India’s General Elections: A Walk in the Park for Modi?


The ongoing general elections in India, widely recognized as the world’s largest democratic event, hold immense significance as they will shape the course of the country’s future. The polling process spans seven phases across the nation and voters will cast their votes to elect leaders for 543 seats in the Lok Sabha — the lower house of Parliament. The voter turnout stood at 65.7% in phase three, which is lower compared to phases one and two and a decrease from the 67.4% recorded in the previous general election in 2019, as reported by the Election Commission of India. Despite coordinated efforts by the opposition parties to defeat the BJP, most recent opinion polls have suggested that the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led BJP will likely win a third term. The CSDS-Lokniti 2024 pre-poll survey highlights Modi’s dominance in the leadership landscape, with nearly half of the respondents preferring him for another term. 

More than two dozen political parties have united under the banner of the Indian National Congress (INC)-led opposition alliance, known as the Indian National Development Inclusive Alliance (INDIA), to challenge the BJP. The INDIA alliance has crafted its narrative to confront Modi on issues such as unemployment, inflation, and religious polarization. Opposition groups have accused the ruling BJP of misusing government institutions like the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to exert pressure on the opposition. Recently, the Supreme Court granted interim bail to Arvind Kejriwal, the leader of the Aam Aadmi Party and the chief minister of New Delhi, who had been in police custody for 50 days in connection with an alleged liquor policy scam. Earlier, opposition leader Rahul Gandhi was sentenced to a two-year jail term by the Surat sessions court in a defamation case, however, the Supreme Court later put a stay on the conviction. Additionally, senior leaders from other opposition parties such as the Trinamool Congress (TMC), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) have recently been subjected to raids by the ED.

In the Hindi heartland states of Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand, where the caste factor plays a significant role, the BJP is poised to secure a majority of seats, especially by consolidating upper-caste votes. Meanwhile, in the South Indian states of Kerala, Telangana and Tamil Nadu, the INDIA alliance is expected to secure a majority. While opinion polls may have limitations due to their timing and sample sizes, prevailing circumstances suggest that the BJP is likely to secure a reduced majority compared to the previous elections. Although opinion polls indicate a victory for the BJP-led alliance, the party is encountering criticism and opposition on multiple fronts. The government’s management of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the implementation of sudden lockdowns that exacerbated challenges for migrant laborers, farmers’ protests, concerns regarding electoral bonds,  violence and tensions in the north-eastern state of Manipur, and instances of religious polarization, all stand out as significant issues. 

The Modi-led BJP has been rallying under the slogan “Abki baar 400 par” (This time, crossing 400), aiming for an absolute majority of over 400 seats in the elections. However, achieving this target appears challenging for the BJP.  Modi’s recent public campaigns have included controversial remarks targeting minority groups, drawing renewed criticism from opposition parties. This shift in campaign focus toward religious polarization deflects attention from economic challenges such as rising prices and inflation. 

INC President Mallikarjun Kharge has expressed confidence that Modi’s defeat is imminent and predicts that the BJP will fall short of securing 200 seats. The opposition parties including the INC have emphasized the issue of media freedom, often labeling certain media outlets as “godi media” (lapdog media). This criticism aligns with India’s poor performance in the Press Freedom Index in recent years. The BJP’s IT cell has significantly bolstered the party’s online presence, making social media one of its most potent tools. Because of the prevailing conditions and increasing media control and censorship, the overall media landscape in the country remains stifled. 

The BJP’s manifesto for the 2024 general elections, titled “Modi ki guarantee,” (Modi’s guarantee) emphasizes job creation, infrastructure development, and welfare programs. The manifesto promises expansion of healthcare services, continuation of free ration programs and housing initiatives, among other commitments. The manifesto heavily relies on past accomplishments and emphasizes continuity, particularly highlighting Modi’s leadership. The construction of the Ram Mandir and the abrogation of Article 370 are highlighted as major achievements. The manifesto pledges the implementation of the Uniform Civil Code and Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), without addressing the controversial National Register of Citizens (NRC). The BJP also attempts to garner support by highlighting India’s enhanced global image and assertive foreign policy. Regardless of the outcome, India’s foreign policy trajectory is expected to remain largely unchanged. 

The INDIA alliance has centered its campaign on the concept of “nyay,” (justice) emphasizing five principles of collective social justice focusing primarily on women, youth and farmers. The INC manifesto also claims to reverse the “damage” caused by the BJP. There is no mention of the widening income disparity and economic divides in the BJP manifesto which remains a point of criticism by the opposition. Unemployment and inflation, identified as the primary concerns in opinion polls, may sway a significant swathe of the electorate. 

Alliances like the INDIA alliance present inherent challenges, including the complexities of consensus-building, maintaining support, and preserving unity amid potential issues like horse trading and defection. Past examples such as the Janata Dal (United Front) in the late 1990s, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), and the Mahagatbandhan in Bihar in 2019 underscore the delicate balancing act required for broader alliances in India’s political landscape. Although the BJP may not reach the majority it anticipates, the most likely outcome involves the party forming a coalition government with its allies. A third consecutive victory for the BJP would likely pose greater challenges to the opposition INC’s revival efforts.

Editorial Team