Ab ki baar, chaar so paar!” Over the last six months, millions of Bharatiya Janata (Indian People’s) Party (BJP) supporters reveled in their party’s official slogan for the 2024 Indian parliamentary elections, bellowing it at rallies and meetings across the country. The phrase roughly translates to “This time around, we’ll get over 400 seats!”—a swaggering proclamation that radiated inevitability.

In the run-up to the election, the BJP’s preening seemed at least somewhat justified. The 400+ goal felt audacious, but always felt possible—at times, even certain. The party’s electoral coalition emerged out of the last parliamentary election in 2019 with 352 seats (303 for the BJP alone)—a powerful mandate in the 543-seat chamber that put 400 seats within close reach. Polls pointed to another decisive victory, giving even more ballast to the slogan. And, most of all, at the helm of the BJP sits Narendra Modi, who’s among the most charismatic, magnetic, and indomitable politicians that India has ever seen.

Much has been written about Modi’s decade as prime minister. His Hindu nationalist politics, which has turned hundreds of millions of Indian Muslims into targets of the state, are well-known, as is his evisceration of Indian civil society. It’s clear what a third consecutive landslide win would have facilitated: an era of unipolar, one-party politics, where Modi’s already significant capture of state institutions would deepen to the extent that BJP machinery became fully indistinguishable from everyday bureaucratic governance. It would have been a tripling down on the repression that has become so normalized throughout Indian society: more opposition political leaders and journalists thrown into jail; more state-sanctioned vigilante violence targeting religious, caste, and cultural minorities; more capture of bureaucratic institutions; and more crackdowns on dissenting speech.

This grim scenario began to seem like a reality on June 1, with the official release of exit polls. Numerous polls promised a remarkable showing for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the electoral coalition headed by the BJP. Almost all of them had the NDA surpassing the 350-seat mark, and some even had the group edging close to 400. All of India’s mainstream news channels (which have effectively devolved into mouthpieces for the BJP) went into a manic frenzy—casting aside any pretense of objectivity and adopting a tone of open celebration. Slowly, the news of the exit polls reached Western media outlets, who rushed to forecast a thumping reelection victory for the prime minister and his party.

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