INDIA: A Great Vision That Needed Stronger Implementation

Arvind Kumar

Czech-born British playwright and screenwriter Tom Stoppard had aptly noted, “…it’s not the voting that’s democracy. It’s the counting…”. Counting of votes for the Lok Sabha elections is still on, but the current trend so far suggests the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) is all set to form the next government in New Delhi, India.

It is also certain that the government that will be sworn in soon in New Delhi will definitely be a Majboor Sarkar (weak government) rather than a Majboot Sarkar (strong government). Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) founder Kanshiram firmly believed that such a weak government would always be more accountable and answerable towards the people of a developing country like India.

Over the last 10 years that the NDA has been in power, the Opposition—which was in a disarray–has been claiming that the government was going against the very idea of India which has remained multi-lingual, multi-religious and pluralistic in civilizational sense; and a multi-party democracy and federal in constitutional sense. The Hindutva juggernaut, it said, needed to be stopped. And so there emerged a need for alliances of political parties. Such alliances have been successful, as seen in the Bihar Assembly elections in 2015.

The very idea of Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) started shaping up against this backdrop. The Janata Dal United, led by Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, took the initiative then and found good support from the Congress and Rashtriya Janta Dal, besides the Shiv Sena (led by Udhav Thackeray) the Nationalist Congress Party, the All India Trinamul Congress, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and the Communist parties.

INDIA was a welcome idea, as unlike in the 2019 parliamentary elections, the opposition parties came together to take on the BJP that had seen its popularity soar and its vote percentage going up to 40%. The 2024 general election is thus unique in the sense that there was an attempt by the Opposition to cobble up a pan-India alliance.

The history of Indian parliamentary democracy shows that there were two attempts by the Opposition to dethrone the ruling party, in 1977 and 1989, respectively. In both cases, the Opposition parties and their leaders were so devoted to their cause that they decided to field a single opposition candidate in each parliamentary seat. INDIA failed miserably on this count.

The first jolt came when the JDU decided to part ways with the alliance. Mamata Banerjee led AITC, too, left the fledgling alliance midway. Mayawati-led BSP couldn’t be persuaded to be a part of this alliance. Also, no common minimum programme could be pronounced on behalf of the alliance. Yet, opposition unity was definitely better than in 2019 though it could not muster the support of the electorate to form a government of its own.

The incumbent BJP, on the other hand, started off by setting a high target. The NDA slogan was abki bar char sau paar (400 seats this time) but it seemed to sense the pulse of the people and was pragmatic enough to enter into alliances with political parties such as the JDU and the Telugu Desam Party led by Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra Pradesh. It also welcomed into its fold parties of lesser significance, including the Shiv Sena faction led by Shinde and the NCP faction led by Ajit Pawar, Pattali Makkal Katchi of Tamil Nadu and Janata Dal Secular of Karnataka.

It requires no retelling that in the first-past-the-post system, the government is elected by only a minority of its total electorate. So, in 2014, the ruling party’s voter share was close to 31%; in 2019, it was 38%. The estimated vote percentage for BJP for 2024 is again close to 38% even if the NDA vote share would be higher and closer to 40%. This simply indicates that above 60% of the Indian electorate has never extended its mandate to the government.

As for the electoral outcome, Abraham Lincoln had quipped once, “Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blister.”

Arvind Kumar teaches at the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.

The article was first published in Mint as INDIA was a good idea that needed better execution  on June 4, 2024

Disclaimer: All views expressed in the article belong solely to the author and not necessarily to the organisation.

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Acknowledgment: This article was posted by Bhaktiba Jadeja, a research intern at IMPRI.