the party’s previous achievement of 303 seats in the 2019 election, this surprising outcome suggests a significant shift in voter loyalties and a rejection of the agenda that Modi has advanced over his past two terms. The electorate has rejected his strongman politics.

At the same time, Modi’s victory in this election is not just a personal triumph but a significant event in India’s history. No leader has secured three consecutive terms since Jawaharlal Nehru, the country’s first post-independence leader.

Despite the magnitude of this historic achievement, this was not a resounding victory – a testament to the unpredictable nature of Indian politics. The INDIA (Indian National Development Inclusive Alliance) opposition coalition, formed and led by the Congress party and its regional alliances, outperformed expectations and secured wins in significant states, specifically Maharashtra and those in the south.

Analysts believe this is due to the erosion of citizens’ trust in the BJP’s ability to deliver on its promises of “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikaas” (roughly translated as “With everyone, for everyone’s progress”). Unemployment rates are high among the youth, social welfare programs are failing, urban development is stagnant, and communal distrust is higher than ever on account of the BJP’s anti-Muslim stance. For the states, there is a growing appetite for often underrepresented regional parties whose politics are geared towards social welfare and egalitarianism.

The BJP was also edged out of power in Uttar Pradesh, the state where Modi recently inaugurated the highly controversial Ram Hindu Temple built on the site of the Babri Mosque. The mosque was destroyed by Hindu mobs in 1992 and there is a history of intercommunal violence in the area. Modi critics accuse him and other BJP leaders of using the development of the Ram Temple as a way of deepening rifts between Hindus and Muslims in order to win Hindu votes.

It is fitting, then, that this victory is almost pyrrhic – using religion to strongarm a nation is no longer a winning strategy. The implications and optics of this loss will cast a shadow on the perception of the BJP’s power but also offer a glimmer of hope for a more balanced political landscape. Hindu nationalism is losing purchase on the Indian electorate. 

The mammoth election cycle, where almost 640 million people voted, has been marred by irregularities and allegations of voter suppression, and silencing dissent with specific accusations made against the BJP for its anti-Muslim rhetoric on the campaign trail.

Opposition leaders have been vocal about the undemocratic tactics used by the ruling party to silence political dissenters. Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi’s chief minister remains in jail on trumped-up corruption charges. The mainstream media has been coerced by the BJP into painting Modi as a messiah, with primetime coverage focusing heavily on his cult of personality. 

It’s a testament to India’s democratic machinery that this election cycle, though marred with controversy, still displayed the sentiments of the people. Symbolically, the election outcome reflects a disapproval of the BJP’s divisive ruling tactics. Practically, the seats gained by the INDIA coalition may force the new parliament to debate bills and focus on grassroots issues beyond campaign speeches. Economically, this affects the big corporate backers of the BJP, Ambani and Adani, the latter of whom saw a $25 billion loss of wealth as stocks slumped. The concentration of economic power that flourished under Modi’s economic regime has now come under sustained interrogation.

We can’t discount the possibility that the disappointed Modi may double down on his more authoritarian tendencies – he’s famously anti-press conference – but the fear that India may be heading towards a dictatorial rule has decreased. The BJP failed to win a majority mandate and, as such, doesn’t have executive power to make constitutional changes. The opposition parties are on firmer ground and, just possibly, a level of tolerance and moderation may return to Indian politics.

Tanvi Bhale is studying MSc Management at UCL and previously worked as a junior reporter a The Hans India.

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