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India election results: Big wins, losses and surprises

As India’s election results become clearer, with hundreds of millions of votes counted and leads solidifying on most of the country’s 543 seats, the world’s — and history’s — largest democratic exercise appears to have thrown up some big surprises.

As counting progressed on Tuesday, the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi looked likely to fall short of the 272-seat mark that signifies a majority in the 543-member Lok Sabha, the lower house of India’s Parliament. With its allies, the BJP was still projected to win a majority. The opposition INDIA alliance, led by the Congress party, was projected to win more than 200 seats.

These numbers contrast sharply with 2019, when the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) won 353 seats, 303 of which were bagged by the BJP alone.

At the heart of this shift was a series of political tremors that appear to have reshaped India’s political landscape.

Al Jazeera tracks some of the biggest surprises and upsets, as they unfold, from the vote count.

UP: A tight Varanasi race and the rise of SP

Uttar Pradesh, a state governed by the BJP since 2017, has a total of 80 parliamentary constituencies. Being India’s most populous state with more than 240 million people, it holds the key to determining who governs in New Delhi. Moreover, both Modi and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi are contesting elections from different constituencies in the state.

In 2019, the NDA won 64 seats of which the BJP alone grabbed 62. The Congress won only one seat; the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) won 10 and the Samajwadi Party (SP) won five.

But the 2024 outcome looks very different. As of 4pm (10:30 GMT), the SP was leading in 33 seats, and the Congress in seven others — totalling 40 for the INDIA alliance.

The BJP, meanwhile, was leading in 36 seats, with its allies ahead in three other seats. Most stunningly, the BJP was trailing in Faizabad constituency, which is home to the Ram temple in Ayodhya that Modi consecrated in January. The temple, built on the ruins of the Babri mosque that was demolished by a Hindu mob in 1992, was a centrepiece of the BJP’s campaign.

Political analyst and Hindi professor Apoorvanand told Al Jazeera that the SP and the Congress worked wisely this time, adding that the chemistry between SP leader Akhilesh Yadav and Gandhi was stronger “and it perforated downwards”.

Besides securing its usual voter base — which consists of Muslims and the Yadav community — the SP expanded into other marginalised communities, Apoorvanand said. He added that growing discontent with the BJP among those below the age of 35 also contributed, making the party lose its influence in the northern state.

“I’ve been talking to the youth of all parts of UP, and they are angry with the BJP,” he added. He explained that this was due to the mismatch between the illusion of a utopia of a Hindu nation that the BJP tried to emphasise, even as the reality of rising unemployment hit voters.

“People wondered, ‘What is the point of a whole utopia of a Hindu nation if they cannot live in dignity,’” he said.

In Modi’s constituency Varanasi, Congress candidate Ajay Rai appears to have significantly eaten into the prime minister’s 2019 victory margin. Modi won the seat by 500,000 votes in 2019; he was leading by about 150,000 votes at 4pm. By contrast, Gandhi was leading in Rae Bareli, his constituency, by about 350,000 votes.

In nearby Amethi, the BJP’s Smriti Irani was also significantly trailing behind the Congress’s Kishori Lal. In 2019, Irani had won the Gandhi family bastion, unseating Rahul Gandhi, who had held the seat since 2014, by 55,000 votes.

West Bengal: Trinamool holds its fort

The key eastern state is currently governed by the opposition All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) party, commonly known as TMC, a reluctant member of the INDIA alliance.

The BJP made a significant improvement in the 2019 election compared with 2014, bagging 19 of West Bengal’s 42 parliamentary seats. The TMC won 22, while the Congress got two seats.

In advance of counting, exit polls had predicted that the BJP could win a vast majority of the state’s seats, reducing the TMC’s numbers.

But Tuesday’s leads suggested that the BJP might struggle to even replicate its 2019 performance. It was ahead on 12 seats, while the TMC led in 29. The Congress led in the remaining nine.

Kerala: How the BJP might breach its final frontier

The southern state has long been a bastion of the left – terrain where the BJP, with its Hindu majoritarian politics, has struggled to win.

That might change now. The party’s Suresh Gopi was leading by a wide margin in the Thrissur constituency and could become the BJP’s first Lok Sabha parliamentarian from Kerala.

So how did the BJP do this? In part, says political analyst Apoorvanand, by “aligning and trying to collaborate with the Islamophobic elements within the Christian communities in Kerala”.

Hindus constitute 55 percent of the state’s population, followed by Muslims at 27 percent and Christians at 18 percent. Together, the two minority groups make up nearly half – 45 percent – of the population, making them formidable forces in elections.

But in recent years, the BJP has – in addition to wooing the Hindu vote – tried to win over sections of the Christian vote by presenting the state’s Muslims as a threat, say its critics.

Apoorvanand pointed to the conspiracy theory of “love jihad” – which suggests that Muslim men are deliberately marrying women from Hindu and Christian communities to convert them to Islam. The conspiracy theory has been widely debunked. But, as Apoorvanand pointed out, it “originated from Kerala”, and some members of the Christian clergy have amplified it.

‘Politics of humiliation’: How the BJP lost Maharashtra plot

The BJP and its allies appeared on the cusp of big losses in the western state of Maharashtra, with the Congress and its partners making key gains.

According to the latest vote count, in Maharashtra, the opposition INDIA alliance – consisting of the Congress, Shiv Sena (UBT) and Nationalist Congress Party (SP) – was ahead in 27 of the state’s 48 seats. The Congress alone was leading in 10 seats, while the BJP was ahead in 14.

These results are not surprising, according to Apoorvanand, even though exit polls had predicted a big win for the BJP and its allies in the state.

Apoorvanand attributed the outcome to “the way BJP performed in the past five years, humiliating parties and state leaders”. He said the BJP’s “politics of humiliation” bred discontent for the party among voters.

Traditionally, the BJP has partnered with the regional Shiv Sena party. But over the past five years, that alliance broke down, and critics accused the BJP of orchestrating a fracture within the Shiv Sena.

“That was the last thing the people of Maharashtra could bear,” Apoorvanand said. “What we are expecting in Maharashtra applies to the rest of India, which is some kind of normalcy in politics.”

Karnataka: BJP bent, not broken

In 2019, the BJP won 25 out of Karnataka’s 28 parliamentary constituencies, while two other NDA-affiliated candidates also won. The Congress won just one seat.

And though the Congress won elections to the state legislature last year, exit polls had predicted a repeat of the 2019 verdict, especially with the BJP also tying up with the regional Janata Dal (Secular) party.

Yet leads so far paint a very different picture. The BJP is still poised to emerge as the biggest winner, leading in 16 seats, with the JD(S) ahead in two constituencies. But the Congress is leading in 10 constituencies.

“The stronghold of the BJP still remains in coastal states such as Mangalore [Mangaluru], where they have not lost ground,” said Apoorvanand. The key takeaway? “The BJP base is eroded but not completely lost influence,” he said.

Karnataka is crucial for the BJP. It is the only southern state where Modi’s party has ever won.


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