India election 2024: How Modi’s rivals came back from the brink

India election 2024: How Modi's rivals came back from the brink

Geeta Pandey,BBC News, Delhi

BBC Rahul Gandhi, senior leader of the Indian National Congress Party, speaks during a press conference.BBC

The benefits of India’s standard election that was announced on Tuesday are being interpreted in a more unusual manner. While the victors appear subdued, the runners- away are celebrating.

The NDA empire, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has won a traditional second term in strength, with more than 290 seats in the 543- associate parliament.

However, his Bharatiya Janata Party on its own did not achieve the necessary 272 tickets, making the prime minister now seen as a much less powerful head.

The goal is being seen as a “huge return” for the opposition INDIA empire and Congress party chief Rahul Gandhi, the republic’s “unofficial mascot”.

The alliance has won just over 230 seats and is n’t able to put together a government, but more than 24 hours after counting the votes began, they were still holding out.

” It’s an amazing account”, political analyst Rashid Kidwai told the BBC. ” The result is astonishing. The criticism has managed to pull off the unpredicted”.

A cheery Congress party, whose party had focused primarily on Mr. Modi’s title and record, called the conviction” a moral and political beat for him.” Mr. Gandhi stated at a press conference on Tuesday evening that” the country has unanimously declared to Mr. Modi and [ Home Minister ] Amit Shah that we do not want you.”

There’s a landscape to this joy.

Getty Images Supporters of the Samajwadi party and Congress party gathered in an election rally on May 17, 2024 in Rae Bareli, India. Getty Images

Going into the election, the opposition seemed in complete disarray and the Congress-led INDIA bloc, made up of more than two dozen disparate regional parties, appeared to be on the verge of imploding. Experts questioned whether it was fit to challenge Mr Modi, who looked unstoppable at the time.

And as the poll neared, the criticism faced an uphill battle. Two main officials, including Arvind Kejriwal of Delhi, were imprisoned, and bank accounts belonging to the Congress were frozen by the income-tax authorities. Additionally, two leaders and parties were targeted by government organizations.

The payment for the opponent’s performance, Mr Kidwai says, mostly goes to Mr Gandhi, the little condemned scion of the Nehru- Gandhi dynasty. His great-grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru was India’s second and longest-serving perfect minister. His father and mother even served as prime minister.

” He’s a second generation dynast and came with a lot of historical baggage”, the political analyst explains. ” The mainstream media in India was very hostile toward him, and social media did n’t take him seriously. He was targeted and portrayed as a “non-serious legislator who took to some vacations.”

But, Mr Kidwai says, he overcame the conflict and, in recent years, has worked hard to change that feeling of himself and his group.

“During his Bharat Jodo Yatra and the Nyay March through the length and breadth of the country, he met millions of people – which added to his stature and won him lots of support. It also gave him confidence and political heft.”

But Mr Gandhi was still not perceived as a threat to Mr Modi. Last year, a court in Mr Modi’s home state Gujarat convicted the Congress leader of defamation. He was thrown out of parliament and barred from contesting elections – until the Supreme Court suspended his conviction.

Getty Images A cut-out of Hindu deity Ram is installed on light poles in Ayodhya on January 21, 2024, on the eve of consecration ceremony of a Ram temple Getty Images

The belief that the BJP was seeking to go after the opposition, says political researcher and writer Ajoy Bose, backfired.

” The BJP got a little rude and comfortable. However, their intimidation tactics and shock and awe approaches worked against the BJP and caused the formation of the INDIA bloc.

The parties, he says, “were worried they may be wiped off and some saw echoes of Emergency]a reference to the 1975 action of next- PM Indira Gandhi to halt elections and suppress civil rights ] in the way the government was functioning”.

According to Mr. Bose, India has a “history of competitive democracy,” adding that among the electorates” there was a sense of unease and discomfort about the country turning into a one-party dictatorship.”

As the results indicate, the BJP juggernaut faced strong opposition in a number of state-controlled by the opposition.

The DMK, the ruling party in Tamil Nadu, won all 39 of the state’s 39 seats, keeping the BJP at bay. In West Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee fought to limit the BJP to 12 seats ( Mr Modi’s party had won 18 of the 42 seats in 2019 ). In Maharashtra, the BJP was limited to nine seats – it had won 23 of the 48 seats in 2019 and its then- ally Shiv Sena had bagged a further 18.

However, Mr. Bose claims that the BJP and Mr. Modi caused the biggest uproar in Uttar Pradesh ( UP), which is a bellwether state.

The biggest election success story is “Akhilesh Yadav and his Samajwadi Party ( SP). A very clever alliance with Rahul Gandhi won them 43 of the state’s 80 seats. The BJP’s tally has been set at a subpar 33. Mr Modi’s party won 62 seats in 2019 and took 71 in 2014.

In the run- up to the election, Mr Modi had described Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav as” a pair of boys” whose alliance had “flopped” many times in the past. However, as the results indicate, this pair of boys clearly outperform the BJP in UP.

” A key takeaway from the election”, Mr Bose says, “is that the grand new Ram temple in Ayodhya city was n’t enough for the BJP to win”.

Getty Images Senior leader of Congress party Rahul Gandhi attend a joint rally of India alliance in support of Samajwadi party national president and SP candidate from Kannauj parliamentary seat Akhilesh Yadav on May 10, 2024 in Kannauj, India. Getty Images

The party had favored the Ram Mandir temple as their trump card, with Mr. Modi leading the celebration of the unfinished temple’s January opening with much fervor. But in the Faizabad constituency, where it is located, the BJP candidate lost.

Abhishek Yadav, a leader of the SP youth wing and a prominent campaigner for his party, told the BBC that they initially believed the temple would aid the BJP in winning the crucial state.

” Until early April ,]the ] election in the state had seemed like a one- sided contest with the odds stacked against us”, Mr Yadav told me recently. When large numbers of people began gathering at our rallies, we initially thought there was an undercurrent of resentment against the BJP.

He claimed that there were many unemployed people and high food and fuel prices. Many criticized the new methods for recruiting army personnel.

All anti-BJP voters came together to vote for us because the Congress and SP are fighting the election together as a part of the INDIA alliance, he added.

Mr. Kidwai claims that despite the surprisingly strong performance of the opposition, the INDIA bloc failed to read the voters ‘ minds and did not recognize the unease they felt with Mr. Modi’s administration.

” They spoke about joblessness, rural economic distress and were able to win over many voters– but there were lots of gaps in their strategy”, he says. The third term of the NDA has only been a result of inconsistencies in the INDIA bloc. They could have formed alliances in Andhra Pradesh and Odisha, which would have increased their total.

But now that the NDA – and Mr Modi – are back in power, INDIA needs to institutionalise its alliance and Mr Gandhi,” the chief architect of the alliance”, must lead from the front, Mr Kidwai adds.

” It’s unlikely that the government will stop going after the opposition. But it also ca n’t be business as usual for the government. They must be toned down in order for them to continue their vendetta-fueled politics.

The strength of the opposition in parliament would allow for restored constitutional relations. There’s great need for coalition politics now. And Congress must take the lead as the coalition’s single largest opposition party.

” The Gandhis consider themselves as trustees of power, not power- wielders. However, a change is now necessary. Rahul Gandhi must assume the role of leader.