A Humbling Mandate

There is unanimous consensus amongst political commen-tators that the election was ultimately determined by the underlying divisions of caste and class.

In a surprise turn of events, the recent Indian elections have reshaped the political landscape, delivering a humbling mandate to Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he prepares to take the oath for his third term. This depleted mandate could significantly influence the composition and governance of India’s next government. The BJP’s need to collaborate with allies and the growing scrutiny of its governance practices signal a new era in Indian politics. The electorate’s call for accountability, inclusivity, and tempered leadership marks a pivotal moment that could redefine the country’s future trajectory. Importantly, while the full impact remains to be seen, India’s shift towards a more autocratic form of government has dimmed for now.

Despite securing a third term, Modi’s Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) has seen a notable reduction in its dominance, leading to increased demands from key allies such as the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the Janata Dal (United) (JD(U)). These allies, crucial for the BJP to maintain its majority in the Lok Sabha, have called for substantial concessions, including high-profile cabinet positions and a common governance agenda. Both the TDP and JD(U) emphasize their secular credentials and count on significant Muslim voter support, positioning themselves as potential checks on Modi’s power.

So, what went wrong? There is unanimous consensus amongst political commentators that the election was ultimately determined by the underlying divisions of caste and class. One of the more humbling losses has come from the giant northern state of Uttar Pradesh (UP), a stronghold of the BJP previously. In 2019, the BJP secured a commanding 62 out of 80 seats in UP. However, this time the party’s tally has fallen to just 33 seats, marking a significant 9% vote swing away from the BJP and its allies. The biggest beneficiary of this shift has been the left-wing Samajwadi Party, a key member of the opposition alliance. The Samajwadi Party, which focuses on the rights of lower-caste groups and religious minorities, captured 37 seats in the state. This remarkable turnaround highlights a growing discontent with the BJP’s policies and a resurgence of support for more inclusive and secular political agendas.

The BJP’s defeat in Faizabad, the site of Ayodhya, was notably symbolic. This city holds immense significance in Hindu nationalist politics as the site where Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated a large new Hindu temple in January. The temple was built on the location of a 16th-century mosque demolished by a mob of Hindu nationalists in 1992, a flashpoint in India’s communal history. Prime Minister Modi’s anti-Muslim campaign rhetoric fell short of its intended impact.

In addition, economic challenges, including rising unemployment and inflation, alongside perceptions of an economy favoring the wealthy, significantly eroded public support. The government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, marked by inadequate preparedness and healthcare infrastructure, further disillusioned voters. Prolonged farmers’ protests against agricultural reforms perceived to benefit large corporations over small farmers also played a crucial role. Additionally, the BJP’s religious polarization tactics and close ties with oligarchs raised fears about the erosion of constitutional protections for minorities. Corruption allegations, particularly related to the Electoral Bonds scheme, further tainted the party’s image. Meanwhile, a resilient opposition capitalized on these issues, presenting a united front that resonated with discontented voters. This confluence of economic, social, and political factors dented BJP’s ambition for a majority win. Importantly, Mr. Modi, the Hindutva brand ambassador, did not anticipate the rise of the religious minorities which eventually stunted his dreams of a smooth sailing into a third term.

While the results have been a very humbling moment for Modi’s BJP, the election has also brought to light the underrepresentation of the Muslim community in Indian politics. The number of Muslim candidates fielded by all parties dropped from 115 in 2019 to 78 in the latest election, with only 24 elected to Parliament—the lowest since independence. The issue of hate speech remains a significant concern. According to the India Hate Lab (IHL), an average of nearly two anti-Muslim hate speech events occurred daily in 2023, with 75 percent of these incidents taking place in states governed by the BJP.

As the BJP looks ahead, can it truly learn from recent events? Barring significant internal upheaval, Mr. Modi is expected to remain as prime minister. With Modi’s waning brand appeal, the issue of succession is a pressing concern. It remains uncertain whether the BJP will nurture a new leadership figure who represents moderate values and adopts a more inclusive political approach. There is, however, a risk that a discouraged leader might intensify his authoritarian approach and escalate his divisive religious rhetoric.

In most elections, citizens choose a government, in this Indian election, they have chosen an opposition. The opposition parties have been entrusted with a responsibility to restore secular, pluralistic values, which is the best thing to have come out of these elections. Good going, India.

Marium Zaafir Khan
The writer is a development sector professional. She tweets @MariumZiaKhan.

ePaper - Nawaiwaqt