The opposition Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA), meanwhile, has done unexpectedly well, belying just about every exit poll prediction. The alliance is winning in 233 seats (including leads), with the Congress party, which had struggled to cross the 50 mark in the previous two elections, in the vanguard and within kissing distance of the 100 mark.

While the performance by the Congress was creditable relative to the last two elections, the real show stealers in the INDIA bloc were regional parties Samajwadi Party, Trinamool Congress and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, which along with smaller contributions from Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena and Sharad Pawar’s NCP bagged more than a hundred seats, and propelled the alliance’s total to 233. It may not form the government but after a decade, the country is likely to have a strong opposition, provided the alliance holds and there are no defections.

In Uttar Pradesh, which sends the most MPs—80—to the Lok Sabha, the Samajwadi Party turned the tables on the BJP, with the alliance winning 43 of the 80 seats (including leads). In 2019, the NDA had won 64 seats in the state. In Maharashtra, which has the next highest number of MPs—the Congress, NCP and Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena took 29 seats (including leads)—the NDA had won 41 seats in 2019. In Bengal, where national partners Congress, the Left and the Trinamool Congress fought each other, Mamata Banerjee’s party increased its seat count by seven to 29 (including leads). In Tamil Nadu, the alliance was leading in all the 39 seats (including leads) with the DMK at the forefront again.

While the political chaos in Maharashtra meant the elections would be unpredictable, it is Uttar Pradesh, at the heart of the BJP’s big Ram Mandir pitch, that has thrown up the biggest surprise. The Ram Mandir was not the primary election issue, as the BJP had hoped it would be, and as Mint had reported last month. Indeed, most voters across states, and more specifically Uttar Pradesh, did not cite the Ram Mandir as an election issue. The BJP’s overreliance on what it believed to be its trump card clearly has not paid off.

In the end, the unkindest cut for the BJP came from Ayodhya. The saffron party lost to the SP in the Faizabad seat, of which Ayodhya is a part. This is despite building the Ram temple, an airport, a railway station and an expressway; despite the temple corridor, five-star hotels and the influx of tourists and the money they brought along; and despite the Yogi Adityanath government’s focus on law and order and a slew of welfare schemes both from the Centre and the state. What happened in the constituency mirrored the disaffection for the BJP across the state.

In a sense, 2024 has turned out to be more like a traditional Indian election, where constituencies and local factors matter as much as national narratives, unlike in 2014 and 2019, when the only question was if Narendra Modi should be prime minister.

The BJP Story

There are four big takeaways for the BJP this election.

One, Prime Minister Modi’s brand is no longer enough to win elections on its own. Modi’s popularity had peaked in 2019 in several states and to that extent, it seems to have plateaued. Nevertheless, the BJP is gaining fresh ground in states such as Telangana and Odisha, where the PM’s popularity is on the uptick, but not enough to offset losses in key states.

Two, the state leadership is equally important. Besides Gujarat, which is a Modi-Amit Shah bastion, the one state that has kept the BJP in good stead is Madhya Pradesh, where the party swept all the 29 seats. Former chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s massive popularity and his government’s welfare delivery seem to have given the BJP a big fillip there, as was evident on the ground, with voters across the board pledging their support for ‘Mamaji’, as Chouhan is fondly known. This factor was evidently missing in other heartland states such as Haryana and Rajasthan, where the BJP had done tremendously well in 2019 but has suffered serious reverses in this election, due to a diminished state leadership.

Three, the Centre’s welfare plank is a solid one, but weakens when there is an opposition party in the state that can sing the same song. In West Bengal, for instance, chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s own welfare delivery is strong enough to overshadow the Centre’s. Voters, especially women, cite her popular schemes such as Lakshmir Bhandar, more than Modi’s initiatives. The BJP had hoped to improve on its solid performance in West Bengal in 2019 but ended up losing seats.

And four, a united Opposition can pose a far greater challenge by making gains in each state, even in the absence of an overarching national narrative, as happened in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra.

“I think the verdict clearly sets out a message for course correction. The BJP will be in government but will need to be more accommodative in dealing with the Opposition while the Opposition can no longer complain about being voiceless,” said Chandrachur Singh, professor of political science at Delhi University’s Hindu College. “The verdict can be read as one that is full of mixed bags for all. For the NDA, it offers power but cautions them on future prospects, while for the Opposition it gives them a little now but perhaps brightens their prospects if they play the constructive role required of a responsible opposition.”

Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, veteran journalist and author, Narendra Modi: The Man, the Times, felt that the prime minister will have to become more accommodating with his NDA partners henceforth. “Going forward, for the survival of his government, Modi has to demonstrate skills in taking others along and forge a consensus. He will have to restart parliamentary processes like referring to Standing Committees, which were almost totally discontinued,” said Mukhopadhyay.

UP and Maharashtra

The big headline of this election is undoubtedly Uttar Pradesh. The BJP had everything going for it in the state, from a popular chief minister with a law and order record to boast of to the Ram Mandir, a decimated Opposition and a formidable win in the 2022 assembly election.

What seems to have worked against the BJP is its over-reliance on the Ram Mandir issue, as well as a lack of vacancies in government jobs, the paper leak scandal, inflation and the Agniveer scheme.

The caste configuration of constituencies and Samajwadi Party’s tactic of fielding only five candidates from the Yadav community worked in its favour, helping it secure votes beyond its core Yadav-Muslim vote bank. It made inroads into the non-Yadav OBC vote and shifted a significant chunk of the Scheduled Caste vote towards itself. Both these are vote banks that the BJP has relied on significantly.

The Congress-SP alliance also helped prevent a split in the Muslim vote, which almost en masse seems to have gone to the alliance.

“Economic issues, too, have played a major role in this verdict and PM Narendra Modi failed to construct an overarching narrative. The opposition strategy, in UP particularly, was very effective. This is Modi’s biggest electorally humbling moment,” said Mukhopadhyay.

Maharashtra, meanwhile, is more a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth. “Yahan sab khichdi bani huyi hai,” was a common lament among voters and that seems to have been reflected in the outcome as well. Ultimately, the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena and Sharad Pawar NCP outdid their rival factions. Uddhav was seen as the rightful heir of the Shiv Sena legacy, while the Pawar patriarch clearly had voter sympathy for what they perceived as a ‘betrayal’ by his nephew and NDA ally Ajit Pawar.

The Welfare Factor

As expected, every political party touted its welfare schemes during campaigning. For the NDA, ‘Suvidha’ was the buzzword this election too and is perhaps the plank that helped the BJP emerge as the single largest party, thanks to schemes offering rural houses, free rations, water, subsidized gas and cash payouts through PM Kisan Nidhi.

But unlike in 2019 when welfare gave the BJP the push to the 303 mark, 2024 was different for two reasons. One, several of these central schemes are not new, with voters having already rewarded the BJP for these in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls as well as several state elections. Voters now view these schemes as a given and not with the enthusiasm of 2019. It is in states where the BJP’s state governments have a solid welfare record to show that the BJP is benefiting from the double-engine model. Madhya Pradesh and Assam are instant examples, with voters in these states citing state government schemes such as Ladli Laxmi and Orunodoi more than the Modi government initiatives. The NDA won 10 of the 14 seats in Assam (including leads).

Secondly, that welfare is a key poll plank is now clear to all political parties and they are mastering the art of selling their programmes to the electorate, giving the BJP tough competition.

TINA Fatigue

Another factor that has been a mixed bag for the BJP is its ‘There is no alternative’ (TINA) pitch. Some voters did indeed vote for the party as they felt the absence of a national alternative. The perceived absence of a pan-India alternative to Modi meant INDIA failed to emerge as the single largest bloc.

On the other hand, it is bad news for the BJP that the TINA factor was discussed at all in this election. In 2019, it was hardly a factor, with the vote for BJP primarily a euphoric vote for Modi. The 2024 election, however, saw several voters looking for something more.

“Now we have seen Modi for 10 years and while his work has been good, one perhaps wouldn’t mind trying out a new prime minister. Today, there is no PM candidate on the other side, hence we are supporting Modi. But tomorrow, if a candidate emerges, it will not be easy for the BJP. Boredom does set in,” said Kuldeep Singh of Sehore in Madhya Pradesh, summing up the thinking of some voters in the 2024 Lok Sabha poll.

Disclaimer: This report is auto-generated from other news portal services. Realtimeindia holds no responsibility for its content.