The kingmakers and surprise winners of India's Lok Sabha elections 2024

BJP's surprise failure to secure majority means regional allies and opposition parties have gained influence

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi next to Telugu Desam Party leader N Chandrababu Naidu, center, and Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar during a meeting at the prime minister's residence in New Delhi on June 5. AP
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India's regional political leaders and their parties have emerged as kingmakers after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party failed to win a simple majority in the country's parliamentary elections.

The BJP fought the elections for the 543 seats of Lok Sabha – the lower house of Parliament – in partnership with the National Democratic Alliance against the main opposition Indian National Congress-led INDIA bloc.

But Mr Modi's party, which achieved an absolute majority in 2014 and 2019, failed to cross the majority mark of 272, after securing 240 seats.

Mr Modi has since announced the BJP will form a government for a third consecutive term with the help of its allies in the NDA, which is a coalition of 41 parties.

His new reliance on coalition partners has significantly boosted their position in India.

The BJP is by far the biggest party in the NDA, but two of the others have enough seats to be able to break up the coalition – the Janata Dal (United) party from the eastern state of Bihar, and the Telugu Desam Party in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.

The opposition's above-expected performance has also strengthened their hand, giving them stronger numbers to attempt to form a coalition if Mr Modi's NDA breaks apart, and has produced some surprise winners.

Here are the potential kingmakers and surprise winners in the elections.

Nara Chandrababu Naidu

Nara Chandrababu Naidu, a veteran politician who is the former chief minister of the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, has emerged as the biggest kingmaker in this year’s Lok Sabha elections.

Mr Naidu, 74, is leader of the Telugu Desam Party, which joined the NDA alongside Mr Modi's BJP before the election.

The TDP performed well, winning 16 of the 25 seats in Andhra Pradesh.

Mr Naidu has extended support to Mr Modi to form a government. However, his support has come with conditions, including demands for meaty cabinet portfolios such as health, transport, agriculture ministries and the Speaker’s post for his party leaders.

The Speaker is a constitutional and ceremonial head of the lower house of the Parliament and the post usually goes to the ruling alliance while the Deputy Speaker’s post is conventionally held by a member of the opposition party.

Mr Naidu is known to be an astute politician and has been a pivotal political figure in Andhra Pradesh for nearly five decades.

He started as a student leader with the Indian National Congress, the current largest opposition party, in the 1970s before joining the TDP founded by his father-in-law NT Rama Rao, a prominent actor-turned-politician.

He has played a pivotal role in the success of the party as well as the development of Andhra Pradesh, serving as the state's chief minister from 1995 to 2004 and 2014 to 2019.

Mr Naidu played an important role in transforming Hyderabad, then the capital of Andhra Pradesh, into an IT hub attracting global tech giants such as Microsoft. He also pushed initiatives such as rural development programmes.

In 1999, he was named ‘South Asian of the Year’ by Time magazine.

Mr Naidu joined hands with the BJP in 2014 but pulled out ahead of state elections in 2018.

He was arrested last year in an alleged scam but after nearly two months in jail, he was granted bail in November.

He rejoined the NDA alliance for general elections and his party has emerged as a key player in the soon-to-be-formed coalition government.

His party also won the state legislative elections that were conducted simultaneously to the national vote. Mr Naidu is expected to be sworn in as chief minister of Andhra Pradesh for the fourth time.

Nitish Kumar

The election results leave the BJP also dependent on another of its partners in the NDA, the Janata Dal (United) party.

It is based in the eastern state of Bihar, where it won 12 out of 40 seats.

Its leader, Nitish Kumar, has been chief minister of Bitar since 2000 and is one of the most influential regional leaders in India.

An ambitious politician who is from the community of tillers, which is identified as a socially and educationally "backward" class in the Indian society, Mr Kumar has been known to have long harboured the dream of becoming the Prime Minister.

A known opportunist, he was instrumental in forming the Congress-led INDIA bloc, the main opposition alliance formed to fight against Mr Modi's BJP in the election. However, as the ballot approached, Mr Kumar changed tack and joined forces with the BJP to contest the polls as part of the NDA.

He now has demands for his party's continued support, including the post of Speaker.

Rahul Gandhi

Although Mr Modi has won a third term as Prime Minister, the opposition outshone pre-election expectations and claimed a "moral victory".

Indian National Congress leader Rahul Gandhi is seen as the main challenger to Mr Modi and has received a boost from the results.

The 53-year-old leader contested from Wayanad in the southern state of Kerala and from his family bastion Raebareli in northern Uttar Pradesh state.

He won Wayanad by more than 364,000 votes against BJP’s state president K Surendran, while defeating Dinesh Pratap Singh from BJP in Rae Bareli in Uttar Pradesh by 400,000 votes.

He looks set to vacate the Wayanad seat and retain Rae Bareli.

Mr Gandhi stepped down as the Congress president after the party’s crushing defeat in the 2019 national election amid criticism that he lacked the political acumen to defeat Mr Modi.

Congress leaders and workers blamed his reluctant leadership as a reason for the election debacle and demanded a need for robust strategy and an organisational overhaul of the party.

Mr Gandhi re-emerged with the Bharat Jodo Rally – the longest rally in the country in the last century, from Kanyakumari – the last point of India in southern Tamil Nadu in September 2022 and covered 3, 500km in varied weather for 150 days, culminating in Srinagar in Kashmir.

The rally energised party workers who had lost faith in him, propelled his image in the party and helped him form the INDIA bloc with regional parties.

His Congress party won 99 seats, gaining 47 on its 2019 results, leaving it firmly as the second-biggest party in the Lok Sabha.

Kishori Lal Sharma

One of the biggest surprise winners of this election is Kishori Lal Sharma, who fought the election for the Congress party.

Mr Sharma defeated Smriti Irani, a firebrand BJP leader and former Minister of Women and Child Development, in Amethi constituency in Uttar Pradesh.

Ms Irani had defeated Rahul Gandhi in the same constituency in 2019 by 55,000 votes.

She had scoffed at the idea of fighting against Mr Sharma, a Congress loyalist, even calling him a “personal assistant” of Mr Gandhi's.

But on Tuesday, she lost to the 62 year-old by 160,000 votes – three times the margin over Mr Gandhi.

Updated: June 05, 2024, 4:15 PM