Narendra Modi Wins and Loses India’s General Election
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Narendra Modi Wins and Loses India’s General Election

by Ian Hall
June 13, 2024

Ian Hall outlines trends that may help to explain the setbacks suffered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party and considers the broader significance they may portend for Modi’s future and for India’s international partners.

India’s recent general election changed nothing and changed everything. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has returned to office and most of Modi’s ministers to the roles they held before.[1] And there are few signs so far that his administration intends to set a new course in any major area of policy.

Yet the government will soon have to adapt to the new circumstances created by the electoral setbacks it has suffered. The BJP had claimed that the NDA would win more than 400 of the 543 seats in the Lok Sahba, the lower house of parliament. But in the election, the BJP itself lost 63 seats, cutting its total down to just 240, and leaving it reliant on its coalition partners. To make matters worse, these losses came in the traditional BJP heartlands in northern and western India.

Just why the BJP lost so much ground when the opinion polls predicted another big victory will be debated for some time to come. But three points might be made now.

The first is that many voters—especially in rural areas—did not think the “Modi guarantee” of growth and generous welfare programs promised in the BJP manifesto was credible.[2]  A decade of scarce jobs, high inflation, and agricultural distress has taken its toll on the reputation of a leader first elected as a “development man” (vikas purush) and of the party he leads.[3]

Second, Indian voters have grown skeptical about Modi himself, not just about his government’s capacity to deliver. His charisma, astute messaging, and sensitivity to the popular mood allowed him to rise from a poor, lower-caste background to become the most dominant Indian politician of his generation. But Modi’s personal appeal seems to have waned, even among BJP workers, leading some to shift their votes to other parties.[4]

Finally, while many people told pollsters that they thought the controversial new Ram Temple at Ayodhya was one of the NDA’s greatest achievements, at the ballot box identity politics seems not to have trumped other concerns as BJP strategists might have hoped.[5] Tellingly, in Uttar Pradesh, the temple conspicuously failed to consolidate the Hindu vote. Instead, the electorate divided along caste lines, with voters from the so-called Other Backward Classes (OBCs) defecting to the socialist Samajwadi Party, moved in part by the fear that the NDA might ban positive discrimination schemes for lower-caste groups.[6]

These trends may help to explain the setbacks suffered by the BJP, but they may also have broader significance for Modi’s future and for India’s international partners. Over the past decade, some have suggested that the BJP had ushered in a new, more stable political era, restoring a central pole in national politics, reversing a trend toward a greater number of smaller parties, making elections less competitive and less regional, and boosting turnout.[7]  Yet this election suggests a return to an earlier period—one of coalitions, fragmentation, anti-incumbency, and regional variation, albeit with high levels of voter engagement.[8]  Modi’s BJP seems not to have changed India’s political system as much as once thought, nor introduced more predictability for Indians and for others.

This apparent return to an earlier pattern of politics may signal the beginning of the end of the BJP’s dominance. It now seems less likely that Modi will lead the BJP to victory at the next general election. Much of Modi’s strength within the party lay in his ability to reach beyond the upper castes that have historically backed the BJP and to attract OBCs and others who identified with his story and his ambition into a bigger voter coalition. If those groups have indeed abandoned Modi, he is less useful to the party and more exposed to other contenders for its leadership.

Of course, it is possible that Modi will respond to these pressures by focusing on the economic reforms needed to create more jobs, bring down inflation, and win back the disaffected. But the BJP’s newly empowered coalition partners could throw up obstacles to much-needed changes to the agricultural sector and to land and labor laws.[9] If that happens, the party might lose even more support, and indeed India may become a less attractive partner and destination for investment.

It is also possible that Modi will take another path and decide to re-energize the BJP by doubling-down on identity politics. He could, for example, push through a “uniform civil code” regularizing divorce and alimony rules or implement other measures that might polarize India’s religious communities.[10] Such actions—with or without further curbs on the freedom of media, civil society organizations, and universities—would likely inflict further damage on India’s social fabric and complicate relations with other states in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and the United States.

For now, Modi has opted to project stability, not least in appointing a cabinet almost identical to the one he chaired in the previous government, but much hangs on what he does next, in circumstances dramatically different to those he has enjoyed for the past decade.

Ian Hall is a Professor of International Relations at Griffith University, Queensland, Australia, and an Academic Fellow of the Australia India Institute at the University of Melbourne.


[1] “Portfolios of the Union Council of Ministers,” Prime Minister’s Office (India), June 10, 2024,

[2] Chris Thomas, Anand Katakam, and Krishn Kaushik, “Rural Vote Fall Cost India’s Modi a Decisive Election Win,” Reuters, June 7, 2024, The Centre for the Study of Developing Societies’ Lokniti post-poll survey found that only 22.7% of respondents believed that the BJP was very likely to fulfil the “Modi ki guarantee” and 32.5% believed it was somewhat likely. See “Lokniti Post-Poll 2024,” Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, 2024, 22,

[3] Christophe Jaffrelot, “Narendra Modi between Hindutva and Subnationalism: The Gujarati Asmita of a Hindu Hriday Samrat,” India Review 15, no. 2 (2016): 196–217.

[4] Sandeep Shastri, “CSDS-Lokniti Post-Poll Survey: Modi Factor Seems to Have Stagnated over a Decade,” Hindu, June 6, 2024, On BJP workers, see Sudeep Lavania, “BJP’s Seat Loss Analysis: Dalit Perception, Angry Party Workers among Key Factors,” India Today, June 9, 2024,

[5] Rishabh Sharma, “What Will PM Modi Be Most Remembered For? Mood of the Nation Says This,” India Today, February 8, 2024,

[6] Vatsala Gaur, “How Akhilesh’s ‘PDA’ Plank Turned the Tide for Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh,” Economic Times, June 5, 2024,

[7] Milan Vaishnav and Jamie Hintson, “The Dawn of India’s Fourth Party System,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, September 5, 2019,

[8] Chietigj Bajpaee, “India’s Shock Election Result Is a Loss for Modi but a Win for Democracy,” Chatham House, June 6, 2024,

[9] “Coalition Politics, Weakened Mandate Could Make Passing Legislations on Ambitious Reforms Challenging: Fitch,” Economic Times, June 6, 2024,

[10] Krishn Kaushik, “Explainer: What Is India’s Civil Code and Why Does It Anger Muslims?” Reuters, February 7, 2024,