Saturday, June 22, 2024

Echoes of change: Assessing India’s 2024 election and path to democracy

Photo: Azeem Shan/Maktoob

The 2024 national election highlighted a stark ideological debate: the choice between a stable, authoritarian state and a democratic one. On one side, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has raised slogans questioning all the pluralistic thoughts of human society —one language, one religion, one nation, one culture. On the other, the INDIA alliance, led by the Indian National Congress and comprising various regional and national parties, championed pluralism. Additionally, there were smaller voices that did not align with either major coalition.

There was a strong backlash against monolithic cultural advocates. Modi raised the slogan “‘Ab ki baar char sau paar'” before the elections. All means of weakening the Opposition parties were used to achieve it. Constitutional institutions, investigative agencies, etc. have taken an undisguised bias. All forms of transparency in elections have been eliminated.

Social observers worldwide viewed the 2024 general elections as a crucial turning point for India’s democratic and secular future. This is written as the Modi-led BJP administration, after completing two consecutive terms, is set to form the NDA government again, having narrowly won the election. For the past 10 years, the NDA government existed in name only, with the BJP holding an absolute majority and pushing through Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) core agendas in Parliament without challenge. Additionally, opponents were not even recognized as a significant opposition.

From the Prime Minister to the down, BJP leaders have resorted to hate speech and divisive actions, ignoring pressing issues such as rising prices and poverty. The media has crafted an image of Modi imbued with anti-Muslim, anti-minority, and upper-caste supremacy, elevating him to a near-deified status. Two Opposition chief ministers are in jail, numerous leaders face harassment from false cases filed by investigative agencies, and some, intimidated, have defected to the BJP for personal gain. In such a climate, the election results reflect the best outcome that could be expected.

The BJP’s goal of securing a two-thirds majority and 400 seats, including those of its allies, fell short. Significantly, the BJP had to settle for just 240 seats. To maintain the NDA government, they now require the support of Nitish Kumar, who is known for switching allegiances; Chandrababu Naidu, whose political focus is strictly regional; and Shinde and Ajit Pawar, who joined the BJP front due to fear of the ED and CBI. The Hindutva party must rely on other smaller parties that have been marginalized within the coalition.

The audacity to go to Parliament in the morning, pull a piece of paper from a pocket, and announce the repeal of Article 370 and the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s statehood can no longer continue unchecked. This election result offers several lessons about the state of Indian society. While the destructive influence of Hindutva, deeply rooted in the country, may have diminished somewhat, its foundations and strength remain. The system that supports it still draws external reinforcement from widespread Islamophobia. However, none of that changed in this election.

As soon as the election results were announced, Mayawati, who faced a complete defeat, attributed her party’s loss to fielding Muslim candidates. The BSP had nominated only 35 Muslim candidates out of 424 seats. In Kerala, the controversy stirred by the CPM linking Shafi Parambil’s candidacy in Vadakara to his Muslim identity remains unresolved. All mainstream parties reduced Muslim representation. The Trinamool Congress, usually more prominent for Muslim representation, also cut back this time. Congress’s 7 Muslim candidates won.

The decline of Muslim-led parties that did not align with either major front in the two-front system is evident. In Assam, the All India United Democratic Front, which once garnered up to 30 percent of the vote, faced complete defeat in this election. Party founder Badruddin Ajmal lost in Dhubri by a margin of 10 lakh votes. All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, despite its aspirations for a pan-India movement beyond Hyderabad, saw limited success, with Owaisi retaining his seat in Hyderabad as their sole accomplishment. In Maharashtra, they lost their sitting seat to a Shiv Sena candidate. Their progress was not significant elsewhere. Conversely, the Muslim League, allied with the Congress-DMK fronts, managed to retain its three seats.

Last time, there were 27 Muslim representatives in the Lok Sabha. With the by-election following Azam Khan’s resignation, this number decreased to 26. This time, it was even lower. In a country where Muslims constitute 15 percent of the population, their representation in the House of Representatives stands at only 4.5 percent. While the representation of OBCs is also disproportionate, the alarming exclusion of Muslims from governance cannot be overlooked.

Dalit political movements are encountering a comparable backlash. Besides the BSP’s resounding defeat, Prakash Ambedkar-led Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi in Maharashtra also suffered a significant setback. The Azad Samaj Party (Kanshi Ram), led by Chandra Shekhar Azad, was the lone Dalit-dominated party to secure one seat, unaligned with either the BJP or Congress fronts.

Regional and socialist parties outside the BJP and Congress fronts are experiencing losses. Naveen Patnaik’s 25-year reign in Odisha has come to an end. The YSR Congress Party faced defeat in Andhra Pradesh. In Telangana, the BRS and in Tamil Nadu, the AIADMK also suffered defeats. This election indicates a shift in the country’s political landscape towards a two-front system, resembling a two-party system. However, there are still various paths that could lead to either a two-party or a one-party system.

It can be primarily interpreted that the outcome of this election signifies a stable democracy rather than just a stable government. However, the disappearance of diverse representations, which form the bedrock of democracy, opens the door to the resurgence of totalitarianism. Despite a setback for totalitarian tendencies, the ultimate takeaway from the election is that democracy still faces a long journey ahead.

Sajeed Khalid is the Treasurer of the Welfare Party of India Kerala State Committee.

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