Friday, July 19, 2024

Election 2024: Who won, who lost and why?


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By Bhogtoram Mawroh

The recently concluded general election is a curious one. The incumbent government, i.e., the BJP-led NDA, retruned to power for the third time in a row, which has happened only twice in the history of this country. Within the BJP, however, there was a palpable sense of doom and gloom exemplified by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who himself was looking quite morose. The Opposition, on the other hand, had lost a general election for the third consecutive time. But instead of being dejected, they looked quite invigorated, even demanding that the Prime Minister take moral responsibility and resign from his position. This was not only the view of the Opposition, but a well-known psephologist, who had in the past made the statement on a national channel that you cannot be anti-Hindu and win in the country anymore, also suggested that Narendra Modi should quit politics and retire. Of course, that was never going to happen unless there was an internal rebellion, with the BJP itself demanding a change of leadership.
With the way Narendra Modi made the election campaign all about himself, referring to himself in the third person while making promises or dissing the Opposition, one can reasonably claim it was not the BJP but Modi who was fighting the election. The fact that BJP lost their majority for the first time in ten years does make a case for a change of leadership. There are still five years left to go for this NDA government, and a change might still happen depending on the results of the assembly elections, but at the moment, Narendra Modi is safe. However, what cannot be denied is that the BJP-led NDA is still forming the government. So, why is the Opposition delighted with the election results? This is where context becomes very important.
The INDIA bloc was fighting the election not just against the BJP-led NDA government but against both state and non-state actors, who for the last decade have been building the narrative that there is no option except to vote for the BJP, especially Narendra Modi. The most obvious one is the mainstream media, which Ravish Kumar, a former anchor of NDTV, now owned by Adani, has termed ‘Godi Media’ (a lap-dog media or, in simple words, a sold-out media). This section of the media has anchors, according to Yogendra Yadav (the only person who got the seat predictions correct), that act more like the spokesperson of the ruling party, i.e., the BJP, rather than as impartial reporters. During the election coverage as well, when the early phases were showing some signs of displeasure among the populace against Narendra Modi, the psephologist whom I mentioned earlier and another one ( who we will come to later) were looking quite dejected. It was only when one of the panelists boasted that in cricket parlance, the BJP is like India and the INDIA bloc is like Zimbabwe that the smile came back for the other panelists. Of course, it’s another matter than one of the panelists later cried on live TV when his prediction of 400 seats for NDA came to naught. Before the election, their job was to create the narrative that Narendra Modi was the only person qualified to lead the country. The question, however, is whether that claim has any actual basis. Let’s look at some of the views Narendra Modi has expressed in public.
In recent memory, there is the infamous “I am not biological” statement that Narendra Modi made during an interview with an anchor of the Godi Media. But before that, Modi claimed that one can make tea out of gas that comes from the drain; radar not being able to detect airplanes during the surgical strike episode, about how climate change is just about perception and age, and the famous algebraic equation of how one gets 2ab from a2 + b2, among others. There’s also the claim he made that he spent several years surviving by begging but at the same time had gone to jail over a protest for Bangladesh’s independence, climbed over 7000 meters of Mount Everest, and many more such grand tales. And finally, there is his educational certificate from Gujarat University, where he did an MA in ‘Entire Political Science’. One thing that becomes clear is that while Narendra Modi might be a sharp and astute politician, he is not really a knowledgeable person and has a recurring habit of exaggeration, hence the latest “I am not biological” statement. But perhaps lack of knowledge and honesty can be made up by decisive and strong mode of governance? How’s the track record on that front?
Among Modi’s most famous decisions is the demonetization of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 banknotes in 2016 without any warning in an attempt to curb black money. But even his diehard supporters did not support this move and almost all the money came back to the system. There was the sudden announcement of a lockdown to contain COVID-19, which left millions of people stranded without any support. Then there was the announcement of the Three Farm Laws without consultation, which were later repealed after a spirited protest by the farmers. For the indigenous people of the North East, the most reckless was the passing of the CAA, whose rules were recently announced just before elections. It seems people are confusing recklessness with decisiveness when they analyze Narendra Modi’s tenure.
