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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 24, June 15, 2024

Decoding the Lok Sabha Elections Verdict | P. S. Jayaramu

Saturday 15 June 2024, by P S Jayaramu

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June 8, 2024

The recently concluded 18th Lok Sabha elections was a historic one in many senses. It was fought over seven phases, spread over nearly two months, draining the resources of the Parties, energies of the leaders as they campaigned hard in the severely hot summer and the citizens being made to put up with the non-stop coverage of the election coverage by the electronic and the print media, leading to a kind of election fatigue. Here is an attempt to decode the results. Before resorting to that, a few observations about the the central issues as reflected in the manifestos of the two principal contenders for power —the BJP and the Congress Party—as the other INDI alliance did not come up with a common manifesto of its own as the constituent Parties had their own manifestos in keeping with their state/ regional realities and issues.

Promises by Parties :

Let me first briefly deal with the promises made by the BJP through its Manifesto. Though the Party’s manifesto was called the “Sankalp Patra”, it was described as “Modi ki Guarantee”. PM Modi dedicated it to the four castes- the youth, the women, the farmers and the poor. The BJP’s promises were however, too generic in nature like saying “we will continue to increase the MSP to farmers’ produce, will ensure a review of national floor wages from time to time, will work towards access to social security, expand facilities for job creation ( no numbers were spelt out unlike in 2014 and 2019). The term “Viksit Bharat” occupied a prominent place in the manifesto.

On its part, the Congress Party promised, through its manifesto, described as “Nyay Patra” that its fundamental duty would be protect the Constitition of India, which was under threat by the authoritarian Modi regime. It affirmed that the MGNREGA and the National Food Security Act would be the broad framework under which the Party would address the issue of poverty and deprivation, including food insecurity. The Party’s key promises were to : 1. Provide ₹1 lakh a year to the young Apprentices to provide them skill training. 2. Fill up the 30 lakh jobs vacant in central government departments, 3. Set up a Start-up Fund, 4. Put ₹1 lakh into the accounts of poor women across the country under the ‘Mahalakshmi Yojana’, 5.Guarantee legally tenable MSP to the farmers for their produce. Populist schemes, dubbed as welfare measures, ( the debate about what constitutes populist and welfare schemes is going on in the country, defying a consensus) to attract the votes of different segments of the electorate, unmindful of the enormous burden they would cost to the Central Exchequer. The Party also expressed its resolve to undertake caste census, if it came to power.

campaign narratives :

As regards the BJP, the election was largely portrayed as an exercise to re-elect Modi as the Prime Minister of India. He was not only the Party’s mascot but the chief the campaigner throughout the country. The state level ministers and party leaders only played second fiddle to him.The Party even went to the extent of contending that Modi was the candidate in all 543 constituencies !

During the first two phases of the campaign, Modi’s campaign narrative was marked by recerences to his vision of Viksit Bharat and India being a key player in global affairs. But, somewhere down the line, his campaign narrative acquired the shrill overtones of the aggressive Hindutva ideology. The narrative became largely personal, specially directed towards Rahul Gandhi at the national level and against state leaders like Arvind Kejriwal, Mamata Banerji, Naveen Patnaik, Sharad Pawar, Uddhav Thackeray and the like. Thus, Modi’s campaign speeches were acquired communal/ religious overtones. He told the electorate across India that if voted to power, the Congress Party would introduce reservation for Muslims at the cost of the SC- STs and OBCs. Bringing down the status of his high office, Modi talked of the the Opposition taking away the ‘Mangal Sutras’ of the Hindu women, buffellos of rural poor etc. Use of phrases like mutton, ‘machli (fish) mujra etc, were not only in bad taste, but as the election results demonstrate, was not rejected by the voters, concerned as they are about their sufferings, hit hard by price rise and unemployment .

The Congress Party’s campaign narrative campaign, largely sphere-headed by Rahul Gandhi, as noted earlier, consisted of protecting/saving the Constitution. He effectively raised issues relating to price rise, inflation, unemployment, income inequalities and rural distress. He too personalised it often by bringing in Modi’s name and his nexus with the industrialist Adani. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra was also an effective campaigner, taking on Narendra Modi on the charges he made against the Congress Party. Arvind Kejriwal, thanks to the interim bail given to him by the Supreme Court, put up a spirited campaign, wherever he went, against the Modi Government.

Results decoded :

Contrary to BJP’s expectations of emerging victorious in 370 constituencies and together with the NDA partners crossing the 400 mark, ( the slogan was 400 paar), the Party was in for a terrible shock as it secured only 240 seats and the NDA itself 292 seats.

The INDIA bloc registered victories in 234 constituencies, with the Congress securing 99 seats. With the rebel Congress candidate Vishal Patil winning the Sangli seat in Maharastra and rejoining the Party, the number has reached the respectable figure of 100.

The INDI alliance’s electoral successes were a confirmation of what former Psephologist and political activist Yogendra Yadav had predicted. After extensive travel across the country, specially in U P, Yogendra Yadav had gone on record to state that the BJP would not get a majority on its own and that it’s total tally would be around 250, even dropping to around 240, going by the undercuttents against the BJP. He said even that the NDA itself would fall short of majority. His forecast turned out to be absolutely true. All other exit polls, which are being described as doctored by the respective agencies having connections with business houses failed miserably in their forecast.

