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    Thursday, July 18, 2024

    Modi claims victory in India's election but drop in support forces him to rely on coalition

    Supporters of Congress Party dance as they celebrate their party's lead during the counting of votes in India's national election in Mumbai, India, Tuesday, June 4, 2024. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

    New Delhi — Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared victory Tuesday for his alliance in India’s general election, claiming a mandate to push forward with his agenda, even though his party lost seats to a stronger than expected opposition, which pushed back against his mixed economic record and polarizing politics.

    “Today’s victory is the victory of the world’s largest democracy," Modi told the crowd at his party’s headquarters, saying Indian voters had “shown immense faith” both in his party and his National Democratic Alliance coalition.

    Official results from India’s Election Commission showed the NDA won 286 seats, more than the 272 seats needed to secure a majority but far fewer than had been expected.

    For the first time since his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party swept to power in 2014, it did not secure a majority on its own, winning 240 seats — far fewer than the record 303 it won in the 2019 election.

    That means Modi will need the support of other parties in his coalition — a stunning blow for the 73-year-old, who had hoped for a landslide victory.

    The party may now be "heavily dependent on the goodwill of its allies, which makes them critical players who we can expect will extract their pound of flesh, both in terms of policymaking as well as government formation,” said Milan Vaishnav, director of the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

    More than 640 million votes were cast in the marathon election held over a span of six weeks in the world’s largest democratic exercise.

    In the face of the surprising drop in the BJP's support, challengers claimed they had also won a victory of sorts, with the main opposition Congress party saying the election had been a “moral and political loss” for Modi.

    “This is public’s victory and a win for democracy,” Congress party President Mallikarjun Kharge told reporters.

    Despite the setback, Modi pledged to make good on his election promise to turn India’s economy into the world’s third biggest, from its current fifth place, and not shirk with pushing forward with his agenda.

    He said he would advance India’s defense production, boost jobs for youth, raise exports and help farmers, among other things.

    “This country will see a new chapter of big decisions. This is Modi’s guarantee,” he said, speaking in the third person.

    Many of the Hindu nationalist policies he’s instituted over the last 10 years will also remain locked in place.

    Modi’s win was only the second time an Indian leader has retained power for a third term after Jawaharlal Nehru, the country’s first prime minister. Before Modi came to power, India had coalition governments for 30 years.

    The opposition INDIA coalition won 225 seats and was leading in five others yet to be called early Wednesday morning.

    Congratulations for Modi from leaders of regional countries including neighboring Nepal and Bhutan flowed in, while the White House commended India for its “vibrant democratic process."

    In his 10 years in power, Modi has transformed India’s political landscape, bringing Hindu nationalism, once a fringe ideology in India, into the mainstream while leaving the country deeply divided.

    His supporters see him as a self-made, strong leader who has improved India’s standing in the world. His critics and opponents say his Hindu-first politics have bred intolerance while the economy, one of the world's fastest-growing, has become more unequal.

    For Payal, a resident of the northern city of Lucknow who uses only one name, the election was about the economy and India’s vast number of people living in poverty.

    “People are suffering, there are no jobs, people are in such a state that their kids are compelled to make and sell tea on the roadside,” Payal said. “This is a big deal for us. If we don’t wake up now, when will we?”

    Rahul Gandhi, the main face of the opposition Congress party, said he saw the election numbers as a message from the people.

    “The poorest of this country have defended the constitution of India,” he told a news conference.

    Modi's popularity has outstripped that of his party’s during his first two terms in office, and he turned the parliamentary election into one that more resembled a presidential-style campaign, with the BJP relying on the leader's brand.

    “Modi was not just the prime campaigner, but the sole campaigner of this election,” said Yamini Aiyar, a public policy scholar.

    Under Modi's government, critics say India's democracy has come under increasing strain with strong-arm tactics used to subdue political opponents, squeeze independent media and quash dissent. The government has rejected such accusations and says democracy is flourishing.

    Economic discontent has also simmered under Modi. While stock markets have reached record-highs, youth unemployment has soared, with only a small portion of Indians benefitting from the boom.

    As polls opened in mid-April, a confident BJP initially focused its campaign on “Modi’s guarantees,” highlighting the economic and welfare achievements that his party says have reduced poverty. With Modi at the helm, “India will become a developed nation by 2047,” he repeated in rally after rally.

