Elections 2024: Countdown Begins

This is that time of the year that comes every five years. When passions are highest, often reason takes a back seat. There is so much at stake, as the voter choice will decide who and how the nation will run its course for the next five years. A third term for PM Modi appears the most likely outcome, but then there can be surprises, and how and by whom?

Why the 2024 elections are important, even more so than before? Even if we look back to five years ago, at 2019, much has changed. There is a more aspirational India, a Bharat on the rise; stakes are higher for all political parties, some for their survival as this may well be their last year to stay in circulation, for others to break free from old alliances that are no longer relevant, and yet others who have fire in their belly, see themselves as harbingers of a new India. And, it is time to see what is happening to the world around us?

Currents around us: we are different and how?

Look at what is happening in Pakistan, post their national elections? A returning officer alleged a conspiracy that he helped rig results inspired by the parties that had together piled up the winning numbers! Resigned in a note of conscience awakening! However, only two days later, of his own accord, retracted his statement saying he had made the allegation on behest of Imran Khan on a promise of getting a lucrative posting! Imagine how a country can be left to ruse on just the actions and statements of just one individual! Where is the truth? Which one of his two versions should be believed? Perhaps neither, both should be forgotten and dusted, he has zero credibility. But in the midst of all this, he has left a huge question mark. How fair have been the elections, especially since Imran’s party is alleging massive rigging! The new alliance and new government is unlikely to enjoy a smooth ride, even though logic will dictate they hang in together if they want to stay in power.

Look at Maldives. President Muizzo promises a government that is free from Indian influence, wins and proceeds to run a dubious and an unsteady ship. The opposition cries foul, insists India is a friendly country with which Maldives has strong cultural, economic and social relationships. Especially when as close neighbours, India provides them a hinterland which it does not have on its own. The country too will face instability, for some time to come. The perils of democracy in the works, unreasonable promises that are playing to the galleries and foreign influences, not in their own national interests.

Now, let us take a look at what happened in our own Chandigarh? What happened there is an action of a single individual! Did he disqualify that many cast votes on the behest of another, an individual, or party or whoever else? And how was there a video taken when he was actively engaged in the action of sabotaging? Did he tell somebody in advance that he was going to do this, so that he could be video-graphed?  To what extent can he be believed? Thankfully for us the courts moved in, got his actions set aside and got the winning mayor into the seat! But the shadow of doubt and our vulnerability has been cast. So, we have an instance where the judiciary stepped in, was respected for their decision, the correction was made. So, in our system, the checks and balances available were initiated and respected. Full marks to a democratic India.

This incident is worth deliberating upon for its possible larger ramifications, especially this time when we begin our national campaigns and elections thereafter. This one was a local city mayor’s election, an important city but nonetheless not a nationally representative or such important contest /election. But it also illustrates the reality as to how much people can be driven by the desire (read ‘need’) to win!

India is ‘NOT’ Pakistan, and yet? We need to be on Guard!

The common refrain would be, we are not Pakistan, and indeed, and most fortunate at that, we are not! We have proved to be a more responsible and mature democracy, overall, in spite of a few odd aberrations; these have been there, but fortunately so far, remain marginalised interruptions compared to what we have achieved on the more positive side.

These are turbulent times, with passions and desires, careers and futures in the balance, caution and respect for others is best showcased in practice. Very often, workers can be prone to zealous over reach, trying to outsmart the other; falling prey to unmindful greed for success. It is important for the leadership to advise restraint, pull up every erring action, in full public gaze. This responsibility falls across political parties, not just on the central ruling party. In fact, half the states have governments in opposition to the centre, there is both a play of central forces as well as state officials. Respect for each other’s territories and turfs must be maintained at all times. Such restraint and responsibility remain central to keeping India together as a truly respected federal entity.

Even more responsibility rests upon the shoulders of the central agencies, notably the EC and the SC; these must act so much above the ordinary that the nation and the global democratic order looks up to India as a model in conducting fair and transparent elections. Not only play fair, but must also be seen as playing fair. Perceptions are just as important as the reality. This is not asking for the impossible; on the contrary, it is quite easily done, as there is more in the domain of black and white, only a little in shades of grey. Contempt of the ‘other’ domain must be avoided. The Lakshman Rekha should not be crossed, as this is also a time when we are ushering ‘Ram Rajya’.

A few recent decisions augur well for the nation. The Supreme Court judgement coming down on the nature of electoral bonds has been widely welcomed; it has come a little late, but it has, finally, to the satisfaction of the opposition. The judgement cancelling the Chandigarh mayoral elections was another step in the same direction.

There is no taking ourselves for granted, that this or that cannot happen in India. The slide can be all too sudden, if everybody is not watchful enough; if the checks and balances available in a democracy are not exercised with restraint and responsibility.

