BJP left with more questions as party appears set to lose majority

The issue of unemployment has also worked against the party in several states, especially among the youth, party leaders acknowledged.

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the message and the messenger for the BJP in the Lok Sabha polls, dwarfing all his rivals in the gruelling campaign.

But as results poured in on Tuesday, the message seemed to have been overshadowed by the resurgent opposition, which restricted the right-wing party to far below the majority mark of 272 in the 543-member Lok Sabha. The BJP-led NDA, however, is expected to cross the magic figure comfortably.

“People have placed their faith in NDA, for a third consecutive time! This is a historical feat in India’s history,” Modi said in his first message after the results.

“I bow to the Janata Janardan for this affection and assure them that we will continue the good work done in the last decade to keep fulfilling the aspirations of people,” Modi said in the message posted on X.

Despite the upbeat statement, the party is expected to reflect on what caused the sharp fall in its numbers. It is expected to win about 240 seats against the 303 it had won in 2019.

Analysts noted that the BJP fought the elections entirely on the Modi brand, and even called its manifesto “Modi ki guarantee”. The opposition INDIA bloc, however, succeeded in denting the grander narratives and the national leadership issue in a host of states if not across the country.

There is an acknowledgement even among the BJP leaders about several missteps the party made, from poor ticket selection by picking many candidates with little standing in their constituencies and manufacturing coalitions and alliances by all means in a big state like Maharashtra.

Modi attempted to pivot the poll around the opposition’s alleged Muslim appeasement but his choice of contentious phrases drew its share of critics. It was telling that the BJP’s own manifesto aroused little interest while its own leaders kept the attack on the Congress over the opposition party’s manifesto.

The Prime Minister coined the “400 paar” slogan to deflate the opposition by sending out the signal that the BJP juggernaut was on its way to another grand majority. But many political experts believe it lulled his supporters into a sense of complacency and rallied a large chunk of fence-sitters around the opposition’s call of threat to the Constitution and alarm at “misuse” of probe agencies.

A BJP leader said since the party is expected to sweep several states, including Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Gujarat, it will be wrong to interpret the verdict against the party’s agenda or its leadership. The leader also pointed out that the BJP will get its maiden majority in the Odisha assembly and overall it will win more seats than the opposition in most states,

It has turned out to be a battle of conflicting narratives, and contests in several states like Rajasthan, Haryana and Maharashtra were coloured more by regional factors, he said.

What has, though, rung alarm bells in the party is the stunning setback it has received in Uttar Pradesh, an unimpeachable saffron bastion since the BJP captured it in 2014 riding on a pro-Modi wave. The party had won or was leading in 33 of its 80 seats, a shocking reverse from 2019 when it had won 62 of them.

The BJP has appeared to have shed a chunk of loyal caste votes, including upper castes besides the extremely backward classes, to the Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance as Akhilesh Yadav combined a rainbow social coalition, while reducing representatives from Yadavs and Muslims, his loyal support base.

The results will in all likelihood intensify the ongoing political debate around Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath who has his share of detractors within the party.

The issue of unemployment has also worked against the party in several states, especially among the youth, party leaders acknowledged.

Having towered over rivals at every election since he entered electoral politics as Gujarat chief minister, Modi will now have to for the first time navigate the uncertainties of a coalition government and the demands of allies.

With the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance projected to be above the 290 mark against the majority tally of 272, he is expected to head the new government in which allies will matter more than ever.

The NDA was stirred into life mostly around elections in the last 10 years as the BJP’s big majority and shrinking opposition in Lok Sabha made its allies mostly redundant for all practical purposes. It is likely to be a different NDA now.