BJP’s magic number of 400 may be an illusion

Betting markets are offering the most favourable odds for the BJP winning between 301 and 310 seats, falling short of the party's goal of 400.

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Predicting the outcome of any election is a fool’s errand, and that may well be the case in the 2024 Indian elections.

As voting enters its final phase, reports are that these elections may not give BJP and Narendra Modi as comprehensive a victory as most have been predicting.

Narendra Modi started the campaign boldly with a target of winning 400 seats of 543. An ambitious objective, given the only time an Indian party has crossed the 400 mark has been in 1984, when after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the sympathy wave helped the Congress led by Rajiv Gandhi take 426 of 567 seats. The Congress Party has come close to this mark once previously, in 1952, when the first Lok Sabha election was conducted: it had then claimed 398 of 543 seats under Prime Minister Nehru.

These high marks were achieved when the Opposition was almost non-existent. BJP/ Janata Party struggled both times to capture the imagination of the voters.

In the current elections, Congress is struggling to be an effective opposition, but the emergence of regional parties seems to be blunting the BJP’s forward thrust.

The Hindutva agenda of the BJP and the Modi government seems to be weakening in recent weeks. The narrative that Hindus have been ignored in 67 years of Congress rule, while others (notably the Muslim community) have been appeased, and that now is the time to correct this overreach, has resonated well in North India. But this same agenda has alarmed the minorities of India – the 200 million Muslims, the 32 million Christians, the 25 million Sikhs, amongst others. Of the population of 1.4 billion, the minorities who number about 275 million, will be uncomfortable with this laser-like focus of the government. Add to this Hindus who believe in a stronger inclusive nation, and the numbers expand. The regional parties in Opposition also are playing up the fear of an imposition of compulsory Hindi language, which is alienating voters especially in the South against the BJP.

Rapid economic growth has been touted as the shining achievement of India under the last ten years of the Modi rule. Over 6,000 miles of highways are being built every year; there are twice the number of domestic airports than a decade ago. But like in any race, while there are many who benefit, there are others who struggle to compete. Those employed are experiencing stagnant wages; youth unemployment is 83% of total unemployment, women and households are hurting with rising prices. While nationalism will be important to many, practical economic realities will also figure in many voters’ intentions.

Indian share markets have gone backwards in the last few days as numbers indicate that BJP will win but not make the 400-seat goal. Betting markets are giving the best odds at BJP winning 301-310 seats, well short of the 400 hoped by the party. But with some weeks yet for the elections to conclude and counting to begin, anything can occur. A day is a long time in politics; we still have over twenty to go.

Read more: Political slogans that stirred nations

Pawan Luthra
Pawan Luthra
Pawan is the publisher of Indian Link and is one of Indian Link's founders. He writes the Editorial section.

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