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Narendra Modi was sworn in on June 8 as the Prime Minister of India for a third consecutive term, a feat matched only by India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru of the Congress Party. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had insisted that it would win 400 seats in the lower house of the parliament (which would have empowered it to amend the Indian Constitution), but it actually lost 63 seats as well as its majority status, foiling its ability to form a new government on its own. Twenty BJP Union Ministers lost their seats in the Parliament. By the end of the vote count on June 4, it was clear that substantial sections of Hindu voters had also rejected the BJP. The BJP won an outright majority in 2014 and 2019, but it governed in a coalition known as the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). In 2024, Modi had to turn to his partners in the NDA to form a government. Two key partners are the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) from Andhra Pradesh, headed by Chandra Babu Naidu, and Janata Dal (United) (JDU) from Bihar, headed by Nitish Kumar. 

India’s religious minorities and human rights organizations in India and abroad welcomed this historic outcome with cautious optimism. They hope the BJP’s coalition partners will moderate its authoritarian tendencies and address human rights issues. 

When the Opposition Was Right 

In the weeks leading up to the election, the BJP left no stone unturned in pursuing its goal of “400 paar” (400-plus seats), including arresting opposition leaders, freezing the Congress party’s bank accounts, aggressively promoting divisive narratives as well as disinformation about its opponents, intimidating the independent media, appointing loyalists to the Election Commission of India (ECI), and spewing hate speech against Muslims. Modi himself declared in a campaign rally in Rajasthan that India’s 200 million Muslims are “infiltrators.”  

The opposition capitalized on a gap between Modi’s rhetoric and the failure of his government to deliver on its promises.

India’s ECI has been recognized in the past for impartially administering the world’s largest and most complex elections by implementing a Model Code of Conduct and calling out violations by candidates. But this time, the ECI openly displayed its allegiance to the BJP; it failed to act on mounting violations by Modi and his supporters. This shift came after the Rajya Sabha passed a bill making the ECI more partisan during a winter session where Parliament leaders had suspended two-thirds of Indian opposition Members of Parliament. This action added to the widespread expectation, even among Modi’s detractors, that the BJP would win the election with a thumping majority. So, when the exit polls were published on June 1, predicting that the BJP would win over 350 seats, most were unsurprised. However, the opposition “INDIA” alliance, led by the Congress party, rejected the polls and maintained that the elections would be close. As it turned out, they were right.

The Gap Between Rhetoric and Government Policies 

Modi is known within and outside India as the most business-friendly prime minister because he has overseen record GDP growth rates in the Indian economy. However, several experts, such as the former Chief Statistician in the Indian government, have questioned those GDP figures. Some have even accused the Modi government of deliberately inflating the numbers. Critics contend that much of the growth over the last decade has been jobless growth, predominantly from infrastructure projects pushed by Modi, such as highways, trains, airports, ports, shopping malls, and government buildings. They say that the GDP growth numbers during the COVID years had not fully considered the substantial shrinking of the informal sector, representing over 90 percent of the Indian workforce and 50 percent of the GDP.

The exclusive focus on GDP, in order to claim that India is the fastest-growing economy, has painted a glitzy facade to the benefit of the BJP’s economic policies. Most Indians, especially in rural India, are experiencing skyrocketing food prices, unprecedented unemployment, and inequality that some claim is worse than the British Raj. In a video series called Mood India, the authors documented some of these woes weeks before the elections. 

The opposition capitalized on this gap between Modi’s rhetoric and the failure of his government to deliver on its promises. Across Uttar Pradesh, the Samajwadi Party organized party workers to campaign around caste equity and economic opportunity. Their grassroots work yielded great returns on election day, with 37 wins, and catapulted this regional party to the third largest party in the country. 30 of the 63 seats lost by the BJP were in Uttar Pradesh. Many oppressed caste voters had feared that if the BJP won a supermajority, it would get rid of constitutionally guaranteed rights for their communities.

