General Elections in India 2024: Significance & Implications

by Nishith Agarwal


India stands on the precipice of a significant general election for the 18th Lok Sabha in April-May 2024, since the 17th Lok Sabha tenure ends on 16 Jun 24. Around 960 million registered voters are expected to cast their votes. 543 MPs will be elected from single- member constituencies using first-past-the-post voting. This is certainly one of the largest democratic exercises in the modern day. The major parties contesting the elections are the National Democratic Alliance, led by Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and the recently created Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (I.N.D.I.A.), comprising of 26 opposition parties. BJP has reaffirmed faith in the leadership of PM Modi, with a focus to reach out to every section of the society, including marginalised and minority communities. Modi, being the prime ministerial choice for the elections, has debuted the slogans “Modi ki guarantee” & “400 paar” (more than 400 seats) for the forthcoming elections. The I.N.D.I.A. bloc has several parties, main being the Congress, and other regional parties like the Samajwadi Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal etc. They have not decided upon their prime ministerial candidate as of now. Since the opposition has not nominated a common leader & prime ministerial candidate the lack of clarity has been adversely affecting them severley. The alliance has already faced numerous challenges during its formation, with a few major leaders parting ways, thereby weakening the alliance. The alliance has been hampered by the charges of dynasty and nepotism. Additionally, the constituent parties are unwilling to reach a conclusion regarding seat sharing since each regional party is reluctant to leave their earlier seats, citing them as their “own”.

The legislative assembly elections conducted in 5 states a few months ago, resulted in BJP victory in 3 states, Congress emerging victorious in 01 state and a regional party securing the fifth state. The results do not directly affect the Lok Sabha elections but are an indirect indicator to the “mood” of the nation. Looking at the last three elections, 262 seats are classified as safe for BJP, 72 seats where BJP ended up runners up, and hence need focus. A recent survey indicated that 78% of Indians approved of Modi’s job performance. Modi’s net approval (after deducting disapprovers) was a whopping +60, much higher than any other global politician. What is significant here is that Modi’s approval rating has been remarkably consistent since Aug 2019, a rare occurrence in current politics. Surveys conducted in Jan 24 have indicated that close to 60% of participants preferred incumbent Narendra Modi as the next prime minister, Rahul Gandhi from Congress was the second-most preferred, at 17%. It is also pertinent to note that BJP was the only party in last three and a half decades to cross the 300-mark in Lok Sabha elections held in 2019. The 5-year term stability provided by the current government is of great importance and significance to the population.

Issues likely to affect the elections

BJP has been riding the wave of ethno-nationalism and pro-Modi sway among the masses. PM Modi has been able to successfully project himself as the sole statesman responsible for all the achievements of his government over the two terms. He has been able to establish an ideological dominance which till now was not seen and heard of in the Indian electoral population. His internal politics and embodiment of consolidation of a Hindu dominated government has been well absorbed by the vast majority of Hindu population. Moreover, since he heads the most powerful single political party, as on date, in India he automatically enjoys the unquestioned authority.

Internally, his government has delivered tangible improvements in various fields like infrastructure development of highways, airports, metro, railway stations; privatisation of railways in few sectors; modernisation drives; provision of cooking gas, drinking water, sanitation, permanent dwelling units and electricity to villages; huge boost to new age industries like Drone and it’s agriculture applications; upliftment of women; revoking of Article 370; greater autonomy to J&K region; extension of free-ration to 80 million families which was started during COVID-19; digitisation and direct cash transfer of government aids to personal accounts thereby removing any leaks through intermediaries; recovery of black money from various politicians, bureaucrats; construction of Ram temple at Ayodhya; huge boost to tourism industry; etc. Overall, the common Indian is able to feel the growth and development affecting their routine life and these were never thought of being within reach during other governments. The nine key welfare programs launched by Modi have benefited 13 to 34% voters. The make-in-India thrust has opened up manufacturing sector with huge amounts of foreign investments and job opportunities in private sector. The technological growth has surpassed all previous records and global trade and service sector are witnessing a never before boost. Theses issues are a great factor for Indian electoral population. Investors have been satisfied with reduction in corporate tax rate, foreign investment ceilings have been raised in insurance and defense sectors.

Externally, this government has been able to project a tough image, both militarily and on economic front. The handling of ‘Galwaan valley’ face-off provided the much required self- pride, controlling of cross border terrorism has been extremely effective. Similarly, when the Canadian government accused India of murder of Canadian Sikh Hardeep Singh Nijjar, for alleged anti-India remarks and threats, it had a positive impact back home. It was taken as a positive step to defend Indian integrity and some even went ahead and compared the actions, if they were true, to be like the big-timers alongside US, Russia and China. An unintentional comparison takes place with actions of previous regimes in similar situations. Stability both externally and internally is the basic requirement. Economically the public has seen a constant growth rate and future appears bright at this growth rate.