What about bravery in confronting problems plaguing the country? Manish Tewari, the Congress leader from Chandigarh, has recently alleged in an interview that the Government refused to discuss the incursion of China into India’s territory despite clear evidence of a violation of the country’s sovereignty. More importantly, Narendra Modi has till date not gone to Manipur despite the ad that came out about him stopping the war in Ukraine and his own claim of bringing a ceasefire in Gaza. With all this, one has to ask whether a country of one billion people with more than 75 years of history is bereft of any leader who can do better. Or there has been a deliberate attempt to create a TINA (There is No Alternative) narrative while putting down opposition leaders and praising only Modi. Now that he is back in power, will he change—learn scientific facts, not exaggerate, not be reckless, and most importantly, be brave in facing the problems of the country? Let’s wait and watch.
Apart from propaganda from the Godi media, there is the financial factor, as seen during the electoral bond case in the Supreme Court. After being compelled, the State Bank of India revealed that the BJP had the highest amount of financial contribution to the tune of ₹6,986.5 crore, which is at least five times more than what the other parties got. This was ironic since there was a complaint among the economists, including the Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, about the low level of private investment in the economy. While businesses were not investing in the economy, they were busy investing in the BJP. Then there was the incident when the Congress’s party’s bank accounts, were frozen just as they were preparing for the general elections. The financial advantage the BJP had was best exemplified by the fact that it became the first Indian party to cross Rs 100 crore in ad spend on Google.
While the Godi media was building the narrative and the electoral bonds were strengthening the BJP financially, the ED (Enforcement Directorate) was busy putting leaders of the Opposition, Arvind Kejriwal of Delhi and Hemant Soren of Jharkhand, in jail. On the other hand, people like Ajit Pawar (Maharashtra) and Himanta Biswa Sarma (Assam), on whom there are allegations of corruption became cleansed after passing through its ‘washing machine’, which is a phrase used to point out how corrupt politicians are rehabilitated into the BJP. Apart from the ED, there have also been complaints about the Election Commission allowing Narendra Modi to spout hatred against the Muslims. In one instance, he even mentioned the Christians with regard to the use of Sunday as a holiday not being an Indian (read Hindu) practice. That such communal speeches were allowed was a big failure of the EC, which has fallen from grace since the times of T. N. Seshan. Now there is an allegation that in more than 140 seats, more EVM votes were counted than EVM votes polled.
So, the challenges that the INDIA bloc had to overcome to bring down the BJP to below the majority were enormous. Hence despite the loss, they are in a more spirited mood than the BJP, which had all the resources and personnel (state and non-state) ostensibly working in its favour. But the real change-makers in this election were the poor people, especially those from backward communities like the Dalits from rural areas, who voted in favor of the INDIA bloc. Recently, the RBI governor, Shaktikanta Das, claimed in a press conference that rural demand had improved, which means that people’s purchasing power had gone up. But when asked by the reporter whether rural distress was the reason for the losses the BJP suffered, raising a question mark on the claims of the RBI, Shaktikanta Das shrugged the question by claiming it was a matter of perception. This is the most important lesson of this election: claims made on mainstream media about the economy and jobs by Godi Media and the experts they bring cannot win elections if the situation on the ground is not really what is projected. Stock markets do not reflect the real economy, where more than 90% of the workers are in the unorganized sector, living a precarious existence.
The fact that more than half of the country’s population is subsisting on free food is itself a big indicator of how things have gone horribly wrong for the people in the country. No amount of boastful claims can change that and translate into an election victory. At least in this election, it did not.
This is an important lesson for both the MDA government and the opposition parties: victory will be short-lived if no real transformation is made on the ground. Sooner or later, people get tired of all the boastful claims and the lies. When that happens, political careers are not just made but also destroyed. If in doubt, ask those who lost the recent elections.
(The views expressed in the article are those of the author and do not reflect in any way his affiliation to any organisation or institution)


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