Supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) celebrate as they watch the vote counting results Image Credit: AFP

The 2024 Indian general elections have generated an array of dramatic outcomes, revealing a complex political mosaic across the nation. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by Narendra Modi, appears poised to form the government again. However, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), under Modi’s banner, has not achieved an outright majority on its own.

This outcome positions certain regional leaders, notably Chandrababu Naidu of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal (United), as pivotal players in the formation of the central government.

This brings us to the underlying question on everyone’s mind: How do we discern the real “winners” and “losers” in these historic elections?

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A pyrrhic victory

Let’s start with the man of the moment, none other than Narendra Modi himself. He seems to be on the threshold of an unprecedented third term as India’s prime minister — a feat unparalleled in the annals of independent India’s history after India’s first prime minister’s third-time victory at the hustings in 1962.

But this is not a done deal till the support from NDA alliance partners is confirmed.

That is why we must face facts. If these elections were fought for — or against — Modi, then the people’s mandate indicates a pyrrhic victory. Modi, the central figure of the 2024 elections, projected strength and stability in his campaign, emphasising continuity and governance. However, the results depict “ankush,” a check on his power, if not “akrosh” or anger.

Despite the NDA securing enough seats to govern, the BJP on its own fell short of the 272-seat majority needed in the Lok Sabha. This shortfall is significant as it indicates a reduction in direct support for the BJP, compelling them to rely more heavily on their alliance partners.

The scenario underscores a potential decline in Modi’s unchallenged authority within the national political landscape. This marks him, in a unique sense, as a “loser” despite leading the coalition likely to form the government.

Contrarily, the BJP’s performance in the Odisha assembly polls spells a historic win for the party in this Eastern state. After being under the spell of Naveen Patnaik for twenty-four years, the BJP has now swept the polls. It is set to form the government in the state for the first time ever.

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Redux of coalition dynamics

This victory in Odisha showcases Modi’s and the BJP’s continued appeal in parts of India, reflecting a successful penetration into regions previously dominated by other parties. This is also true, to a lesser extent, of Kerala. Here, the BJP has opened its innings with a convincing win in Thrissur for the very first time.

But the most astonishing regional result has been in Andhra Pradesh. Here, the erstwhile Chief Minister of the undivided state, Chandrababu Naidu, is now back in the saddle. His Telugu Desam Party (TDP) has won 135 out of 175 seats. But equally significantly, Naidu has bagged sixteen out of twenty-five Lok Sabha constituencies. Will this make him the real kingmaker in the days to come?

Without doubt, Naidu emerges as one of the unequivocal winners in these elections. Having led the TDP to a triumphant return in Andhra Pradesh, Naidu has re-established himself as a formidable force in both state and national politics. His success is not merely in electoral terms but also in his potential influence over the national government formation.

The NDA’s dependence on TDP support gives Naidu considerable leverage, allowing him to negotiate power-sharing and policy formulations at the Centre — all the more remarkable because he spent decades in the political wilderness, even a brief stint in jail.

No full stops

This proves beyond doubt that there are no full stops not only in India but in Indian politics.

The other key player in the North is the artful dodger, Nitish Kumar of Bihar, who has changed sides several times to save his skin. Kumar may prove to be another pivotal figure in this electoral saga. His party, Janata Dal (United), while not as dramatically victorious as Naidu’s TDP, still holds substantial sway with twelve out of forty seats in Bihar.

Kumar’s history of shifting alliances demonstrates his pragmatic approach to politics, driven by a keen sense of survival and influence rather than rigid ideological commitments. In the current scenario, he could critically affect the stability and composition of the central government, thereby rendering him a crucial player and a winner in terms of political relevance.

The other big winners include Mamata Banerjee, the All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo in Bengal. She retains twenty-nine of the forty-two seats in this key Eastern state. But the biggest upset was in India’s largest and most powerful state, the 200 million-plus Uttar Pradesh.

Rahul Gandhi, a senior leader of India's main opposition Congress party, waves as he arrives at the party headquarters in New Delhi, India, June 4, 2024. Image Credit: Reuters

Wind reversed

Let me admit that I was totally mistaken when I hazarded a guess that the BJP would bag as many as seventy out of the eighty seats. It was only as the voting progressed that I realised that the wind was blowing in a contrary direction.

UP, then, has led the pushback against the Modi juggernaut. Here, the biggest beneficiary, even giant-killer, is the Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP). He has scored thirty-seven to the BJP’s thirty-three. This brings me to the real “hero” of the elections, someone who has been dubbed “zero” over and over again.

Yes, I am referring to Rahul Gandhi. He won handsomely from both South (Wayanad) and North (Raebareli), with margins of over 3 lakh votes in each constituency. Of course, the Congress party is still far from power at the centre, but it cannot be written off either — far from the BJP’s slogan of “Congress-mukt” or Congress-free India.

Just a line, in closing, on the exit polls, which were proved to be comprehensively wrong. Here, the so-called “science” of psephology was outwitted by the ordinary voting public.

As to who is the real winner of these elections, no prizes for guessing that it is the people of India. Indian democracy, thankfully, is as vibrant and robust as ever.

Despite its gargantuan size and enormous diversity, India is one of the greatest experiments in democracy in human history.