Breaking Down the 2024 Indian Election: Democracy Wins  

India’s significance as a global power means the results of its elections and electoral process is of importance not only to India but to Australia and the wider democratic world. So, let's break it down.

Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi

The dust has finally settled on India’s 2024 election and the world’s largest democracy has voted to provide an outcome that defied all expectations. With over 640 million votes cast, 543 seats and an extremely diverse diaspora, it’s pretty easy (and understandable) to feel overwhelmed by the scale of India’s politics and its democracy – even more so in the context of an election as polarising as the one just passed.

However, India’s significance as a global power means the results of its elections and electoral process is of importance not only to India but to Australia and the wider democratic world. So, let’s break down exactly how this election unfolded, the wins, the losses and what it all means.

The Background – Pre 2024

At the risk of sounding like your history teacher, it is important to understand the make-up and electoral journey of PM Modi’s government over its last two terms of government in order to properly unpack the 2024 election result. 

In 2014, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Narendra Modi swept to power in dramatic fashion winning 282 seats and enjoying a comfortable majority. In 2019, the BJP juggernaut continued its rampant electoral success under PM Modi, increasing its majority to 303 seats. At the other end of the spectrum, the Congress Party (the largest traditional opponents of the BJP) were reduced to a paltry 52. It meant that PM Modi enjoyed an unprecedented amount of power in India over the last decade. 

Over that decade, Modi’s government has overseen some key changes with his supporters crediting the government for widespread reforms in technology and digitisation of India’s economy, welfare, infrastructure development and a growth in India’s influence on the global stage. From an Australian perspective, our relationship with India has never been stronger with closer ties through moves in free trade, education, culture and the arts.  

However, Modi’s reign has not been without its critics. PM Modi’s tenure has also seen a noticeable fall in India’s global ranking in press freedoms and the democracy index. Furthermore, concerns have lingered since Modi’s election in 2014 regarding the treatment of religious and caste minorities and a shift away from India’s constitutionally enshrined secular tradition.

The weeks leading up to the 2024 election also saw several controversial developments including the alleged freezing of opposition party campaign funds and the raiding and jailing of key political figures. Ultimately, with PM Modi being a centrepiece of the BJP’s electoral strategy, to many this election was considered to be a referendum on PM Modi’s achievements alongside the strength of India’s democratic foundations. 

Despite several opposition parties banding together to form an opposing coalition called the ‘Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance’ (INDIA Bloc), all signs and polling in the lead up to the election pointed to another massive win for the BJP and NDA coalition. Indeed, there was no shortage of confidence from the BJP’s supporters. Having coined the slogan ‘Abki baar Modi Sarkaar’ [‘this time, Modi government’] in 2014, it widely transformed into ‘Abki baar chaarso paar’ [‘this time 400 seats’]. 

The Result

I’ll have my Anthony Green moment here and nerd out a little – because for anyone who followed this election, the results were as fascinating as they were unexpected. 

The results saw the BJP and PM Modi secure a historic third term in government – but with significant setbacks. Contrary to the goal of ‘400 paar’, the BJP instead lost its outright majority. From holding 303 seats in 2019, their tally went down to 240. 

What is particularly interesting is where those losses occurred. The BJP’s most unexpected defeats happened in the state of Uttar Pradesh – a state which has long been considered a stronghold for BJP support. One of the most surprising results was the BJP’s loss of the seat of ‘Faizabad’ – a constituency which includes the city of Ayodhya and the place which the Modi government widely celebrated the construction of the ‘Ram Mandir’ over what used to be the Babri Masjid. Despite the construction of the temple being used as a key achievement of the government during the election and in a context of concerning campaign rhetoric allegedly referring to minorities as ‘infiltrators’, the results indicate that strategies focusing on nationalist and religious sentiments did not fully succeed in cutting through to the wider populace. 

Critically, the result means that the Modi government must now rely on coalition support to continue governing. This, coupled with the INDIA bloc’s 272 seats, provides a significant restraint on the extent of the BJP’s power and somewhat dilutes the aura of invincibility around PM Modi and the BJP. 

What does the result mean? 

Whether you’re a die-hard supporter of a particular party or a curious observer, these results should give cause to celebrate for everyone across the political spectrum. Supporters of PM Modi can celebrate his return for a historic third term. Opponents can celebrate a return to meaningful representation in parliament. For Australia, the leaders of our respective nations continue to foster closer ties and that will be welcome news for Australia’s economy and the Indian diaspora. 

Hopefully, however, supporters of PM Modi, his critics, international observers and everyone in-between can all recognise that the return of a genuine opposition strengthens the foundations of India’s democracy. It means that there are greater checks and balances on power, where policy is rigorously debated, where there can be compromise and where there can be greater accountability. Historically we know that too much power in any one individual or group has rarely been good for democratic structures (the aftermath of the Trump presidency is a poignant reminder of that). 

At a time in global politics where populism has manifested itself across many Western democracies, India’s democracy and its recent electoral outcome ought to be seen as a positive example for the rest of the globe. As someone of Indian heritage, I take great pride in that.  The world’s largest democracy lives on.