The Shifting Sands of Indian Democracy

A Closely Fought Election, a Tribute to every Indian who Voted, a Vote for Indian Democracy, a Mature Mandate

We close this article on the evening of 4 June, just in time for the deadline of this month’s issue. A new government is yet to be announced. But we do have some initial learning curves in our country’s march of democracy. This election will definitely add a few feathers to our cap as the world’s largest democracy, conducting our polls to the envy of many a nation. Here are some random pointers.

End Result: A Vote for Modi! Let There be No Doubt

There is no getting away from the fact that Narendra Modi is very much the single-most charismatic Indian leader. It was his fight, his mandate, his energy that resonated over the length and breadth of the country. He has been chastened but not beaten. It is during the last decade, under his leadership, that has brought about a new recognition of India as a potential power in the global play. Yes, we have not arrived there yet, but we will, given a common cause. A freshly envisioned India, post elections 2024, could well be the new trigger that can help us achieve newer heights. This new mandate warrants carrying the country together, as a larger and a single family, with more shared aspirations and goals.

Under the new electoral compulsions, PM Modi will not have his way as easily as he did in over last five years. He will have to play ball with coalition partners who will want to extract their own pound of the cake—plum ministries, plum designations, whatever. Over the coming weeks and months, we expect Modi to change somewhat, listen to his partners, be part of a larger coalition game. India needs him, regardless of the results. These results are not so much a rejection of Modi himself as much as of an anti-establishment sentiment. There is another school of thought: that the BJP got less seats as a result of what the party has been playing out in the states like Maharashtra, Haryana, Punjab and also in Uttar Pradesh. But he is here to stay as a central figure in the Indian political space.

Not much is lost for the BJP. It becomes more glaring when seen in the light of 400 paar claims, which are more election time rhetoric! For a third time, this must be seen as only a slight blip in the usual anti-incumbency narratives. In his victory speech to the BJP cadres, the PM emphatically declared himself to his vision of a viksit Bharat, highlighting how the BJP tally of 240 seats is more than the combined India bloc! Which is commendable as well, for a third time election. In a true sense one can say the BJP has hit a pause button, in readiness for a record third innings!

A time for celebration for all, well almost. The BJP won a third time, the congress doubled their numbers, Mamta’s TMC withstood the Centre’s onslaught, Akhilesh came back into the reckoning! Quite a cosy picture for all concerned, each of them having reason to rejoice! A rare opportunity for all to look afresh, carve new frontiers!

One big takeaway is the need for political leaderships across the space is they must learn to respect mandates based upon which they get voted into power. Not start looking around to forging new alliances post the results, often under the guise that this is what their support base wants of them, to come to power. Politics must be more than enjoying power. Mature democratic institutions don’t see politicians shifting parties overnight; once in one party, always there till the end. Shifting loyalties, toppling seated governments, buying and selling of numbers as if they were assets, does not provide a credible leadership for long. Stability in our political space means unflinching loyalties to where your individual story began!

Hubris Plays Its Part

There is a normal and—alas!—common malaise that isn’t talked about. You see it all around us, but it is seldom pointed out It cripples many a successful person, a malady of those with plenty. It is debilitating, creating an imbalance in both mind and heart. It is not any one individual’s preserve’ it is written large over every political party, amidst senior and junior bureaucrats, the domain of experts. Hubris affects us all uniformly, across all platforms where the successful straddle the stage. It crowns you when you are still there, humbles you even at the height of your power. It disables you, inviting you to smell the coffee. In any election, there are winners and losers. And it will affect any new winners too, it will attack them silently, they too will suffer. The cycle goes on, repeating its manifestation with every fresh success. Hubris allows for course correction, to create an inner balance, never to lose sight of the people you are meant to serve.

People’s power is the ultimate measure of any success. At the pinnacle, do people automatically get distanced from the ‘real’; does one gradually, as a matter of course, lose track of the same people who made you? Lose the pulse of the land, lose track of what the ‘real’ people ‘really’ need?

New Chapter For Some, Old For Others

Some chapters closed resoundingly—such as the defeats of Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti. This can augur much for the state politics of J&K, signalling the end of an era. Or the complete wipeout of the BSP and its now lost relevance, the Dalit vote migrating away to the Congress. As with the fall of Smriti Irani, particularly meaningful was the loss of Maneka Gandhi, nine times winner and India’s longest serving parliamentarian. Smriti’s loss was unexpected, that too at the hands of a lesser-known politician, a Gandhi family faithful who had served Amethi for over four decades. Kishori Lal Sharma is, indeed, one of the giant killers of this election.

The rise of Akhilesh Yadav spells a new era in Uttar Pradesh politics. One can anticipate the emergence of a youthful trio with Tejaswi Yadav, Akhilesh and Rahul Gandhi occupying the big stage marked by a deliberate, understated presence and maturity that belies their age. The SP-Congress alliance worked well, perhaps also with their respective underplay of individual hubris. The grand old party—the Congress—deciding not to contest most, if not all the seats in the country’s largest state, in favour of the SP, to which it ceded the vast majority of seat sharing, was in itself an unprecedented step that was difficult to comprehend at that time.

