Policy change likely post elections

Arun Kumar

A change in policies would be good for the nation and Modi, because the alternative would be a government buffeted by crisis and instability.

The new cabinet seems not very different from its predecessor with the most important portfolios going to the same ministers as earlier. This is taken to be a sign of continuity in policy. Is that likely, given that the 2024 general election results have signalled to Mr. Modi that his policies have not delivered?

The political trajectory has changed even compared to November 2023 when the BJP won three important state Assembly elections. Are there no lessons to be learnt and no course correction to be carried out for future winnability?

Many members from the coalition partners have been accommodated in the cabinet to make it one of the largest cabinets. Some of the former BJP CMs have been adjusted, even if they have not been given the most important portfolios.

Will the presence of these leaders and of the coalition partners not change the dynamics in the cabinet where different points of view maybe voiced much more than has been the case till now? Will none of them draw lessons from the election results?

Takeaways from 2024 General Election

There is a message for Mr. Modi and BJP in the loss of majority in parliament. Even though BJP’s overall vote share fell marginally from 37.3% in 2019 to 36.6% in 2024, this hides major shifts. Seats have been lost in UP, Maharashtra, Haryana, Rajasthan, etc. But there have been gains in southern and eastern states. Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana were BJPs targets in the south and West Bengal and Odisha in the east. The vote per cent has increased in the southern states and it has captured Odisha from its former ally, BJD. Andhra has gone to the NDA and JD(U) has held its own in spite of a resurgent INDIA.

It is said that the 2024 general election did not have a single theme nationally and it was like several state and local elections taking place simultaneously. For instance, the caste combination in Bihar and UP are said to be important determinants of the results in these two states. In Maharashtra it is said that people did not like the manner in which the opposition political parties were split to attain power.

However, there is a unifying theme in the election results–anti-incumbency at the state level, actively taken advantage of by the opposition. There were exceptions like in Gujarat or Madhya Pradesh where the ruling BJP held on because the opposition has been weakened and could not exploit the situation. In Tamil Nadu and Bihar, the ruling party won with reduced vote share. BJP was in the opposition in Odisha, Delhi and Karnataka and a part of the NDA in Andhra Pradesh and took advantage to win.

The INDIA grouping also mobilised people on the issue of the BJP wanting to change the Constitution to end reservations. The BJP leaders’ denial did not cut much ice with the public since in the past some of them had spoken against reservations.

While the content of the Constitution is not widely known by the general public, the marginalised groups understand that reservation in public sector jobs and in educational institutions is important for their upward mobility. They do not have faith that they would benefit through the market. In fact, they also want reservation in the private sector.

Mr. Modi did not factor in that a cornered cat fights back. INDIA alliance fought back pretty unitedly in several parts of the country. There was delay in forging the alliance, but February 2024 onwards, they effectively mobilised the public against the government.

This was something they had not done earlier perhaps for fear of being targeted by the government. The arrest of Chief Ministers was a signal that no one would be spared if they came in the way of the BJP juggernaut. So, the option for the opposition was to either surrender (and be cleaned by the washing machine) or fight back.

The alliance mobilised on the real issues to counter BJP’s divisive and emotive appeals. Public awareness which was disjointed on these issues was given concrete shape. This approach had delivered in the Karnataka Assembly elections in 2023 where the civil society groups had helped out.

The Real Issues to the Fore

The ground for mobilising the people on the real issues has existed for long. Inflation has been hitting the family budget given various forms of unemployment and declining real wages. Unemployment among educated youth and women has been acute and leads to distress in the family.

Furthermore, while the marginalised have been suffering, there has been visible display of ostentatious life-style and the call to celebrate wealth. This has made the growing inequality apparent to all. The PM justified his pro-rich policies leading to growing disparity by asking, do you want to distribute poverty?

Farm distress has persisted. Protests have been organised from time-to-time all over the country. But the attempt to hand over the agriculture trade to the corporates via the three farm bills led to the biggest recent sustained mobilisation of farmers in the country. After the farm bills were withdrawn, the government has done little to aid the farmers which has further angered many of them.

The unorganised sector, the biggest employer, has been isolated by policy and many of the small and micro units have closed down leading to unemployment and loss of incomes.

This dissatisfaction of large segments of the population–women, farmers, workers, youth, dalits, Muslims, etc.–was waiting to be effectively mobilised by the opposition.

Mobilisation by the opposition: Changing Dynamics

The opposition finally managed to mobilise people by talking about these important issues. The BJP brushed aside these issues, arguing that India was doing well, had become the fifth largest economy in the world, that poverty had been almost eliminated, etc. This was like a slap on the face of the poor and unemployed–a bit like the ‘India shining’ campaign of 2004.

The INDIA alliance raised these core issues and found resonance. In the states where BJP and NDA were in the opposition they simply pointed to the deficiencies and argued that the government at the Centre had done well and `double engine ki sarkar’ would help the State. Many of the elite, middle classes and upper castes believe there is no alternative to Mr. Modi and vote for him.

The weak mobilisation of support based on dissatisfaction against the government by the non-BJP opposition was visible in the UP election in 2022. They could not mobilise the public in spite of the mismanagement of the pandemic which caused acute distress to not just the poor.

The lockdown and the initiation of vaccination drive were greatly mismanaged in 2020-21. In contrast, the BJP has been aggressively mobilising everywhere and this has borne results in those places where it was in the opposition.

Apart from the threat of use of agencies against the INDIA alliance leaders, the media did not provide them a level playing ground. Most media houses controlled by businessmen toed the official line. All this underlined the importance of the 2024 elections for the survival of the INDIA alliance leadership. And, this activated them.

The road ahead

The results of the 2024 elections have diminished Mr. Modi’s appeal, strengthened NDA partners, boosted INDIA alliance and emboldened other leaders in the RSS-BJP group. Mr. Modi would have to consult NDA allies other BJP leaders lest there be internal dissension and instability. INDIA alliance would continue to aggressively campaign on the real issues which will take time to resolve, that too if government changes its policies. If not, the real issues will persist and give the opposition a chance to remain strong with public support.

Mr. Modi is a master of real politic and would like to regain lost ground even if listening to the opposition has not been in his DNA. A change in policies would be good for the nation and Modi. The alternative would be a government buffeted by crisis and instability. Whichever way it plays out, Indian politics will see a major shift compared to the last 10 years.

Arun Kumar is a retired professor of JNU. He authored Indian Economy’s Greatest Crisis: Impact of the Coronavirus and the Road Ahead (2020).

This article was first published in The Wire as Post Election Results, a Change in Policies Would be Good For the Nation and Modi on June 15, 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.