The Success of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2019 Indian General Election

Far-right parties around the world have been increasing their votes in recent years. This is also the case in India. Indian general elections in 2019 ended with a landslide victory for Narendra Modi’s far-right party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The party won 303 out of 542 seats and increased its parliamentary majority. The success of the BJP is not a new situation. The party won 284 seats in 2014, more than 272 seats, which required to be the majority in the Indian parliament. In fact, the BJP is the first party in India to achieve such electoral success in the past three decades.[1]

The lingering question is how a far-right party can be so successful. One part of the success of the BJP is being able to create a common enemy, in this case, religious minorities. In Modi’s India, the minorities are often represented as the source of the problems in the country. Hindu nationalists even blame Muslims for the Covid-19 crisis in India for coming together to practice their religious beliefs.[2] The majority of the population, on the other hand, is portrayed as victims of the liberal and secular elite. Those who criticize the government are also marginalized for being “anti-Indian”.[3]

The economy is an important part of Indian politics as it is in every country. The Vikas (progress/development) rhetoric was one of the important factors for Modi to win the election in 2014.[4] Modi’s economic model consists of “circumventing labour laws”, “ignoring environmental protection”, and “promoting big capital” in order to compete with more powerful capitalist states.[5] The economic problems, such as rising unemployment and inflation, were the main concerns in India just before the 2019 elections. Moreover, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic worsens these economic problems.[6]

As the economic problems increased, Modi’s policies have slipped into a Hindu-nationalist line rather than economic growth. A terrorist attack in the Kashmir region also changed Modi’s policies and contributed to his re-election. The Pakistani militant group Jaish-E-Mohammad claimed responsibility for the attack in February 2019, in which 44 Indian paramilitary personnel were killed. After the attack, Modi sent warplanes to the camps of the organization.[7] Thus, he showed that he was a strong leader who can deal with these “terrorists”.

It is no secret that Modi enjoys his triumphs for Hindu nationalists and therefore, the government has adopted security-based policies. There is a state-sponsored Hindutva (political Hindu nationalism) in the country. The government did not only react armed to the forces it opposes but also stripped the country’s only Muslim-majority state, Jammu and Kashmir, of its autonomy and implemented citizenship check in the northeastern state of Assam, leaving millions of Muslims without citizenship.[8] Moreover, these Muslims could not vote in the elections since their names were deleted from electoral rolls.[9] Modi’s security-based approach to current problems indicates that these problems will escalate in time. Moreover, the resurgence of related problems will strengthen the career of “strong man” Modi.

Although there will be a long time before the 2024 elections, Modi seems to be a front-runner. One of the important reasons for this situation is the fragmented nature of the opposition. Although it has been 14 months after Rahul Gandhi, the full-time leader of the opposition, resigned following last year’s electoral defeat, there is still a lack of leadership in the main opposition party, the Indian National Congress.[10] This situation shows that Modi will continue to be an important figure not only in India but also in world politics.

In sum, Modi is a type of politician who assigns responsibilities to minorities for the problems in the country, uses the security problems for his interests, implements racist policies, and takes advantage of the lack of strong opposition in the country. The best approach that can be applied against a populist and far-right leader like Modi is to strengthen the civil society institutions in the country. In this way, there will be institutions that will counter human rights violations in the country. Moreover, Hindus themselves also need to raise their voices against these Islamophobic and ultra-nationalist policies that are implemented for their “safety” by Modi.


[1] Becky Dale-Christine Jeavans, “India General Election 2019: What Happened?”, BBC, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-48366944, (Date of Accession: 02.02.2021); Kunal Chattopadhyay, “Why Has India Embraced the Far-Right?”, Tribune, https://tribunemag.co.uk/2019/06/why-has-india-embraced-the-far-right, (Date of Accession: 02.02.2021).

[2] Joanna Slater -Niha Masih, “As the World Looks for Coronavirus Scapegoats, Muslims are Blamed in India”, The Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/as-world-looks-for-coronavirus-scapegoats-india-pins-blame-on-muslims/2020/04/22/3cb43430-7f3f-11ea-84c2-0792d8591911_story.html, (Date of Accession: 03.02.2021).

[3] Dibyesh Anand, “Modi’s Election Win is A Victory for Far-Right Hindu Nationalism-India’s Secular Democracy is Under Threat”, The Independent, https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/india-general-election-narendra-modi-bjp-hindu-nationalism-a8926831.html, (Date of Accession: 02.02.2021).

[4] Hayati Ünlü, “2019 Hindistan Genel Seçimleri ve ‘Yeni Hindistan’ Tartışmaları”, Anadolu Agency, https://www.aa.com.tr/tr/analiz/2019-hindistan-genel-secimleri-ve-yeni-hindistan-tartismalari/1490235, (Date of Accession: 03.02.2021).

[5] Chattopadhyay, op. cit.  

[6] Koustav Das, “How Years of Jobless Growth Have Come Back To Haunt India During Covid-19 Pandemic”, India Today, https://www.indiatoday.in/business/story/how-years-of-jobless-growth-have-come-back-to-haunt-india-during-covid-19-pandemic-1720748-2020-09-11, (Date of Accession: 04.02.2021); Koustav Das, “5 Hurdles in Path of India’s Economic Recovery”, India Today, https://www.indiatoday.in/business/story/indian-economic-slowdown-challenges-unemployment-coronavirus-inflation-demand-1713197-2020-08-20, (Date of Accession: 04.02.2021).

[7] Zahid Rafiq, “Over 270 Deaths Reported in Kashmir in First 6 Months”, Anadolu Agency, https://www.aa.com.tr/en/asia-pacific/over-270-deaths-reported-in-kashmir-in-first-6-months/1530051, (Date of Accession: 04.02.2021); Abu Arqam Naqash-Sanjeev Miglani, “India Launches Air Strike in Pakistan; Islamabad Denies Militant Camp Hit”, Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-india-kashmir-pakistan-idUSKCN1QF07B, (Date of Accession: 04.02.2021).

[8] Tara John, “Has India’s Narendra Modi Gone Too Far with Controversial New Citizenship Law?”, CNN, https://edition.cnn.com/2019/12/18/india/modi-india-protest-citizenship-law-intl/index.html, (Date of Accession: 05.02.2021).

[9] Chattopadhyay, op. cit.

[10] Kunal Purohit, “Who is India PM Narendra Modi and Why is He So Popular?”, This Week in Asia, https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/explained/article/3097840/who-india-pm-narendra-modi-and-why-he-so-popular, (Date of Accession: 05.02.2021).

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Hüseyin Pusat KILDİŞ
Hüseyin Pusat KILDİŞ
Hüseyin Pusat KILDİŞ was born in 1994 in Adana. He completed his primary and high school education in Osmaniye. Kıldiş, who graduated from Gazi University International Relations Department in 2016, has been continuing his graduate education at Gazi University in the Department of Middle East and African Studies since 2017 and writes on "Syrian Refugees and the Rising Far Right in Europe". During his undergraduate studies, Kıldiş did his internship at the Economic Development Foundation in Istanbul, he did Erasmus internship at TÜSİAD in Brussels and an internship at ANKASAM strategic analysis center in Ankara. The author studies immigration, Islamophobia, the far right and the European Union.

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