That it worked well for the Congress, to fight its lowest ever number of seats, and yet double its representation in Parliament, is indeed a far cry from the anticipation of a Congress-mukt Bharat. In fact, the mukat (crown) must go to Rahul & Co for conducting a graceful election, not getting carried away by the often vindictive charges levelled upon him and his party. Congress President Kharge too infused a sense of new-found purpose and carried himself with dignity, speaking little and to the point.

This election has, indeed, infused oxygen into the opposition, so thoroughly down and out during the last few years. It has seen the revival of the Congress, sooner than expected. But, again, some of their star faces are already showing signs of over-confidence; is hubris going to strike them so early?

Exit Polls: Their Relevance?

What of the exit polls? Does one need them? How could they have backfired so dramatically? How could they all be so hopelessly off the mark, all parading a similar narrative as if they had a common source. There were almost no variations, each had gaping holes, they were faulty to the core—how? This alone should deserve an audit: how this transpired and who this benefitted? Did the Congress see through this when they first refused to join the national debates around them?  Regardless, one hopes this is the last we see of them. The single biggest loser in Elections 2024 was the exit polls. What a loss of national time that these were debated across every TV channel with experts across the political spectrums—for what gain?

So dramatic was the impact of the exit polls that the Sensex saw unexpectedly bullish gains over two days, only to slide as the results came in causing a loss of over Rs 30 lakh crore of investor wealth. A bloodbath that proved painful for the individual, honest investor. Was there a sinister plan between the two—the exit polls and the collapse of the Sensex? Fortunately, for India, I do not believe this to be true. The Indian growth story remains intact, regardless of what happens to the Sensex. Economic activity across the country is far too wide and all encompassing.

Religion-Based Politics

Were the results a basic rejection of religion-based politics? What happened to the Ram Mandir? Admittedly, while the euphoria was there, it did not translate into votes. The Mandir was never an issue, and surprisingly, it was not flagged even by the ruling dispensation. Not Mandir then, but religion did play a part in the election in more ways than one. The call from the Indian populace was clear: no more polarisation.

Return of Coalitions and Regional Parties

In just five years, after having given a resounding mandate to one single party, the people voted it out of that pole position, making it resort to coalition politics, again. It was only thirty years apart from the previous single party rule that India had witnessed. Is there any problem with coalition sarkars? Not always, if the mandate is simple and the power is uniformly shared by all the partners. One can expect greater inter-party support and understanding, for fear of losing, as we move on in the new era.

2024 marked the revival of regional parties. Witness the return of Chandrababu Naidu, the emphatic wins in Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. There was one marked aberration in that the Naveen Patnaik regime in Odisha came to an end with the not-so-expected rise of the BJP. Perhaps his time to relinquish the reins had dawned, with Patnaik himself preferring not to yield, even as advancing health issues became public in the national discourse.

How will coalitions play out? Regional parties have been known to bargain far too much, in excess of their political weightage. Witness what happened in Haryana state, where a party with only nine seats demanded the deputy CMship and got it; ruled the roost over time, leaving every other person high and dry. Will the Centre witness similar trading for power? One hopes not. Maturity needs to be evident at times like these when global tensions surround every major economy.

Maharashtra is another case study. Here, the Centre engineered splits in two state parties, neither having the mandate of the people. The tragedy unfolded when they brought down an otherwise strong BJP in the state. The 2024 elections will bring a larger churning in the state’s politics with state assembly elections scheduled for later this year. Haryana too is headed for assembly elections later this year where, from 10 out of 10, the BJP has been shortened to half that number.

Another kind of regional power surfaced with the tenacious fight, well fought and won by TMC’s Mamata Banerjee. Indeed, she has emerged unscathed as the Bengal tigress. Again, just recall what the exits polls had predicted and what the end result proved to be.

The Future of Majoritarian Politics

If the majoritarian state is far right,–a growing trend in global cities—that trend is still to have any impact in India yet. One may like to read the election results as a rejection of both religion and authoritarian rule, an aspiration of a greater democracy defining state policy. In a way, India’s mann ki baat stands revealed, that we want a nation where all are equals, and as part of state craft, we must be left free to follow our own beliefs.

Vote Margins: What They Tell Us

Shivraj Chauhan, the universal ‘mamaji’, won by a record 7,80,000 votes. The BJP won all the seats in Delhi, squared in Goa with one each with the Congress. Varanasi itself was not a close fight but not as one-sided as one might have imagined—an ordinary Congress worker, Ajai Rai, polled 4.3 lakh votes against Narendra Modi’s 5.7 lakh votes. Though a large margin of 1.5 lakh votes, it wasn’t good enough for a Prime Minister who had given the city a huge makeover, rebirthing its new avatar, one that should have gained him a higher margin. However, Amit Shah continued with his winning numbers.


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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