India election results: Modi’s reduced majority suggests waning appeal of Hindu nationalism

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks at the public rally at Brigade ground on April 3, 2019, in Kolkata, India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi belongs to Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks at the public rally at Brigade ground on April 3, 2019, in Kolkata, India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi belongs to Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. | Atul Loke/ Getty Images

The early results of the national elections in India may suggest a significant shift in the political landscape as Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party-led alliance appears set to form the government for a third consecutive term, though with a narrow victory.

Contrary to Modi's campaign's tall claims, the numbers fall short of a landslide, and critics say it suggests the diminishing appeal of his persona and Hindu nationalism — an ideology that has fueled severe persecution of Christians and other minorities.

"The election results have paved the way for a return to a more democratic India," Dr. Michael Williams, president of the Delhi-based United Christian Forum, told The Christian Post.

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In the seven-phase national election from April 19 to June 1 for 543 seats in the lower house of Parliament, the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by the BJP, faced off against the opposition Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (I.N.D.I.A.) alliance, led by the Congress Party.

The Election Commission of India started counting over 600 million votes cast by Indians to choose their next national government on Tuesday morning. By the evening, the NDA was leading in around 290 seats, while the I.N.D.I.A. alliance looked set to secure 235 seats.

As of Tuesday evening, the BJP didn't appear to have enough seats to form its own government without help from allies. The situation is expected to be clear by Wednesday morning.

As of this publication, the BJP managed to win about 144 seats and leads in 96 other races, while the Congress Party and its allies have secured around 118 with 104 leads, according to the Election Commission of India

A party or alliance must achieve a majority of 272 seats to form the government. India's electoral system uses the First-Past-The-Post method, where the candidate with the most votes in each constituency wins a seat, regardless of whether they achieve an absolute majority.

Prime Minister Modi had boldly claimed the NDA would win at least 400 seats.

The results starkly contrast with the 2019 national election, where the NDA had secured 353 seats, with the BJP claiming 303 and the Congress Party 52.

In Uttar Pradesh, a state known as a BJP stronghold and a hotspot of Christian persecution, the NDA secured only 40 of the 80 seats. This significantly dropped from the 63 seats won in the 2019 elections.

"The people of Uttar Pradesh have told the BJP that they have grossly abused their mandate and this is not what the people wanted," Williams added.

The 2024 contest was far closer than exit polls had predicted, with the I.N.D.I.A. alliance performing significantly better than expected.

"There is a collective sigh of relief in South Asia's security, human rights and economic circles as the 2024 general elections put an effective brake on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's arrogant campaign to win over 400 of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian Parliament," Dr. John Dayal, a Christian activist and writer, told CP. 

He noted that despite Modi expecting to be called by President Draupadi Murmu to form a third consecutive government, his political stature has diminished compared to his previous terms. He believes Modi's reduced majority prevents him from pursuing his agenda to amend India's liberal democratic Constitution in favor of a Hindu Rashtra (nation), which many feared would disenfranchise religious minorities and undermine the rights of indigenous people.

During the last decade of BJP rule, societal divisions have deepened in India, with increasing tensions between sections of the majority Hindu community and the minority Christian and Muslim populations.

According to the United Christian Forum, incidents of violence against Christians have been rising, with 2021 being the most violent year for the community. This disturbing trend continued into 2022 and 2023, with over 600 attacks recorded each year.

Christians comprise only 2.3% of India's population, and Hindus account for about 80%.

Dayal said the resurgent Congress Party managed to form a last-minute coalition — I.N.D.I.A — with regional parties in southern, western and northern parts of the country representing backward classes and Dalits. The alliance performed much better than anticipated, demonstrating the waning appeal of Modi's Hindu nationalist agenda.

Williams said the Indian voters have "made it clear that religious division and hate will not be tolerated and the Constitutional vision of India, united in its diversity, must remain."

"This must usher in an era of religious harmony and Christian citizens and institutions alike will celebrate the opportunity to continue in nation building without fear of reprisal and persecution," he continued. 

Dayal cautioned that the BJP still holds significant control over some Indian states.

"Although Uttar Pradesh, the largest state in India, has seen the maximum persecution of Muslims and Christians under the BJP rule, a reduction of the party's strength will not immediately help religious minorities and vulnerable sections," he said. "The BJP has absolute control over the main central Indian states of Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, and Chhattisgarh, which are home to a pretty large number of Christians, and of Gujarat and Bihar, which have sizable Muslim populations."

The BJP's campaign was marked by frequent, negative and divisive references to minority religious communities.

The BJP's poor showing comes despite the party having significant advantages over the opposition alliance.

The party benefited from the controversial "electoral bonds" system introduced in 2018, which allowed donors to fund political parties anonymously. Data released by the State Bank of India, following a directive by the Supreme Court of India, revealed that from April 2019 to February 2024, the BJP received nearly 48% of the total redeemed electoral bonds, amounting to approximately $757 million.

The BJP's significant advantage was further bolstered by a pro-BJP bias in popular and mainstream media outlets and support from the country's wealthiest businesses. Further, prior to the elections, the BJP government froze the bank account of the Congress Party and arrested two serving chief ministers of Delhi and eastern Jharkhand state. 

However, the resurgent opposition alliance indicates a potential shift towards a more inclusive and democratic future for the nation.

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