Jun. 04, 2024 |

You never know. Voters in India delivered a surprising rebuke to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party in national elections that spanned six weeks and concluded on June 2, with the results declared today. The BJP has won, but it’s lost dozens of seats in the National Assembly—a result that will force the party to work with others and form a governing coalition. Modi will almost certainly serve a third term as prime minister—becoming only the second politician to in India’s history—but he’ll likely have to temper his Hindu-nationalist agenda in cooperating with more secular coalition partners.

In February, Omair Ahmad explored how over nearly 10 years in office, Modi had transformed India—taking control of the country’s political institutions, turning the news media increasingly into organs of BJP propaganda, and entrenching the idea that only Hindus are true Indians. As Ahmad saw it, Indian democracy had effectively ceased to function. Now, he says, it’s showing provisional signs of life …

Omair Ahmad: The outcome was stunning, given the BJP's dominance over state institutions, including the Election Commission; its huge financial resources, including via an electoral-bonds scheme that allowed the party to mop up 65.7 billion rupees (around US$800 million) before the Supreme Court declared it illegal; and near-total media dominance. That said, there were widespread grumblings about the facts that 10 years of Modi's premiership hadn’t created jobs and that companies from his home state, Gujarat, were winning all the contracts in other states. The big surprise was the country’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, which sends 80 out of 543 MPs to Parliament—and where Modi had controversially inaugurated a temple earlier this year on the site of a mosque that’d been torn down by a right-wing mob. The opposition alliance won 43 seats, including in Faizabad, the constituency where the temple is. Even if the BJP's vote share across India has only dipped by a little over 1 percent, its manifesto for the election—running to 48 pages—was short on detail and long on Narendra Modi, mentioning him 67 times; as such, it’ll be read as a defeat for him.