Ram Madhav
June 7, 2024

A Mandate for Humility

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(The article was originally published in Indian Express on June 08, 2024 as a part of Dr Madhav’s column titled ‘Ram Rajya’. Views expressed are personal.)

It took me some time to reflect on the results of the Lok Sabha elections. As someone who has overseen at least a dozen elections, both at the Centre and in several states in the last decade, even I was flabbergasted by the results like many others. But as the hype and hysteria settle, various facets of the mandate are unfolding clearly.

For the supporters of the BJP, it is a matter of relief and reassurance that the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is returning to office. Although numerically diminished, the BJP emerged as the only party capable of providing a stable government compared to any other arrangement.

It has gained significantly in the east and the south. In Kerala, the party won its first-ever Parliament seat and its vote share rose by more than 3 per cent from 2019 – it’s a solid 16 per cent. In Telangana, its seats have doubled while the vote share rose from 19 per cent to an impressive 35 per cent. In Tamil Nadu, although the party failed to win any seats, its vote share went up from 3 per cent to around 12 per cent. The most significant achievement for the party was the victory in the Odisha assembly elections and the formation of a BJP government for the first time in the state. The party’s performance in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Gujarat too is formidable.

It is an undeniable fact that the biggest setback and embarrassment for the ruling party came from Uttar Pradesh, a state from which it had high expectations. Results in that state call for serious introspection. Despite popular governments at the Centre as well as in the state, and despite so much good work, including the turnaround in Ayodhya and Kashi, the BJP ended up losing almost half of the seats it was holding in 2019. There is much cynicism on social media over the defeat in Ayodhya in particular, and Uttar Pradesh in general. While a serious soul-searching is necessary, outlandish disparagement is uncalled for. Results in Karnataka, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Bengal too didn’t go as expected. The return of the Left Front in Bengal politics, securing more than 6 per cent votes, could be one reason. However, there appears to be more complex reasons for the party’s below-par performance in these and other states.

Not many expected the INDI Alliance to do so well. But in the end, the constituent parties, especially the Congress in many states, and the SP, TMC, DMK, NCP-SP, Shiv Sena-UBT and others in their respective states made commendable gains pushing the alliance tally to above 230 seats. Contesting in about half of the seats in the country, the Congress party managed to increase its vote share by about 1.5 per cent, although it failed to touch the three-digit mark in the third consecutive election in the number of seats it has won. The BJP must not overlook the Congress’s significant gains in the northeast.

From the country’s standpoint, these results have a mixed message. Speaking to a news channel during the election campaign PM Modi said that he missed a “strong Opposition in 2014 to 2024”. “If there is one thing missing in my life, it is that of a good opposition,” he remarked. A strong Opposition does seem to be on the cards, but only experience can tell if it would be a “good Opposition”. With a numerically large Opposition in the House, the treasury side may need better managers who can effortlessly sprint across the aisles to ensure the smooth functioning of the House.

Sadly, the country is relapsing into the uncertainty of coalition politics, after a decade of stability and predictable politics. Although the country was run by an NDA coalition in the last 10 years, the ruling party enjoyed absolute majority on its own. With BJP restricted to 240 seats, the current NDA alliance will be different from the earlier ones. The silver lining is that unlike the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government of 1999-2004, which had 182 BJP members and depended on 115 members from other parties, it is better placed in the present NDA alliance’s arithmetic. Moreover, it cannot be ruled out that the important reform agenda being pursued by the Modi government might encourage more parties to come forward to support him, thus providing greater stability to the government.

Another serious challenge thrown up by this election was the victory of at least three independent candidates owing allegiance to separatist ideologies. Two of them, Amritpal Singh and Sarabjeet Singh Khalsa, won from Punjab while the third, Abdul Rashid Sheikh, aka Engineer Rashid, got elected from Jammu and Kashmir. Amritpal Singh and Engineer Rashid won elections from jail, where they were incarcerated for anti-India activities.

While the two winners from Punjab have been open supporters of Khalistan ideology, Rashid is a known Kashmiri separatist. Rashid defeated senior National Conference leader Omar Abdullah by a majority of more than two lakh votes. Amritpal and Sarabjeet, too, won with considerable majorities defeating their Congress and AAP rivals. The last time such a separatist voice could enter the Indian Parliament was in 1999 when Simranjit Singh Mann won the election from Sangrur in Punjab. Hitherto such voices were restricted to state assemblies in the last two decades – Mann is a member of the Punjab assembly currently while Rashid was an MLA in the J&K assembly. Radical sentiments of azadi and Khalistan are rearing their heads again in J&K and Punjab.

The victory of the Narendra Modi-led NDA for the third time will be a parliamentary record. However, the situation calls for greater accommodation and responsible politics from both sides. Mahatma Gandhi is remembered for many things. But he was the first to introduce coalition politics in the pre-Independence era. His success lay in humility and civility, qualities that the Indian polity is in dire need of. Coalitions are great levellers. Hope we witness the restoration of those virtues in our polity in the coming years.

Published by Ram Madhav

Member, Board of Governors, India Foundation

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