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regular-article-logo Sunday, 21 July 2024

Complex outcome

Election presented bouquets & brickbats for both sides. Despite not securing a majority, the INDI Alliance secured a majority of seats from UP, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Kerala

Swapan Dasgupta Published 20.06.24, 06:58 AM

Sourced by the Telegraph

If Zhou Enlai’s cryptic aside on the impact of the French Revolution is taken as a guide, it is far too early to proffer any definitive verdict on the complex outcome of the 2024 general election. Since the players in this election haven’t yet fully considered the outcome, even an interim, working conclusion may well be premature. Although both the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance and the INDI Alliance have projected the outcome as victories, it is clear that much of that bravado is for public consumption. A more thorough and dispassionate analysis is work in progress.

The election presented bouquets and brickbats for both sides. Despite
not securing a majority, the INDI Alliance secured a majority of seats from Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Kerala. It also came within a whisker of upstaging the BJP in Rajasthan and Haryana. The Congress, however, suffered a clear loss of face in Karnataka, Telangana and Himachal Pradesh, states where it has a majority in the state assembly. In Jharkhand and Delhi, the INDI Alliance failed to make any headway. Bihar, too, did not give the Opposition alliance any significant returns.

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Since it was the regional parties in the INDI Alliance that propelled the charge against the BJP, the dissection of results must await deliberations in the state capitals. The Congress, however, appears to have interpreted the party’s 99 Lok Sabha victories as an emphatic, popular endorsement of the leadership of the Gandhi family. Thus, while Sonia Gandhi has been anointed as the chairperson of the Congress Parliamentary Party, Rahul Gandhi has been unofficially crowned as the de facto leader of the Opposition and shadow prime minister of the INDI Alliance. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is also set to enter the Lok Sabha from the seat vacated by her brother in Kerala.

In policy terms, however, while the intellectual stalwarts of the Congress ecosystem have given their assessments of the verdict, the party stalwarts have reserved their judgment. There is, for example, no clear view as to whether the INDI Alliance’s gains stemmed from a common dissatisfaction with the Narendra Modi government or due to local circumstances. If the perceived threat to the Constitution and the existing reservations system led to a big chunk of non-Jatav Dalits in central and eastern Uttar Pradesh teaming up with the Yadavs and Muslims in the INDI Alliance, why didn’t the outrage spread to the rest of the Uttar Pradesh and, indeed, to neighbouring Bihar and Madhya Pradesh? Was the Maharashtra outcome a result of the Centre’s perceived sledgehammer approach against the anti-BJP forces, not least of which was the unrestrained (and undignified) attacks on Sharad Pawar?

Since the assembly elections in Maharashtra are due in September, it is important to know how the different parties interpret the verdict because the conclusions will shape their respective stands. Of critical importance will be the seat-sharing arrangements involving Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena and the Congress, not to mention the larger question of which party will claim the chief ministership in the event of the Maha Vikas Aghadi winning power.

At the national level, the Congress will have to take a definite view of whether or not to internalise its neo-Lohiaite turn to caste politics. The caste census, which was passionately advocated by Rahul Gandhi during the Lok Sabha campaign, will definitely come up for debate and discussion in the coming months. As the traditional centrist focal point of India’s old Establishment, the Congress will have to take a call on this and related issues. Rahul Gandhi has shown an inclination to be unduly influenced by neo-Left identity politics, especially that variety which finds favour in the Left wing of the Democratic Party in the United States of America. It would also be interesting to gleam the reactions of more traditional Congress leaders to Rahul Gandhi’s unrestrained attacks on the pillars of the Indian Establishment, including the large corporate houses.

If the absorption of the election results by the different partners of the INDI Alliance is still a work in progress, the BJP has given the appearance of taking adversity in its stride and devoting itself to the challenges of government. While that is true as far as the Modi government is concerned, there is considerable churning inside the party over what went wrong and why it faltered in critical states. We are also seeing the beginnings of an important debate over the role of ideology in a mass political party. The debate also includes the relationship between the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the BJP. The interventions of the RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat, have already set the ball rolling.

As happens in most debates that involve the sangh parivar in its entirety, the discussions are likely to be layered and exhaustive. The outcomes will never be explicitly spelt out, but the decisions will be internalised without too much fuss and publicity.

The main themes that will preoccupy the BJP are a combination of the political and the organisational. There is, first, the concern of many party workers that the public face of the party is in danger of being disfigured by the indiscriminate entry of ‘tainted’ politicians from other parties. While there is a recognition that to grow, the BJP has to open its doors to people from other traditions, there is widespread resentment that such defectors are given nominations to contest in seats where there are more deserving internal candidates. Secondly, the elections revealed that in many places across India, the famed organisational networks of the BJP turned out to be non-functional and ineffective. This is not merely in ‘new growth’ states such as West Bengal that witnessed transmission losses of election funds but also in Uttar Pradesh where the organisation failed to alert the leadership of the rumblings below. Finally, there are questions being raised about the arrogance and the non-productive conduct by members of Parliament and other elected functionaries. Should the party exercise greater control over those elected on a party ticket?

The questions that are agitating the minds of many party members are relevant and quite logically stem from the 2024 verdict. If even a fraction of the concerns is addressed, they will still go a long way in toning up the political system and bolstering democracy.

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