NEW DELHI — An alliance led by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is on course to win a small majority in parliament, but a strong challenge from the opposition significantly reduces his party’s numbers, reflecting his waning popularity after a decade in office.

Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, along with its allies, was headed to secure some 290 seats out of the 543 elected seats in the lower house of parliament.

In a post on X, Modi said that “people have placed their faith in NDA, for a third consecutive time! This is a historical feat in India’s history.” The NDA is the National Democratic Alliance, which is led by the BJP.

He assured people “that we will continue the good work done in the last decade to keep fulfilling the aspirations of people.” He displayed a victory sign at BJP headquarters Tuesday evening.

However, in a massive setback to the Indian leader, who has ruled the country with a decisive mandate over the past decade, the BJP was not likely to secure a clear majority on its own. The party was winning or ahead with about 240 seats — well short of the 272 seats needed for a majority — in votes counted until Tuesday evening. That is significantly lower than the 303 it won in 2019.

Analysts say the BJP’s weaker-than-expected performance showed Modi’s charisma has waned. The Indian leader, who critics call polarizing and divisive, ran a presidential-style campaign, with the party depending heavily on him to pull in votes. But he will now have to depend on his allies to form the next government.

Political analyst Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay said, “Modi has never worked with coalition partners in the past and has always been a leader with his own mind. But without a clear majority for his own party, he will have to be a much more subdued prime minister and work with his allies.”

While Modi may not have won the landslide mandate his party expected and exit polls forecast, he will be only the second prime minister in India — after the country’s first, Jawaharlal Nehru — to win a third term in office.

Modi, who is seen as a strong leader, has built his popularity on a raft of welfare programs and a strident brand of Hindu nationalism in the majority-Hindu country. But analysts say rising unemployment, especially among young people, and high inflation in a country where millions are still poor, cut into his support.

“I did not see any wave for Modi on the ground,” said political analyst Neerja Chowdhury. “Also, the opposition fought well. This time, they did not give up. There was a spiritedness in their campaign.”

The BJP suffered its biggest losses in Uttar Pradesh, a populous, politically crucial state where vote counting showed the party trailing in about half the 80 parliamentary seats. The most significant defeat the party suffered was in Faizabad, a constituency where in January Modi inaugurated a huge temple in honor of Hindu god Rama. Hailed by many Hindus, it was expected to boost Modi’s support.

An opposition alliance of about two dozen parties led by the Congress Party mounted a united challenge to the BJP and got a huge boost. The alliance, which ran on a platform of reducing wealth inequality and upholding democratic institutions, was heading for victory in around 220 seats — nearly double its present tally of 119 in parliament.

The opposition emphasized joblessness and accused Modi of undermining the secular fabric of the country, targeting his political opponents and being intolerant of dissent.

“It shows that India has become a much more competitive democracy. It also shows that people reacted against a slide into a kind of authoritarian regime,” Mukhopadhyay said.

The results were also good news for the Congress Party, once India’s dominant party, which suffered crushing defeats in two previous elections. It is on course to nearly double its numbers to about 100 seats, which analysts say could revive the party.

The Congress Party called the election a win for democracy and a mandate against Modi.

“Our fight was not against a political party but a fight to save the constitution,” party leader Rahul Gandhi said.

“The country has unanimously and clearly stated that we do not want Narendra Modi and [Minister of Home Affairs] Amit Shah to be involved in running the country,” Gandhi said.

Other opposition leaders said Modi lost his credibility.

Some positive news for BJP

Although the BJP lost ground, there was some good news for the party. It was on course to win in the eastern Odisha state, formerly Orissa, and was also performing well in some southern states. The victories will help the BJP build its credentials as a pan-Indian party — for decades, it drew its maximum support from populous states of the north and west where its Hindu nationalist agenda struck a chord.

On the streets, reactions were mixed. In the business hub of Gurugram, young people who see Modi as a strong leader who has improved India’s economy say they will be happy to see him lead the country for a third term.

“Since Modi has come, there has been good development in the country. He is supportive of the young generation,” said Varun Singh, an undergraduate student.

Others welcomed the election results for a different reason.

“It is good that we will have a strong opposition because it is good for democracy to have checks and balances,” said New Delhi resident Purnima Mehta.

India’s stock markets dropped 5.74% as news that the elections had failed to deliver a clear mandate to the BJP, seen as a business-friendly party that planned to bring in more reforms.

Some 642 million people, making up about 66% of registered voters, cast ballots in the world’s biggest election that stretched over six weeks in searing heat.

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