The broad take aways :

Firstly, the voters have overwhelmingly conveyed their utter displeasure towards the communal campaign of the BJP. They have siignalled that they are tired of the Hindu-Muslim divide campaign as they want to live in harmony (bhaichara) and that their prime concerns are about their livelihood issues and employment, which Yogendra Yadav calls, a return of ‘normal politics’. Proof of that can be seen from the fact that the BJP tally dropped from its earlier figure of 62 to 40 in U P, losing its seat even in the temple of Ayodhya, situated in the Faizabad constituency, where its candidate was defeated by a Dalit candidate belonging to the Samajwadi Party ( SP) by a big majority. The Faizabad defeat signalled that the Ram Temple was not an issue on which the voters exercised their franchise in this election.

Uttar Pradesh turned out to be be BJP’s Waterloo. The SP won in 37 constituencies, putting the BJP behind. A good chunk of the Dalit, OBC and Muslim votes went to the SP, which turned out to be a national phenomenon. In UP, the Congress Party secured victories in 6 constituencies. Of special significance in UP were the defeat of BJP’s mighty and arrogant cabinet minister Smriti Irani in Amethi by the Gandhi family loyalist Kishori Lal Sharma by a margin of 1,67, 196 votes. Rahul Gandhi who contested from the family borough Rae Bareli, won by over 2 lakh margin. In general, Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo and Bharat Nyay Yatras resulted in an overall gain of 41 seats for the Congress Party.

Secondly, the voters of Maharashtra demonstrated their displeasure with the BJP’s self-centred political objective of dividing the Shiv Sena and the NCP, thereby humiliating their trusted and long-standing leaders. Out of the 48 seats, Congress won in 13, Shiva Sena (Uddbhav Thackeray ) in 7, NCP ( Sharad Pawar ) in 8 constituencies. The BJP secured only 9 seats, though it’s ally Shinde Sena won in 7 constituencies.

Thirdly, West Bengal continues to be the fortress of the TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee by sending 29 MPs to the Lok Sabha.The BJP’s tally was reduced from 18 to 12, despite the long campaign by Modi and Amit Shah. In Punjab the Party came a cropper.

Fourthly, down south, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) won 16 seats and its ally the BJP secured 3 seats in Andhra Pradesh. Additionally, the TDP won a landslide victory in the Assembly elections sending Jagan Mohan Reddy home .
Fifthly, as for Karnataka, the voters showed a continuity in their voting pattern by deciding to help 17 BJP candidates win along with two of its JD(S)allies. The Congress candidates registered victories in only 9 constituencies. The Siddaramaiah-led Government was shocked that a significant chunk of the voters, despite being beneficiaries of its guarantees, voted against the Congress. Also note-worthy is the fact that the two dominant communities—Vokkaligas and Lingayats—voted against the Congress. The defeat of the Congress strongman and three times MP D. K. Suresh, the younger brother of the KPCC Chief and Deputy Chief Minister D. K. Shiva Kumar in the Bangalore rural constituency is a setback to the Congress. The Congress candidate also was defeated in Mysote, the home constituency of Chief Minister Siddaramaiah. The duo have been weakened to a certain extent, although the Congress numerically moved up from its 2019 figure of 1 to 9 this time round.

Lest I be accused of ignoring the gains made by the BJP, I must acknowledge that the BJP mde a clean sweep of Odisha winning all the Lok Sabha seats and wresting power from Naveen Patnaik to form the first-ever government in the State. The Party also improved its tally in Telangana bagging eight seats. It registered its presence in Kerala by bagging the Trishur seat. In the neighbouring Tamil Nadu, its vote share went up though no electoral victory was achieved. All in all, BJP’s presence in the South of Vindhya’s is on the upswing.

The above takeaways apart, the historic milestone of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections lies in BJP’s failure to attain majority of its own, as noted earlier and being forced to form a Coalition Government with its NDA allies, mainly the Telugu Desam Party ( TDP) and the JD (U) and Shinde Shiva asena. In a way, a moral defeat for the Party and Narendra Modi. BJP’s excessive dependence on Modi has also turned out to be its limitation.

BJP-led NDA has formed the Coalition Government at the centre with Narendra Modi being sworn in for the third successive term as Prime Minister next only to Nehru. But, the comparison stops here as Nehru led a single party government with a majority of his own all the three terms.

The electorate’s message to Narendra Modi is : reinvent yourself and run the coalition government by giving primacy to striving for consensus in policy-making and governance in the larger intersts of the Centre and the States, both of which are equal partners in India’s federal system.

By electing 234 MPs of the INDIA bloc, the Indian electorate have given a boost to the Opposition’s morale. At the same time, the voters have signalled to them that the alliance should function cohesively, act as a responsible Opposition and hold the government accountable.

(Author Dr. P. S. Jayaramu is former Professor of Political Science, Bangalore University and former Senior Fellows, ICSSR, New Delhi)

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