    But the campaign turned increasingly shrill, as Modi ramped up polarizing rhetoric that targeted Muslims, who make up 14% of the population, a tactic seen to energize his core Hindu majority voters.

    The opposition INDIA alliance attacked Modi over his Hindu nationalist politics, and campaigned on issues of joblessness, inflation and inequality.

    “These issues have resonated and made a dent,” added Aiyar, the public policy scholar.

    A supporter of Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) dances as he celebrates with others their party's lead during the counting of votes in India's national election in Mumbai, India, Tuesday, June 4, 2024. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)
    Election officials carry sealed electronic voting machines at a counting center in Mumbai, India, Tuesday, June 4, 2024. India on Tuesday started counting votes from its staggered, six-week election that was seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's decade in power and was expected to give him a third term in office. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)
    Congress Party leader Rahul Gandhi, center, leaves the party headquarters with his sister and party leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra after addressing a press conference in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, June 4, 2024. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)
    Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters shout slogans as they celebrate their party's lead during the counting of votes outside the party office in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Tuesday, June 4, 2024. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)
    Samajwadi Party supporters dance as they celebrate their party's lead during the counting of votes in India's national election in Lucknow, India, Tuesday, June 4, 2024. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
    Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters dance inside the party office after hearing of a candidate's victory during the counting in India's national election, in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, June 4, 2024. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist party showed a comfortable lead Tuesday, according to early figures reported by India's Election Commission, but was facing a stronger challenge from the opposition than had been expected. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)
    A band plays music as Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters dance inside the party office after hearing of a candidate's victory during the counting in India's national election, in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, June 4, 2024. xPrime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist party showed a comfortable lead Tuesday, according to early figures reported by India's Election Commission, but was facing a stronger challenge from the opposition than had been expected. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)
    Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters dance at the party office during the counting in India's national election, in Guwahati, India, Tuesday, June 4, 2024. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist party showed a comfortable lead Tuesday, according to early figures reported by India's Election Commission, but was facing a stronger challenge from the opposition than had been expected. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
    Trinamool Congress Party supporters watch news on television at a roadside stall filled with portraits of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her nephew Abhishek Banerjee during the counting of votes in India's national election in Kolkata, India, Tuesday, June 4, 2024. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist party showed a comfortable lead Tuesday, according to early figures reported by India's Election Commission, but was facing a stronger challenge from the opposition than had been expected. (AP Photo/Bikas Das)
    Faces of Trinamool Congress Party supporters smeared with green colour celebrate the election results in Kolkata, India, Tuesday, June 4, 2024. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist party showed a comfortable lead Tuesday, according to early figures reported by India's Election Commission, but was facing a stronger challenge from the opposition than had been expected. (AP Photo/Bikas Das)
    A worker carries a banner of Bharatiya Janta party featuring Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to be put up outside party headquarters in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, June 4, 2024. India began counting more than 640 million votes Tuesday in the world's largest democratic exercise, which was widely expected to return Prime Minister Narendra Modi to a third term after a decade in power. (AP Photo/Dinesh Joshi)
    A Congress party supporter waves an Indian flag as others follow proceedings of vote counting on a giant screen at their party headquarters in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, June 4, 2024. India was counting more than 640 million votes cast over the past six weeks in the world’s largest democratic exercise, which was widely expected to give Prime Minister Narendra Modi a third five-year term when the final result is declared later Tuesday. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)
    Congress party supporters cheer as they follow proceedings of vote counting at their party headquarters in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, June 4, 2024. India began counting more than 640 million votes Tuesday in the world’s largest democratic exercise, which was widely expected to return Prime Minister Narendra Modi to a third term after a decade in power. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)
    Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party supporters celebrate as they follow proceedings of the vote counting at their party headquarters in Chennai, India, Tuesday, June 4, 2024. India began counting more than 640 million votes Tuesday in the world’s largest democratic exercise, which was widely expected to return Prime Minister Narendra Modi to a third term after a decade in power. (AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A.)
    A Bharatiya Janta Party supporter prepares to offer prayers to the cut-out of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi outside their party headquarters in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, June 4, 2024. India began counting more than 640 million votes Tuesday in the world’s largest democratic exercise, which was widely expected to return Prime Minister Narendra Modi to a third term after a decade in power. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

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