In West Bengal, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) used deep canvassing, especially in seats reserved for Dalits and Adivasis (officially called Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes), and promised economic gains that the BJP has not been able to deliver on. The TMC also assured voters that it would stop the nationwide implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). 

In Haryana and Punjab, farmers, who formed a powerful voting block, backed parties that promised to raise the minimum support price for crops and invest in agriculture to help farmers get out of debt. Two waves of protests mobilized voters, in 2021 and 2024 respectively, against the Modi government’s proposed farm laws that attempted to liberalize the agricultural sector.

In the states of Mizoram, Manipur, and Nagaland, and Chhattisgarh, Adivasis turned against the BJP as a result of violence targeting Adivasi Christians, especially during the prolonged conflict in Manipur. 

An Opportunity for Human Rights Organizations 

The rebuke at the polls is unlikely to change BJP’s anti-minority behavior significantly. The leadership of most key ministries remains unchanged. Notably, the Home Ministry will remain under Amit Shah, who was previously arrested in connection with an alleged extrajudicial police killing but all charges against whom were dropped after Modi came to power. As Home Minister, he has been quick to weaponize anti-terrorism and anti-corruption laws to go after Modi’s critics, many of whom are in jail without bail or under constant threat from internal security, immigration, or tax authorities.  

Notwithstanding, Muslims feel a sense of relief after seeing that a large section of Hindus voted against the BJP. They are also encouraged by assurances by the JDU, which has declared that it will not allow anti-Muslim campaigns, and by the TDP, which has assured that Andhra Pradesh’s policy of four percent reservations for Muslims in education and employment will not change. Likewise, the wave of resistance to Modi from caste-oppressed communities seems to have worked, giving them newfound political and social capital. Opposition leaders representing these communities can lean on Kumar and Naidu to support their causes, including a nationwide caste census.

Many oppressed caste voters had feared that if the BJP won a supermajority, it would get rid of constitutionally guaranteed rights for their communities.

Most importantly, this election has pierced Modi’s aura of invincibility and will likely embolden his critics to speak out louder against his government’s excesses. It has also opened up a unique opportunity for human rights organizations in India and the diaspora to widen their alliances and push the envelope in challenging the BJP’s human rights violations. 

Indian civil society and the independent media will more firmly oppose the BJP’s draconian laws, such as the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and the discriminatory CAA, and will renew calls to release all political prisoners arrested under the UAPA. The legal community is already raising questions about the new set of criminal laws rammed through the 2023 Lok Sabha Winter Session by the BJP without any debate.

In the United States, the elections have boosted morale for lawmakers and human rights organizations to reiterate their call to the U.S. government to emphasize human rights in its engagements with India. Until now, President Joseph Biden’s complete silence on Modi’s anti-minority practices has only emboldened the BJP government to continue its discriminatory agenda against Muslims. The failure to call out Modi directly is perhaps due to Washington’s fear of alienating an Indo-Pacific partner who has been deemed the world’s most popular leader. The election results provide a powerful rebuke to the mirage of Modi’s popularity and will hopefully lead Biden’s administration to rethink its public silence.

Now, human rights organizations can point to their partners in India, as well as the mandate given to India’s civil society and opposition, to urge the U.S. government to uphold democratic and human rights values within the deepening U.S.-India economic and security relationship. The U.S. President has the power to implement visa bans and sanctions on individuals like Yogi Adityanath, who has been accused of gross human rights violations, and the Indian government officials who the New York Department of Justice has alleged were involved in attempting to kill a U.S. citizen on American soil. The U.S. can leverage trade and arms deals to demand that the Indian government respect the human rights of all Indians.

The election outcome in India also provides a basis for a fresh call to the Hindu Indian American community to reconsider their support for the divisive policies of the Modi government and to support efforts to strengthen India’s democratic institutions. Hindu Indian Americans should take a cue from Indian voters and begin to speak out against the politics of hate.

Also Read: India Shining 2.0: The BJP has Lost its Luster 

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Image 1: Indian student protests via Wikimedia Commons.

Image 2: Narendra Modi Rally via Wikimedia Commons.

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