India: After a Big Election Win, Modi and the BJP Can Turn to Economic Challenges

4 MINS READMay 23, 2019 | 21:43 GMT
The Big Picture

India, a rising military and economic power with a burgeoning population, is at a pivotal moment. It faces myriad economic challenges including sluggish job creation and lagging investments. Now, a major electoral win gives the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and Prime Minister Narendra Modi the mandate they need to tackle the politically challenging land and labor reforms needed to unleash labor-intensive growth in Asia's third-largest economy.

What Happened

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) earned another five years in power with a decisive victory in India's general elections. The BJP is expected to win 300 of the 542 contested seats in the Lok Sabha, the Parliament's lower house; just 272 seats were needed for a majority. The Indian National Congress meanwhile is expected to win just 50 or so seats. Modi declared victory while Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi conceded defeat.

The BJP retained its presence in its strongholds of northern and western India. This includes facing down a challenge in Uttar Pradesh, the country's most politically consequential state, where an unlikely alliance between two bitter regional rival parties failed to stop the BJP from winning a majority of the state's 80 seats. The BJP also expanded its share of seats in eastern India's West Bengal and Odisha, states dominated by powerful regional parties, though it still won only a minority of votes there. Enhancing the scope of the BJP's victory were gains by the various parties belonging to the BJP's National Democratic Alliance umbrella group, which picked up around 45 extra seats on top of the BJP's wins. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, which governed India for a decade until its 2014 defeat, has won around 80 seats overall, leaving a host of other parties accounting for the rest.

Why It Matters

Modi's victory points to a major shift in Indian politics. The BJP is the first party besides Congress to win back-to-back majorities in its own right. This indicates the center of gravity in Indian politics is moving away from Congress, historically the dominant political party that spearheaded the independence movement against British rule, and toward the BJP.

Modi has transformed Indian national elections from party-based to personality-based contests. By pitching himself as the kind of strong and visionary leader India needs during a pivotal moment in the country's rise, he overwhelmed the opposition, a hodgepodge of parties that lacked any similarly powerful persona to place against Modi.

The center of gravity in Indian politics is moving away from Congress, historically the dominant political party that spearheaded the independence movement against British rule, and toward the BJP.

The opposition tried to pin Modi's administration on its mixed economic record by citing slowing growth, high unemployment and unrest among farmers. But Modi commanded the narrative, convincing voters that his party's solutions to these problems were better than those offered by Congress. He also made much of the BJP's firm posture on national security in the aftermath of launching airstrikes against Pakistan in February.

Investor confidence drove a surge in India's SENSEX stock market index in anticipation of the results, breaching the 40,000 point mark for the first time, but it lost the gains just as quickly over persistent concerns about the economic challenges that will consume Modi's attention. These include resolving a liquidity crunch tied to a shadow banking crisis and lagging exports, consumption and investment. They also include the need to secure additional oil supplies amid geopolitical tensions between the United States and Iran. Modi's new majority, however, will help him navigate these economic challenges.


India's general elections took place in seven phases from April 11 through May 19. They recorded a 67 percent turnout among nearly 900 million voters, an all-time high. The BJP espouses themes of Hindu nationalism and a muscular foreign policy, while Congress is perceived as a secular, center-left party deriving support from India's myriad minority groups, including the country's large Muslim population.

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