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Narendra Modi Declares Victory Amid Shifts in Political Landscape

NEW DELHI (AP) — Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared victory for his alliance in India’s general election, claiming a mandate to move 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 Tuesday, saying Indian voters had “shown immense faith” both in his party and his National Democratic Alliance coalition.

Surprising Election Results

Official results from India’s Election Commission on Wednesday showed the NDA won 294 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. During campaigning, Modi said his party would likely win 370 seats and his allies another 30 seats.

Opposition’s Strong Comeback

India’s bruised and battered opposition, largely written off in the lead-up to the national elections, has now scored a stunning comeback, slowing down the Modi juggernaut and pushing his Bharatiya Janata Party well below the majority mark. The Congress party won 99 seats, improving its tally from 52 in the 2019 elections. Among its key allies, Samajwadi Party won 37 seats in northern Uttar Pradesh state in a major upset for the BJP; All India Trinamool Congress bagged 29 seats in West Bengal state; and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam 22 seats in southern Tamil Nadu state. The opposition INDIA coalition won a total of 232 seats.

Political Analysts Weigh In

The BJP 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. “At the very least, the result pricks the bubble of Prime Minister Modi’s authority. He made this election about himself,” said Pratap Bhanu Mehta, a political commentator. “Today, he is just another politician, cut to size by the people,” he said in an article in The Indian Express daily.

Economic and Social Implications

“Indian voters can’t be taken for granted,” said the Times of India newspaper in an editorial. “Voters have clearly indicated that jobs and economic aspirations matter. The economic message from the results is that jobs matter.” 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.

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.

International Reactions

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.”

Modi’s Controversial Legacy

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.

Future Outlook

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.

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