Unravelling the Election results, 2019 – and the way forward
A week has passed since the results of the 2019 General Elections for Lok-Sabha were declared. On 23 May, 2019, Mr. Narendra Modi and BJP came back to power with a more comprehensive win than 2014. Their vote share increased from roughly 31% in 2014 to about 37% in 2019 – but it did-not touch the 50% mark. This means that the party in power has still not been able to receive a majority of the votes polled. The emphasis on this fact is not to say that the victory was in any way small, in fact it was a completely overwhelming one, the emphasis is just to remind oneself of the fact that majority of the people of this nation have still not voted for the agenda on which these elections were fought by the ruling party. Even among those who voted for the winners, the reasons may be varied and diverse. Leaving aside those who are unequivocally convinced of the propaganda of hate, the rest may be open to reasoning and argument – they may not want their country to be engulfed by the politics of hatred that was espoused from the highest echelons of power.
Unlike the 2014 elections which were fought by Mr. Narendra Modi on the plank of development – the 2019 elections, on the contrary, witnessed two major planks around which the entire narrative was built – Hindutva and national security. If I was to address what follows to the voters for the ruling party, I shall discount those who voted him back to power impressed by the Hindutva narrative – as changing deeply entrenched ideologies and mindsets is a very gradual, resource intensive and time-consuming process. Those who may have voted for him impressed by the need for a strong leadership at the Center in order to ensure national security – as a corollary, unable to locate such a leader in the Opposition – may be open to some discussions and reasoning, and so what follows may be more interesting for them.
The first issue I want to raise is about the electoral process that is followed in our country. India follows the ‘First Past the Post’ (FPTP) system for electing its representatives. This means that, in a constituency, a candidate who gets the maximum number of votes is declared the winner. It is not required that the winner get more than 50% of the votes polled. This system was adopted when India was a nascent democracy; and universal adult franchise was adopted for the first time. It was believed that for a largely illiterate population, the simplicity of the electoral process would be the foremost requirement. This reason may have lost much of its validity in today’s times when India is an evolved democracy with an informed electorate. The second major reason for adopting this system was that it would more or less guarantee the formation of a stable government. This perception has also been belied several times in the democratic journey of this nation. Notwithstanding the fact though, I feel there is a need to question the worldview where a stable and strong government is considered as the most vital requirement for a nation. In my view, the mere perception that the ‘strength’ achieved (by the government that is formed after a massive victory in an FPTP system), creates, is extremely dangerous. This perception is liable to be used for concentration of power and misuse of a democratic system as an oligarchy or dictatorship. Thus, I feel, serious brainstorming and discussions need to be initiated to discuss the efficacy and relevance of FPTP system in the present times, and whether it is time to move on to a better and more representational system.
The second thread around which I want to center my discussion is the plank of a strong leadership that many of the voters may have connected to. I think the deeply entrenched mindset that a strong leadership is an essential requirement for a nation’s growth, progress and, most of all, security – is taken too much at face value. It needs to be deconstructed for a more nuanced and informed debate. It is pretty apparent that the report card of the Modi government in terms of developmental goals that it had set for itself in 2014 – was extremely dismal – to say the least. This fact is not even contested either by the party, the government or its supporters. In fact, their achievements over the past five years on this front were so miniscule that their leaders (including the Prime Minister) did-not talk about any of them in their electoral speeches. Demonetization, which has now proved to be one of the biggest blunders, for the common people, especially the vulnerable, as well as the economy, was brought about at the time with much fanfare – and was showcased as a major policy achievement. Multiple benefits were highlighted. Goalposts were made and shifted almost on a daily basis. The disastrous effects on the people and economy had soon become visible, still the government refused to acknowledge the folly of its unthought-of action and continued to portray its decision as a game-changer. Despite all this, demonetization did-not find mention in the electoral speeches of the Prime Minister and other BJP leaders. Similar is the case with any of the policy decisions that were made, or schemes that were initiated. They were entirely absent from the discourse when the ruling party was asking the electorate to place their trust in it again. Rather, what took center-stage was – national security (and Hindutva of course). And yet, despite all its failures on the development front, the BJP could regain power – even beating its own performance in 2014 elections. The planks of national security and strong leadership really worked. Mr. Modi could establish a tremendous contact with the emotions of the people – time and again.
