Modi’s pyrrhic victory

The unexpected results are all set to trigger a power tussle between Modi and his opponents in BJP

Dr Moonis Ahmar June 11, 2024
The writer is Meritorious Professor International Relations and former Dean Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Karachi. Email:


June 4, 2024 is termed a historic day in India when most of the exit polls which had predicted a landslide victory for Narendra Modi and his BJP in Lok Sabha (lower house) elections proved to wrong. Modi’s pyrrhic victory is now a reality. Dreaming to get 400 of the 543 seats in Lok Sabha and ruling India as a third time Prime Minister with colossal power got shattered. BJP lost key seats in its bastion Utter Pradesh and elsewhere and India National Development Inclusive Alliance (INDIA), a conglomeration of political groups which united to deny a two-third majority to the BJP, performed quite well.

There is no significant gap in the seats secured by the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the Congress-led INDIA. The NDA got 295 seats as against INDIA’s 238. Having deprived BJP of a sweeping majority, INDIA will try to deny NDA the seat of speaker Lok Sabha and put Modi under pressure because of his dependence on his allies. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has demanded Modi’s resignation, insisting that he has lost his legitimacy to run for PM.

The unexpected results are all set to trigger a power tussle between Modi and his opponents in BJP. Why did the NDA fail to deliver desired results? Will Modi’s third term as PM be fragile, leading to his ouster in a future vote of no-confidence? Or will Modi use his political acumen to maintain unity among the Hindu nationalist forces and deny INDIA any opportunity to destabilise his government?

Modi’s pyrrhic victory reflects the beauty of Indian democracy that regardless of political issues between NDA and INDIA the two alliances accepted election results. Those who lost accepted their defeat with grace instead of raising hue and cry of ‘rigging’ and launching street agitation. Instead of seeking non-political intervention to remove the incumbent from power, the people of India waited for five years to give their verdict against ultra-communal and exclusive mode of governance of BJP. Not performing well in the Hindi belt of north India, particularly Utter Pradesh by BJP, Indian voters gave their verdict for democracy, secular and inclusive mode of governance. For INDIA also it will be a test that after denying BJP two-third majority, to what extent it will sustain its unity and how well Congress as the largest party in that alliance will take other parties within its fold so as to prevent Narendra Modi’s surge of Hindu nationalism and communalism.

The results of the 2024 general elections have falsified the winnable potential of anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan narrative. Throughout his election campaign, Modi blamed Congress and INDIA for patronising Muslim minority and undermining threat from Pakistan but the Indian voters rejected both the narratives and gave their verdict reflecting ground realities of the 10-year-long of BJP rule in which democracy was compromised and the economic conditions of an ordinary Indian went from bad to worse. Despite using the power of electronic and social media to their favour and securing an unabated support from the country’s financial elites, the BJP failed miserably. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, an icon in INDIA alliance, remarked after the election results that half of bureaucracy, judiciary and agencies were supporting BJP. It was the legitimate concern and fear of BJP opponents that in case Modi managed to get a third term with a two-thirds majority, he will neutralise all state institutions. Election Commission of India was accused by INDIA of not taking notice of BJP’s violations of election decorum particularly Modi’s anti-Muslim statements.

Modi’s pyrrhic victory needs to be analysed from three angles.

First, the role of Indian voters who spoke the truth after bearing with Modi’s extremist ideology for 10 years. It is the beauty of Indian democracy that voters, when given an opportunity to exercise their electoral right, demonstrate their power. In March 1977, then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi announced holding pre-mature general elections in April. Indian voters who had tolerated a repressive emergency rule sent Congress packing from the government through their power of vote. Indira Gandhi lost miserably. Janata Party elected Moraji Desai as Prime Minister but the performance of the coalition government was so poor that when elections were announced in January 1980, Congress under Indira Gandhi returned to power with a landslide majority. The trust of Indian voters on election commission to conduct free and fair polls is the merit of Indian democracy. However, in 2024 there were concerns about the neutrality and credibility of the election commission as INDIA was accusing BJP of influence the electoral watchdog to help it ensure a sweeping majority for Modi. But even then, the power of the vote managed to upset election results.

Second, it seems democracy in India which was under threat during the BJP’s rule has got a new lease of life. It was perhaps the last chance to save India from an impending fascist mode of governance in which Modi with a two-thirds majority would have ruined democracy and secularism and declared India a Hindu state. Using strong-arm tactics against opposition leaders, particularly Rahul Gandhi and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, Modi tried to silence dissent but failed because the people of India rejected BJP’s dictatorial politics. Now, it remains to be seen what will happen to the ambitious BJP plan to deprive religious minorities, particularly Muslims, of the Indian citizenship through Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). During the 10 years of his rule, Modi managed to sow hatred against religious minorities and Pakistan to an extent that an ordinary Indian also developed biases. With a sharply reduced majority, it will be an uphill task for the BJP to get the legislation against the Muslim civil law passed by the Indian parliament.

Finally, for INDIA it will be a daunting task to reverse the process of hate and intolerance against minorities and marginalisation of opposition parties. Pro-BJP elements inducted in bureaucracy, police, judiciary and agencies over the last 10 years will have to be weeded out. Yet, Modi — who took the oath as the 15th Prime Minister of India on June 9 — cannot be termed a dead horse.


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