Will India’s COVID-19 crisis impact Modi’s chances in the 2024 general elections?
Aliza Qaisar, Senior Analyst
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lost the key West Bengal Legislative Assembly election after an aggressive campaign involving mass political rallies, which have been blamed for India’s COVID-19 crisis. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was on the forefront of campaigning in the state and led several rallies, including one in which he was seen without a mask. Given the BJP’s loss in West Bengal, and criticism of the government’s handling of COVID-19, will Modi be able to retain power for a third term?
Outcome of the 2021 Elections
West Bengal is one of the few states where the BJP does not have a parliamentary majority – however, the BJP still won 77 of 294 seats there, a substantial gain over its previous win of just three seats in the 2016 elections. While the party retained power in Assam and its alliance won in Puducherry, it was defeated in state elections in both Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
In Kerala, the BJP had hoped to win at least six seats, five more than it won in 2016. However, the party did not win a single seat. In Tamil Nadu, the BJP contested 20 seats, of which it won four, marking its entry into the state. The BJP’s gain in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal as well as its win in Assam and Puducherry are not substantial enough to ensure the party’s victory in the 2024 elections.
The BJP motivates its supporters through a conservative Hindu nationalist ideology and has used the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to consolidate the Hindu voter base. Modi is a long-time member of the RSS and has used its influence to implement Hindu nationalist policies in his tenure. However, the central government’s poor handling of COVID-19, coupled with the pandemic’s impact on the economy could weaken support from the BJP’s electorate of primarily Hindu voters.
COVID-19 and the economy
The challenge ahead for Modi is to revive India’s pandemic-stricken economy over the next two years by minimising the growing socioeconomic inequality in the country and reducing unemployment. The rapid rise in COVID-19 cases threatens the country’s nascent economic recovery made in the first quarter of 2021 and poses a severe risk to the growth outlook for the economy.
Avoiding another national lockdown requires intensifying vaccination efforts and ensuring hospitals across the country receive sufficient oxygen supplies. So far, authorities have administered approximately 153 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, covering only a fraction of India’s population of 1.3 billion. Migrant workers, stranded in cities during the country’s nationwide lockdown in 2020, have already begun to flee cities fearing another lockdown. This is likely to create a shortage of labour in industrial cities, further worsening the country’s economic outlook.
West Bengal’s third-time Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is now positioned to head an opposition coalition to challenge the BJP in the 2024 parliamentary elections. If this coalition manifests and can consolidate itself into a strong and unified force to challenge Modi with a clear vision and roadmap leading up to the 2024 elections, Modi may be removed from power.
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