Seldom has there been so much joy in the shadow of defeat. But as the results of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections began to trickle in on Tuesday morning, the smiles and good cheer began to heat up an already sultry day. Not since the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act in 2019 has India allowed itself what former US President Barack Obama described as the audacity of hope.

Of course, even though the Bharatiya Janata Party has fallen short of a majority, Narendra Modi has taken it close enough to the halfway mark to form the new government. However, in its enfeebled state, propped up by allies who know the precise cost of their support, the new BJP administration will be forced to temper its bluster and contain its malevolence against those it considers its enemies. Among those the BJP has considered its adversaries are independent journalists, several of whom have been jailed and prosecuted simply for doing their jobs.

This result will undoubtedly trigger a tectonic shift in the BJP. There is no telling how the pieces will fall. As long-supressed aspirations in the Hindutva party shoot to the surface, perhaps even more hardline leaders will assume prominence.

But as reports from the ground have pointed out, this mandate is a rejection of the illiberal agenda, both social and economic, that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has advanced over the past decade. By ignoring Modi’s provocations of mangalsutras, machli and mujras, Indian voters – especially the most marginalised – have decisively rallied to the defence of the Constitution.

The battle to reclaim the idea of an equitable India is far from being won. But as Tuesday demonstrated, there are many who dream of reinforcing the foundations of a Republic based on the values of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity. For now, India can breathe again.