Yet an important question needs to be asked – if the layers of emotions and hysteria around nation and its security are removed, is it really true that in the absence of a ‘strong leadership’ at the Center, a nation’s security is under threat? In fact, what does it mean by having a strong leader at the Center? Does it mean a leader who is capable of generating hysteria and catapulting himself to power riding on peoples’ raw emotions? Does it mean a leadership that destroys all the institutional structures in place – a leadership that cannot work with experts, intelligentsia, and bureaucrats – not even with the defense forces of the nation – but can work only on the whims and fancies of the few oligarchs at the top? Is strong leadership the one which feels that, in a democracy, it is not essential for people to know things and the less the people know the better? This, in essence means that the leadership believes that people are not even capable of understanding important issues affecting their own lives. Is this thinking not completely anti-democratic? A democracy essentially means the rule of the people – albeit through its elected representatives. The representatives, thus, by definition, are responsible to the people for each and every decision that they take. They don’t hold absolute power but a delegated power – delegated to them by the people of India. Is strong leadership the one which can confidently and brazenly delegitimize the authority of these very people?
The ruling party deftly created a perception that there was no alternative to the present government and its leader. Is it possible that in a country of 125 crore people, there is no alternative to one single individual? The question should be what is it that one is looking for in the alternative? Is a skill with words the prime requirement for the job of the Prime Minister of the nation? I don’t think so. A good leader requires a good team to rely on, a faith in the people of the nation, the Constitution of the nation and the multiple institutions that exist in the nation to take care of various important areas, and a capability to take sound decisions. Why is it believed that only a couple of people in this entire nation are capable of doing this? There is a need to look beyond the optics and the rhetoric – only then can alternatives emerge and be visible.
Next, the air strikes and the rhetoric built around it, which tried to portray, firstly, the importance of national security for the survival of a nation and secondly, the importance of the ruling party and its leader to ensure that national security. How much of this is true? In the first place, we are still not aware of any details around the air strikes, so we can form our judgments based on precious little that has been told to us – which is hardly anything. Secondly, the India-Pakistan conflict is as old as the independence of the nation and the accompanying partition. Multiple strategies have been deployed by every government that came to power in order to deal with this lingering issue – which have included dialogues as well as wars. Yet the issue persists. The intensity, depth and nuances involved are proof enough that a simplistic solution to this problem is not forthcoming. And a solution that does-not involve dialogue is not possible. All the governments are aware of this. Yet the warmongering and hysteria around the air-strikes was generated and capitalized upon. Are we more secure today than we were ten years before? What has changed on the ground? The issues still remain unresolved, Kashmir burns more than ever before and yet the rhetoric refuses to die.
Lastly, I want to talk about the false ‘Us vs. them’ dichotomy that was created in the past five years and may be continued for the next five. People have been reduced to binaries. Either you are with the government or against it. That is it. The leader of the government has become the nation. Terrorizing people based on their religion, caste, class and gender was the old world order. A new category of terror was added to it and that was terrorizing people for any views that were contrary to the view of the government.
Who gave the authority to a few people to define and decide nationalism? Even a popular mandate – as large as it may be – does-not give that authority. That popular mandate is only for electing the representatives who shall form the Government of the day. These people need to function within the contours of the Constitution and the spirit of democracy. And the same Constitution guarantees the people of India a fundamental right to freedom of thought, speech and expression, which no leader and no Government can take away.
The way forward
For individuals: To reconnect with our roots and the rich culture of their civilization which has not taught us to believe in and spread hatred. It has taught us to embrace and cherish diversity and to live in and spread harmony. The world around us is not full of enemies from which we may need protection. In the absence of that protection we will not collapse as a nation. The roots of this nation are much stronger than that. Hatred is not a way of life which can ever beget anything but hatred. Any solution to any problem that is arrived at through the means of force and terror can never be sustained for long. As individuals, it is essential for us to understand this. It is also essential for us to understand what loving our nation actually means. To work hard and try to excel in whatever we may be doing. To try and work towards eradicating the social evils rampant in our society – poverty, casteism, gender, class, religious discrimination, corruption, and so on and so forth. There is no better way of showing one’s love for the nation.
For civil society and intellectuals: To come together like never before – keeping aside all the differences that may exist between them. To counter every force of hate with every means that may be available at their disposal. And more importantly, to involve the masses in the process. To talk in the language that they may understand. To trust in people enough; and believe that ignorance can be dispersed with knowledge; and knowledge is anyone’s who has access to it. To finally ensure that such access is provided to one and all.
For the Opposition political parties: To reinvent themselves, this time not with a vision of winning votes in an election and coming into power, but in order to work towards the betterment of the nation, no matter what. To abdicate all divisive politics and get back to the basics – work towards the growth and progress of each and every individual of the nation.
For the Government: To convert the decisive mandate that it has won into decisive action – to walk the talk – ‘Sabka saath, sabka vikas, sabka vishwaas’. To work in co-operation with the institutions, experts and the general public to tackle the issues facing our country and to together take this nation to greater heights.