Victory that feels like defeat for BJP: 10 takeaways from the 2024 elections

A WhatsApp forward sums up the biggest one: Voters have given the NDA a victory that feels like a defeat, and given the INDIA bloc a defeat that feels like victory

Rahul Gandhi arrives at AICC headquarters, New Delhi, 4 June 2024 (photo: Vipin/NH)
Rahul Gandhi arrives at AICC headquarters, New Delhi, 4 June 2024 (photo: Vipin/NH)

A.J. Prabal

The results are out.

The NDA, with 16 MPs from the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and 12 MPs from the Janata Dal (United), appears poised to form the government—again.

However, both the kingmakers are likely to bargain hard and secure concessions denied to them in the last 10 years. Having apparently received feelers from the INDIA bloc as well, they are unlikely to be in a hurry to come forward and join hands with outgoing prime minister Narendra Modi—unless they each get their pound of flesh.

Both Chandrababu Naidu and Nitish Kumar are likely to seek ‘special status’ and additional central grants for their respective states.

One of the two kingmakers is also said to have asked for the home portfolio.

The sharp decline—or decimation, even—of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in Odisha, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in Bihar and the YSR Congress Party (YSCRP) in Andhra Pradesh casts a cloud on the future of these regional players.

The RJD failed to deliver Bihar for the Opposition, while the exit polls and even Prashant Kishor appear to have made the correct forecast for both Odisha and Bihar, where the NDA — especially the BJP in Odisha — made impressive gains.

In West Bengal, however, Mamata Banerjee foiled BJP’s ambition of winning 25 seats and more, reducing its tally to 12 seats this time from the 18 it had won in 2019.

Here are some of the major takeaways — and some questions still blowing in the wind:

1. This election promises to revive the politics of coalitions and consensus building. So-called ‘weak’ prime ministers heading coalition governments, like P.V. Narasimha Rao, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Dr Manmohan Singh have historically led effective governments and implemented more reforms and taken more important policy decisions than the supposedly 'strong government' headed by Narendra Modi over the past 10 years.

Will a weakened Modi be able to revive the Vajpayee spirit of NDA-1? That is the question.

2. Can Narendra Modi successfully run a coalition government? That is a doubt that most people have.

Temperamentally, he may find it difficult, having run a one-man show for 10 years.

Will the allies seek to support Modi or a new leader from the BJP? Are some of the allies likely to switch over to the opposition?

The unambiguous message of this election, said Rahul Gandhi, is that people do not want to see Modi and Amit Shah at the helm of the government. And so, what if both remain at the helm of the government? That is a question that is also swirling in the air.

3. In any case, Prime Minister Modi has been cut down to size by voters.

While he has won from Varanasi by a relatively modest margin of 1.5 lakh votes or so, the loss of almost half the seats that the BJP won in Uttar Pradesh in 2019 is a blow from which neither the PM nor the Bulldozer Baba can recover soon.

The PM’s claim of being an ‘avatar’ sent by God to do meaningful things apparently did not quite impress voters. At the very least, his authority stands eroded and his stature diminished.

4. The result, observers feel, may have restored the balance between the RSS and the BJP. The startling claim in the middle of the election by BJP president J.P. Nadda that the party no longer needed the RSS will be on test, as unverified reports talk about the RSS favouring election of a new leader other than Modi.

5. The Ram Temple, consecrated with much fanfare in January, did not give BJP the dividends it expected.

It in fact lost even the Faizabad seat (within which Ayodhya sits) and, contrary to popular perception, Hindu voters in Uttar Pradesh were clearly not swayed far enough by the Ram Mandir to provide BJP candidates with sufficiently large victory margins.

This setback might slow down the Hindutva project or halt it temporarily.

The result in UP, some have interpreted, is Yogi Adityanath’s revenge as there was speculation that he would be sidelined if BJP returned with a resounding majority. However, the result has weakened the political standing of Yogi Adityanath even within the BJP and his future will be watched with interest.

6. The INDIA bloc was actually written off in most Hindi-speaking states. Yet, it performed unexpectedly well in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan but not so well in Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh and Himachal Pradesh.

In Bihar also, the Alliance did not perform as expected.

Why would Hindu majoritarianism work in MP, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and the hill states, but not in Rajasthan and UP? This will continue to baffle commentators for quite some time.

7. The INDIA bloc was fighting against heavy odds, with central agencies harassing its leaders, two of its chief ministers arrested on seemingly flimsy corruption charges and the income tax department freezing the bank accounts of the Congress.

Add in a hostile media, with TV channels relentlessly mocking and ridiculing the opposition.

Consequently, few gave the opposition alliance any chance against the resource-rich BJP and its fabled election machine and the IT cell.

The opposition, however, surprised everyone by fighting doggedly, trumping the BJP on social media with incisive and funny videos. Which paid off.

8. It was the first election where a party manifesto became an electoral issue. The Congress manifesto successfully reached out to the people and spoke about issues like threats to the Constitution, growing equality and the need for wealth redistribution.

The INDIA bloc also spoke of the threats to democracy and sought to educate people about regressive taxation and arbitrary tax reliefs, crony capitalism, etc., — issues seldom addressed by political parties today.

And ironically, Prime Minister Modi’s relentless criticism of the manifesto helped arouse curiosity.

9. This more equal result is also likely to ensure a more balanced, functional Parliament, with a strong opposition in the Lok Sabha.

10. The election, as pointed out by Pratap Bhanu Mehta in the Indian Express, has punctured the myth of the BJP as a party with a difference, a political party which is less corrupt and more honest than other parties.

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