Under his government India has witnessed a dramatic upsurge in self-confidence as far as image projection goes. The G20 leadership or placing the space ship on moon, all have given a huge amount of global presence and thus led to a rise in confidence level. PM Modi has been able to astutely use all state agencies to project his own image and the prominence of his personality has assumed larger than life image, too big for any opposition leader to contest. PM Modi has been successful in navigating through the global turmoil, rather use the global geopolitical cleavages, to further India’s economic interests unashamedly. His refusal to side with either Russia or Ukraine, either Israel or Hamas, China or Taiwan, and many such similar incidents while still being able to maintain a cordial and economically advantageous ties with both parties has resulted in specific benefits to Indian population. He continued importing natural gas from Russia, despite international pressure, balanced the Chinese growth in Asia with US collaboration, again to India’s benefit. Successful Indo-US ties and progress on QUAD despite holding grounds in other conflicts where the US would have wanted India to be aligned differently, has led the Indians to believe that we have been successful in positioning India on global map as a unique civilisation attached with great importance in south Asia. The unthinkable achievement of landing spacecraft on moon, announcement of ‘Gaganyaan’ project have again provided a common Indian a sense of pride which was hitherto missing on a global platform.

PM Modi has astutely engaged with all global great powers, US, Rusia, China, while maintaining their own interests and motives in the forefront. The world order that India desires has space enough for all great powers and regional powers to collaborate towards global benefits. India has been able to develop respectful relationships with all major powers, boosting economy and creating opportunities. Bilateral relations with major powers have been of great assistance towards booting development and international stature. It has opened new vistas for the public, opportunities within and abroad as well. The remittances from these NRIs has been extremely encouraging.

The opposition bloc has been unsuccessful in projecting an alternative vision for governing distinguishing itself from BJP. They have projected only one motto-“anti-Modi” which does not auger well regarding their statesmanship, rather works in favour of BJP and Modi. On the other hand, in their election manifesto, BJP has come out with schemes for the benefit of the people, economic growth, infrastructure upgradations, global engagements, etc. Having been unable to reach a consensus leader, the alliance bloc has not been able to grab the confidence of the common Indian. A recent survey indicated that Indians believe that the alliance will not last long till the elections also. Constituent parties of the alliance must forego their own seats for better candidates to contest against BJP candidates for the alliance to spring surprises. At many constituencies the voters are not in favour of incumbent MPs and this may adversely affect the alliance.

A significant feature that has been working in favour of BJP is their social media campaigns which have propelled Modi to a “stratospherically popularity”. Setting aside the privileges of incumbent government powers, the opposition has failed to grab opportunities and occasions when they could have brought out “not so successful issues” of the BJP government. They have maintained a “tomb-like” silence and have been more reactive rather than active and hence they were unable to utilise those chances. The scam pertaining to Electoral Bond Scheme is one such example. The opposition has just not been able to bring out the facts of the mammoth corruption that is hidden beneath the seemingly innocent scheme. Similarly, the gradual shift of judiciary towards a religious fundamentalism, signing off many decisions with cultural and religious flavour, utilisation of state agencies to target opposition leaders, etc have never been spoken about by the opposition. On the other hand, the BJP digital team has been quick and smart in showcasing anything and everything as BJP success. The Modi government has worked overtime to propagate the idea that India has transitioned from being a “balancing power” to a “leading one”. Modi’s name, BJP’s strength, and the lack of opposition are a leading indication of the likelihood of BJP returning to power for the 3rd term.

Likely Trends for BJP’s 3rd consecutive term

If elected to power for the 3rd term, BJP will aim to finish the unfinished business. The most prominent agenda points for the 3rd term of BJP will be along cultural lines. The thrust for sustained economic growth will be visible, make-in-India and promotion of start-ups towards self-reliance will be boosted. The government will be looking for creating job opportunities and promotion to manufacturing units in private sector. BJP has promised that India will become the third largest economy in the next 5 years, upto 2029. Infrastructure will continue to be developed at a rapid pace. Nationalist sentiments and openness to friendly relations with regional and global powers will be promoted. Multi-alignment foreign policy will be further strengthened and opportunities to capture manufacturing and service sector will be generated in various states.

Investors expect a boost in foreign direct investment (FDI) due to growth and stability opportunities. Moreover, with current geopolitical situation, firms desirous of moving out of China and looking for alternatives for their manufacturing hub, are being lured to India. The 3rd term is likely to see the enactment of new labour law and other infrastructure improvements to attract FDI. Investors are also hopeful of a single GST rate instead of current five GST rates. With gradual privatization of public sector agencies like Air India, investors are hopeful of more privatization in the fields of banks and other services. As per records of last three general elections in India, post elections the Indian stock market has seen a consistent positive return, 2004 (16.1%), 2009 (38.7%) and 2014 (14.7%), over the one-year period after election result dates. Hence, this investment before election can be strategically advantageous.

Another important consideration to be borne in mind is that the national census is scheduled in 2026. This will redefine the constituencies and representation of various regions in Lok Sabha based om the population of various states. The southern states have a very low fertility rate as compared to few of the northern states, although they have lesser representation in the Lok Sabha vis-à-vis southern states, i.e. Kerala (population 28 million) has a higher representation than Bihar (population 95 million). This redistribution of seats in Lok Sabha will have a significant change and alter the power dynamics of the states, resulting in major changes in policy directions, as well. This is likely to have a huge impact in governance and policy formulations for future.