June 09, 2024
Election Verdict: One Step Forward but Fight to Go On

THE verdict of the 2024 Lok Sabha election is remarkable for the assertion by the people that they value democracy and the constitution.  The people have deprived the BJP of an absolute majority, something which it had achieved both in 2014 and 2019.  The BJP’s tally has come down from 303 seats to 240 seats – a 21 per cent reduction.  NDA has won 292 seats while the INDIA bloc has got 234 seats. 

The elections were held in the background of the ten years of Modi rule whose hallmark was the institution of an authoritarian regime which promoted the Hindutva-communal agenda. Every aspect of the constitutional set-up was under siege leading to the capture of State institutions.  This was reflected in the run-up to the elections, which saw concerted attacks on the opposition – leaders were targeted by central agencies, two chief ministers were jailed and the finances of political parties like the Congress and the CPI(M) were subject to appropriation. 

The election campaign was conducted with no level-playing field for the opposition. The Election Commission’s role was deplorable in this regard.  Having packed the Election Commission with pliant commissioners, the commission proved spineless in curbing and punishing gross violations of the model code of conduct.  The vicious Muslim baiting in the speeches of prime minister Narendra Modi went unchecked. By not being transparent about the collation of polling data, the EC raised unnecessary suspicions and speculations, which hurt the credibility of this vital constitutional body.

The BJP monopolised the space in the corporate media and put in huge resources into the social media.  It spent thousands of crores of rupees in the campaign, including distribution of money amidst voters. 

Throughout the campaign, Modi and his cohorts adopted an intimidating and bullying approach to the INDIA bloc of parties. It is in such adverse circumstances that the INDIA bloc conducted their election campaign.  As against the rabid communal rhetoric of Modi, the opposition countered by focusing on unemployment and jobs, price rise and inflation, agrarian distress and the threats to democracy and the constitution posed by the Hindutva forces. For the first time, the need to protect the constitution found resonance amongst large sections of the people, particularly the dalits. 

At the heart of the BJP’s loss of majority lies the setback it suffered in Uttar Pradesh.  Out of the 80 seats, the BJP could win only 33 as compared to 62 in the previous election.  Uttar Pradesh is the heartland of Hindutva politics and the Ram temple at Ayodhya symbolizes the Hindu supremacist agenda.  Yet, despite this, the BJP vote declined by 9 per cent. The cumulative problem of joblessness, price rise, farmers’ discontent and youth anger against the Agniveer scheme and leakage of test papers got the better of communal polarisation, aided by some deft caste-coalition building by the Samajwadi Party.  The defeat of the sitting BJP MP of Faizabad constituency, where Ayodhya is situated, brought out this voter alienation in stark terms. 

The flood of exit polls, which came out in the evening after the seventh and last phase of polling projected a big win for the NDA as the average of all the polls gave it a tally of 367.  The exit polls were weaponsised to demoralise the opposition and prop up the hegemony of the ruling party.  A baser motive was to make a killing in the stock market by the media-corporate nexus that saw investor wealth in  Mumbai Stock Exchange shoot up by Rs 14 lakh crores.

The elections also saw the decisive defeat of the Biju Janata Dal in Odisha and the YSRCP in Andhra Pradesh, where both parliament and assembly elections were held together.  They lost the state governments apart from the Lok Sabha polls.  The BJP has triumphed in Odisha, sweeping 20 of the 21 Lok Sabha seats and winning a majority in the assembly.  These two states hold a lesson for regional parties – those who choose to collaborate or support the Modi government.  The BJP will defang and devour you, if you consort with it.  Only the regional parties, which have strongly opposed the BJP, whether it be the DMK, Samajwadi Party or RJD, have survived and emerged stronger.  

Eventually the verdict is a downsizing of the larger than life image of Narendra Modi, which has been sedulously cultivated by himself and the BJP. If the BJP has taken a hard knock, it is solely due to Modi.  The election was all about Modi with the BJP as a party being inconspicuous. Even the election manifesto of the BJP was called Modi ki Guarantee.  The aura of invincibility built around Modi has been badly dented. 

The formation of a NDA coalition government will, hopefully, check the impunity with which Modi and Amit Shah have been operating. The NDA is far from having a two-thirds majority. This, in itself, will put paid to some of the harmful projects which were in the offing, such as the One Nation, One Election system.  Amit Shah had promised that simultaneous elections would be brought into being immediately in the third term of the Modi government. With a number of constitutional amendments required, this now seems out of reach.

However, there is need for constant vigilance. The authoritarian-Hindutva instincts are imbued in the genes of the BJP-RSS combine and as such, they will be constantly looking for ways to push their agenda forward covertly, if not directly.

Here is where the role of a united opposition would come into play both within and, more importantly, outside parliament.  The INDIA bloc of parties need to ensure better coordination and working through a common platform.  The experience of the few months of the INDIA bloc shows the efficacy of not having a rigid alliance but a broad platform, which accommodates the diversity and overlapping of political programmes and policies.  The binding principles should be the commitment to democracy, secularism and federalism.  The struggle against the authoritarian-communal danger is far from over. 

For the CPI(M) and the Left parties, while sharing the success attained by the INDIA bloc, their electoral performance must be critically reviewed. There has been a slight improvement in the electoral tally of the Left parties. They have won eight seats compared to five last time – CPI(M)  4, CPI 2 and CPI(ML) 2. The results in Kerala have been disappointing for the CPI(M) and the LDF, where they were expected to win more seats.  There has to be a self-critical examination to ascertain the reasons and identify the shortcomings.  A strengthened Left is of utmost importance in the coming days, when the struggle against the Hindutva-corporate nexus is bound to intensify. 

(June 5, 2024)

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