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Indian voters curtail Modi’s political power

Posted in Featured, View Point

Published on June 20, 2024 with No Comments

In 2019, the BJP surged to win 303 seats across India. Of these, 180 came from just six states: Bihar, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh. These seats also accounted for nearly 70% of the BJP’s seats in the 2014 election. Big electoral performances for the party were thus contingent on the spatial concentration of its support. In addition, it expanded its footprint in 2019 by winning 18 of 42 constituencies in West Bengal and 25 of 28 seats in Karnataka. This time, the BJP has won only 208 of its 303 tally in 2019 (69%) — a very strong performance in these seats, but far from the dominance it demonstrated in the last two national elections.

The first major sites of erosion are Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, where the party won a total of 86 seats in 2019. This time, it won just 47 seats in the two states. It lost five in Haryana (where it had won all 10 in 2019). For the last several years, farmers — particularly from the Jat community — have taken to the streets in and around Delhi, initially in the wake of controversial farm laws promulgated in 2020. The protests forced the Union government to walk back from the laws, but the electoral impact was evident. These three states are all around Delhi, with significant Jat populations and demonstrable rural distress.






India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party  had hoped for a landslide victory in the country’s six-week general election – the largest display of democracy, by far, in a year of voting around the world. Prime Minister Modi had started his campaign with a slogan of securing 400 plus seats in 543 seat parliament.  But it didn’t even get a majority.

How do you explain these results?
Part of the answer lies in the Modi government’s failure to realize that while economic benefits had been substantial, their distribution has been uneven. India has seen a growth in inequality and persistent unemployment both in rural and urban areas. Unemployment of those aged 20 to 24 years is at a high of 44.49 percent. And that is the overall national number; that data does not tell us that it may be much worse in certain regions.
The other explanation is that Modi’s exploitation of historic Hindu-Muslim tensions seems to have run its natural course. You can beat the religious drum – and Modi did with rhetoric including calling Muslims “infiltrators” – but then the day-to-day issues of jobs, housing and other such necessities take over, and these are the things people care about the most.
BJP made a miscalculation. It failed to realize that in a country where only 11.3 percent of children get adequate nutrition, Hindu pride cannot be sold every time – ultimately, it’s the price of milk, wheat and other essentials that matter.

Another important part was played by Uttar Pradesh, the northern Indian state with 80 parliamentary seats. It plays a crucial role in any national election, and Modi and his alliance are set to lose the state. What happened?
It’s another example of the same miscalculation we are seeing nationally by the BJP. The chief minister of the state, Yogi Adityanath, saw himself as a firebrand Hindu nationalist leader and likely a successor of Modi. But he, too, failed to take into account how his policies were playing out in the poorer segments of the state’s population, who are mainly Muslims and those at the bottom of India’s caste hierarchy. The combination of Rahul Gandhi and Akilesh Yadav did wonders in the Uttar Pradesh and the duo secured 40 seats leaving only 35 seats for BJP. BJP had taken 79 seats in 2019.
Additionally, years of presiding over a state government that has used police power to suppress dissent, often those of the poor and marginalized, have taken their toll on Adityanath’s support.

In July 2023, 26 opposition parties formed a coalition called INDIA – the Indian National Developmental and Inclusive Alliance – to challenge the BJP in the election. Were they given a fair chance? No, the playing field was far from level. The mass media has been mostly co-opted by the ruling BJP to advance its agenda. Apart from one or two regional newspapers, all the national dailies avoided any criticism of the BJP, and the major television channels mostly act as cheerleaders of the government’s policies. A number of intelligence agencies are alleged to have been used for blatantly partisan purposes against the opposition parties. Political leaders have been jailed on charges that may prove to be dubious. For example, Arvind Kejriwal, the highly popular chief minister of New Delhi, was charged with alleged improprieties in the allocation of liquor licenses and jailed just days after election dates were announced.

Indian voters have demonstrated in the past that when they see democracy being threatened, they tend to punish leaders with autocratic tendencies. We saw this when the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi suffered a crushing defeat in the elections in 1977. The elections followed a state of emergency that Gandhi had imposed on the country, suspending all civil liberties. Back then, it was India’s poor who voted her out of power.


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