India Lok Sabha Elections 2024 National News Politics

Is PM Modi’s 400-Seat A Dream?

Before India’s marathon election began in April, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was confident of returning to power with an even bigger majority than he achieved five years ago. However, with less than two weeks until the election results are announced, the situation appears less certain for the popular leader.

According to report, party insiders, opposition members, and analysts who have travelled across the country to speak to voters report that there is little evidence of a “Modi wave” like the one that enabled his Bharatiya Janata Party to dominate the 2019 elections. In that election, the BJP won 303 of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament. Along with its allies, the BJP-led coalition held about 351 seats.

Modi aimed for his coalition to win more than 400 seats this time, a goal prominently featured on campaign posters and frequently mentioned in his speeches. However, a notable shift in Modi’s tone after the first phase of voting—where he began using divisive, anti-Muslim rhetoric and intensifying attacks on the main opposition group’s welfare policies—sparked speculation that the BJP might have been unsettled by early voting trends and needed to energize its support base.

Election rules prohibit the publication of result polls during the six-week voting period, making it difficult to determine with certainty whether the BJP’s support has indeed declined. In India’s first-past-the-post electoral system, even small margins can determine the winner. Exit polls will be published on June 1, with the results expected on June 4.

Complicating matters further is that both the ruling party and the opposition are publicly claiming they have the upper hand. Modi himself told The Economic Times this week that the BJP has already secured a majority of the seats in parliament based on voting in the first five phases of the elections so far.

However, behind closed doors, a picture is emerging of an opposition alliance that is slightly more optimistic about their likely gains and a ruling party that appears to be preparing for some losses. according to a report, Congress, the main opposition group, expects to win between 90-110 seats, up from 52 in 2019, according to a senior party leader who requested anonymity due to the private nature of the discussions. These estimates are based on internal polling.

As of today, voting is happening in eight states, including Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. According to the report, three BJP officials from Uttar Pradesh and Haryana privately admitted that the party is unlikely to match its 2019 figures, although they still expect to win a majority of the seats in parliament. 

Political analysts and economists also foresee a possible drop in BJP support. Rahul Verma, a fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, a New Delhi-based think tank, expects the BJP to remain in power, winning between 282 to 310 seats nationally. Shumita Deveshwar, chief India economist at TS Lombard, was more pessimistic, stating that anecdotal evidence from her recent travels across India’s east to west coast suggests the BJP could fall below the majority mark of 272 seats. However, she noted in a report on May 16 that with the help of its allies, the party will still be able to form the government.

Reasons for the BJP’s decline in support are varied, according to party officials and analysts. Modi has been in power for a decade and has delivered on several of the BJP’s key pledges, including the construction of a temple in honor of the Hindu god Ram on the site of an ancient mosque. The inauguration of the temple in Ayodhya in January fulfilled a key promise made to the BJP’s Hindu nationalist base for decades.

Deveshwar furthermore added, “Anecdotal evidence from our travels on the election trail from India’s east coast to its west suggests that Modi’s popularity had waned somewhat since the Ram temple inauguration in January when a BJP wave seemed to have swept across India,”. “Although multiple factors are at play in a country as vast as India, making the national mood difficult to gauge, common themes we picked up on the road include the lack of job creation and rising demand for welfare schemes.”

Beyond those, observers say voters’ concerns have been dominated by the high cost of living and caste identity. The opposition’s strong emphasis on enhancing the welfare of the poor, particularly those from the lowest social groups, has resonated with voters.

Modi’s goal of securing 400 seats may have been counterproductive as well, as it could have fostered complacency within the BJP’s ranks while also fueling a belief among lower-caste voters that the party intends to leverage its parliamentary super-majority to implement changes that diminish affirmative action policies for lower socio-economic groups. Home Minister Amit Shah has consistently refuted any such plan by the party, although this hasn’t deterred the opposition from capitalizing on voters’ concerns regarding this issue.

The shift in momentum was evident in the electorally significant state of Uttar Pradesh, traditionally considered a stronghold for the BJP. The party swept the region with 71 out of 80 seats in 2014 and won 62 seats in the 2019 elections.

Today, as 14 seats in Uttar Pradesh, the largest state in the country, also had its voting phase. Akhilesh Yadav, the leader of the Samajwadi Party, the largest opposition group in Uttar Pradesh, has been attracting significant crowds to political rallies. He campaigns alongside alliance members such as the Congress party and the Trinamool Congress. The alliance parties have agreed not to contest seats against each other, enabling them to consolidate the opposition vote against the BJP.

Sunita Aron, author of three books on Indian politics, said Uttar Pradesh was initially perceived as a sure win for the BJP when the election commenced. However, there are now at least 25-30 seats in contention for the opposition.

She said, “The BJP has an advantage, but the alliance is putting up a strong fight,”.


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