Social Media and Deep Fakes pose unchartered challenges

This is also a time when social media has erupted its deep fangs like only the heavens know, or perhaps the devil. Planting stories, using open platforms not just for information but even more so, for disinformation. This is also an era when deep fakes have reared their ugly head. One person’s body, another’s head, a picture taken in the pristine waters of the Arabian Sea, superimposed into a background of a ghetto or a casino; false videos suggesting fake party mandates can change the narrative last minute – votes could get cast, leaving no time for any remedial measures, or law to take action as the deed has already been done! Others, echoing fiery speeches and false accusations – can the political set up all stand up and take up the challenge unitedly, to not encourage such devilry. It more often helps only the enemy, not always ourselves; there is open talk of foreign powers playing roles in influencing results not just in India but around democracies, there are such cries coming out of G7 countries such as Canada, just imagine.

Staying steady and united is more important than who wins or loses

India’s case is unique and perhaps difficult from most. We are on the cusp of a great future opening up, with our economy and aspirational society showing promise to ride the future wave. This is not to everybody’s liking. We are also seeking a just and equitable world order, taking on the role to lead the global south. We have so far successfully walked the tight rope, in pursuit of a multi-polar world order. In staking our claims to be independent and walk our own path, this too has not been taken kindly, with threats looming across our coastline, in the high mountains. Our task in our immediate neighbourhood has been most challenging with nations with more economic and military heft threatening the peace in our region. Defending India has never been more challenging. Fortunately, we have exercised restraint and reached out globally with a message that we want peace and prosperity for all.

We will become vulnerable, if we are not careful. Domestic politics is less important that national security which remains uncompromisable. Who wins and who loses, who is the head of the country should be one that gives us stability and assurance of strength in leadership, commitment to democratic traditions and working towards an inclusive society. Within these considerations, it can be anybody, only India should matter.

What do the Stars Foretell?

These are yet early days. Indian elections have become like cricket, with all its formats rolled into a single match. We begin, at this point in time, as in the spirit of a five-day game. Soon it will look more like an ODI and in the last run up, in the slog overs so to say, become a T20 game. Last minute, or last mile collaborations, ditches and arrangements can alter the picture dramatically. If you recall the 2019 run up, there were voices to suggest a contest, a difficult forecast to make, and look what happened. The BJP did even better than it had in 2014, became the first party to form a government on their own, after a period of 30 years. After three decades, we did not have a coalition government at the centre. So, it is target 370 this time, as the PM is reiterating, while the HM is more inclined to target 400. But there are voices to suggest that BJP has peaked in 2019; on what basis is this assumption only the pundits know. The advantage the BJP has is the sheer intensity of hard work their two top performers put in, day in and out, there is no rest day, whichever be the configuration of the cricket match. Not even a tea break, in fact. The focus is steadfast, the cadres backed with the parent organization intact and firing on all cylinders.

On the forecasting side, one thing can be certain. That regardless of the final actual numbers, the single biggest party to win in 2024 will be the BJP. And, as per the statute which must be respected, the single biggest party must get the first chance to make a government. If not 370, then it could be 300, or at best 270, or at worst, 230 or 250 – whatever, it should be the BJP that will most likely form the next government. Unless we don’t know the voters mind at all. Which one cannot predict, not even the best forecasts. There are new vagaries as we take a current perspective. Not alliances, no sharing of manifesto, only seat sharing! To what extent would these work out, how will the cadres translate such understandings into votes on the ground, is early days yet.

The Role of the Media and its Challenges?

There is much to say on this aspect, or none at all. There are allegations that media remains gagged, is not free, gets orders to remain silent. Yet much also gets reported, written and expressed. In the mainline press, on select YouTube channels, there is plenty around to claim it is free to express. The bigger problem is false reporting, not necessarily deliberate, but unchecked. In fact, it may be a good idea for all the news channels to get together and ensure they become instruments to ensure fair and transparent election processes, by sharing best practices with the voter at large. As ultimately it is the responsibility of the individual voter to cast his choice in the most responsible manner. If the media has power which we all say it does, they could start educating the national voter, as best as they can.

Globally Politics is becoming Polarised around Individuals

Look at the US, considered the most mature of democracies. Is it about the Republicans or only about Donald Trump? In China, it is all about one individual. So, in Russia. In neighbouring Pakistan, too, it is more about individuals, rather than their parties. India’s case is no different. It is increasingly becoming centred around individuals, in many of the states, as at the centre. How far this is good, is anybody’s guess. It plays out well as an assurance, even to the extent that the present campaign of the BJP is around Modi’s guarantee!

The Rajya Sabha results: Not all is Well

With so much hope on one’s mind, that elections take place with least disruptions, there are many that arise out of internal and silent dissent and dissatisfaction. How can a party keep its flock together? And how can a party be so complacent that they are not even aware of this disenchantment? Impossible to understand how such innocence can be exercised, or shall we say ignorance, which is not a bliss, except for the opposition, which it can play upon and win. Which is what happened. And it is an early warning to all such erring acts of omission for the big days ahead. It is also an early warning how the ruling BJP will exercise hawk’s eyes in looking for opportunity to take advantage of. Exciting times for sure, in the only hope that India fares well, and comes out the winner.


Navin Berry, Editor, Destination India, over five decades has edited publications like CityScan, India Debates and Travel Trends Today. He is the founder of SATTE, India’s first inbound tourism mart, biggest in Asia.



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